Family courts unlikely to open to media, says journalist chief

A journalism chief who backs plans to open the family courts to the media has admitted the move looks “increasingly unlikely to happen”.

Bob Satchwell, head of the Society of Editors, said there was “so much opposition that, unless the [Children, Schools and Families] bill is amended dramatically, we don’t believe it will do the job the government wanted: it won’t open up the courts”.

Satchwell said widespread opposition to the move could bring about a “backwards step”.

“Under the current proposals virtually no-one could be named,” he said. “This could lead to the position where no discussion of a case would be allowed unless approved by the judge, and where even a discussion raised by the family could become a contempt of court.”

Satchwell said those opposing the move held “unfounded concerns” about how the media works and what the media wants to achieve.

“People are trying to make out that the media will be cavalier with children’s identities and sensitive information. But the media has a long tradition of working with the courts and doesn’t break reporting restrictions,”  Satchwell said.

A study by the children’s commissioner for England last month found that children did not trust the media to protect their identities and were worried about bullying and humiliation in schools and communities.

But Satchwell said: “Children need to be informed that openness will allow them to get a better deal from the courts. Those who are so opposed to openness are in danger of creating the impression that they are trying to protect themselves rather than the children.

“Revealing the truth can only ever be a good thing.”

Further background on family courts and the media

CareSpace discussion on opening up courts to the media

Family courts open up to the media

Blog on family courts and media

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