Bill will see expert witnesses identified in family courts

Expert witnesses in family courts will be identified under new legislation the government is proposing to put through the last parliament before a general election next year.

The Children, Schools and Families Bill has been laid before parliament and includes a controversial move to open up the family courts to the media. Although sensitive information and identities will not be reported initially, experts paid to provide evidence to the court will be named. The move will include adoption and placement proceedings.

Ministers and parliament will review the effect of the parliamentary legislation to consider if all reporting restrictions could be slowly lifted, while still maintaining a ban on the identification of children and families involved.

Pilots of opening up family courts by publishing some judgements online are already underway in Leeds and Cardiff.

Justice secretary Jack Straw said: “Greater media access to family courts will lead to greater trust in family courts. Finding the right balance among many strong views will take time, which is what this Bill will allow us to do.”

Other changes included in the Children, Schools and Families Bill will see Ofsted given powers to inspect Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards. The Youth Justice Board has also been granted greater supervision and monitoring powers over Youth Offending Teams.

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