The Family Justice Council today attacked the government for deciding to allow the media to report on family court proceedings in a second U-turn on the issue.
The Ministry of Justice yesterday announced it had decided to give the media the right to report on hearings, reversing consultative proposals made last year to give judges and magistrates discretion on the issue.
The decision revives plans made in 2006 – and reversed last year – to allow the media to report on the family courts while preventing them from identifying parties to proceedings. The proposals were designed to improve public awareness of proceedings.
Protest from children’s sector
However, this created a storm of protest among children’s charities and organisations, including the NSPCC and the Association of Lawyers for Children, who said media access as of right would harm children.
As a result, the 2007 consultation paper said: “Allowing the media into the family courts as of right would not make children’s welfare and protection paramount.”
Following today’s decision, the FJC, which brings together professional from across the family courts, said the government had “disregarded the views of children, young people and the organisations which protect, support and represent them”.
It expressed surprise that the MoJ had decided against going ahead with the approach proposed last year to improve public scrutiny of the family courts, including by:-
- Releasing transcripts or summaries of judgements to parents involved in proceedings, and to children when they reach adulthood.
- Publishing judgements in cases of public interest without identifying children involved.
The FJC said it would like to see more openness in the family courts and said it recognised that the media had a “legitimate role to play in this”.
Risk of intrusion
But it added: “Our view is that allowing the media into family proceedings exposes children and vulnerable adults – including victims of domestic violence and forced marriage and adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues – to the risk of intrusion.”
The 2007 proposals also said that social workers and other witnesses, unlike children, could be named in published court judgements, prompting the British Association of Social Workers to warn this could compromise practitioners’ safety.