Sector chiefs contest ‘open’ courts wisdom

Social work and solicitor leaders have voiced concerns over government plans to open up family courts to the media.

At a conference this week to mark the end of the consultation on the issue, family justice minister Harriet Harman said the plans could be taken forward in a family justice bill.

However, Ray Jones, chair of the British Association of Social Workers, questioned whether public confidence in the family courts system would improve if its procedures were open to the press.

He said children could be dissuaded from confiding in professionals if they believed their experiences could be made public.

“We do not think that sensationalised and selective reporting of stories by the press is going to lead to greater confidence in the court and greater confidence in what social workers, GPs and other professionals do.”

Alistair MacDonald, co-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, said it was “very dangerous” to propose that opening up the courts would create a “universal panacea” to address perceived public distrust of the system.

He warned that, even if the child’s anonymity was protected, they could easily fall victim to piecemeal identification.

Harman told the Care and Health conference that legislation would allow parliament to assess whether the open system was working and that the courts could be closed again if it was not.

But Bridget Lindley, deputy chief executive of the legal advice charity the Family Rights Group, predicted the proposals, if introduced, would not be reversed.

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