Falconer U-turn on reporting family court proceedings

The government has dropped plans to give the media the right to report family court proceedings, justice secretary Lord Falconer said today.

Under consultative proposals on increasing the transparency of the courts, the media would have access at only the discretion of the judiciary. This would apply even in magistrates’ courts where family proceedings are now open to the press as of right.

Falconer said that in a previous consultation last year, children involved in care cases as well as organisations, including the NSPCC and the Association of Lawyers for Children, had warned that media access would not assure confidentiality for children.

He had mooted a U-turn on the issue after the government published responses to the initial consultation in March.

Today’s document says: “Allowing the media into the family courts as of right would not make children’s welfare and protection paramount.”

Instead, the courts will release transcripts or summaries of judgements to parents, and to children involved when they reach 16 or 18, in all public law and some private law cases.

Cases of public interest would be published but identification of children would be protected. It is likely that social workers and other professional witnesses would be identified, Falconer said, despite concerns raised by practitioners that this could damage their reputations.

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