Children and young people have voted unanimously against media attendance at family court hearings, a report has found.
Commissioned by the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC), the report interviewed 11 young people – who almost all had direct experience of family court proceedings – about their views on media access.
“Young people said accusations that family courts are ‘secret courts’ are disingenuous: they are private, and for good reason,” it stated.
The report follows calls for more visibility in the family courts and controversy around so-called ‘forced adoption’ cases.
The children did not agree press access to reporting detailed information from live cases will reduce criticism of family courts. “They said there are better ways to improve public knowledge and other avenues to explore allegations of unfair treatment,” the report stated.
Since 2009, accredited media representatives have been permitted to attend family court hearings unless the court says otherwise.
Christine Renouf, chief executive at NYAS said they did the report because: “We don’t feel that their views are being heard, and press behaviour makes them really concerned.”
“We are aware it’s a small number [of young people interviewed] but because of the speed in which things are moving in family courts it didn’t give us the time to do a bigger campaign, but their views are unanimous.”
“We hope that from this comes more consultation with young people.”
Sir James Munby, president of the family division of the High Court of England and Wales, said last month that he would be consulting with social work chiefs, lawyers and judges about the possibility of having some family court cases as open hearings.
However, the report revealed a unanimous lack of trust in the media from the young people interviewed. “The young people raise credible doubts about the ability of the media to respect their privacy or to meet the public education agenda it claims to defend when it pleads for increased access,” the report stated.
Christine added: “They have a right to privacy,” before talking about the “jigsaw method” discussed by the young people in the report about how, in local communities, it would be easy for details of who the child is to be pieced together. She mentioned that there should be other avenues pursued for challenging the courts decisions other than opening them to the media, suggesting “perhaps an independent body that reviews the courts” rather than opening all information to the public.
The report analysed the potential risks for a young persons well-being if information about their personal lives was to be made public. The interviewees were unanimous about a young person’s likely feelings if they were to read their case in a newspaper – anger, sadness and depression, embarrassment, shame, guilt, and humiliation. They believed these feelings could make them vulnerable to “serious depression, self-harm and suicide.”
The report acknowledged that better avenues than the media are needed for parents who wish to raise concerns about potentially unfair decisions. “There are other avenues to address grievances and, if necessary, these could be improved,” it stated.