Family courts open to the press with restrictions

Family court hearings in the county courts and the High Court opened to the media today.

The new rules aim to increase transparency amid growing public interest in child care proceedings. Only accredited journalists with a UK Press Card will be able to attend all levels of family courts, removing the existing inconsistency of access between magistrates’ courts and the county and High Courts, Justice Minister Jack Straw said.

However, adoption and related proceedings are exempt, and the court will be able to restrict access if the welfare of the child, or protection of parties or witnesses requires it. Journalists will also have to seek the judge’s permission to report details on cases.

Antony Douglas, chief executive of family courts body Cafcass, said he supported increased openess to help public understanding of the system.

But he called for children and staff to be protected, adding: “This is why it is right the courts will have the final say on what is reported in the public domain. We will also need to keep under review the impact of this measure on our practitioners specifically if this leads to increased media exposure for individual staff.”

More information

Written statement on family courts by Jack Straw

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