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  • Judge calls for family courts to admit press
  • By Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
  • Timesonline (UK)
  • 30/06/2006 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 61 articles in 2006 )
A SENIOR judge called last night for the media to be admitted to family courts to shake off the "canard of secret justice".

Days after a ruling that removed the automatic ban on identifying children in family court cases, even after proceedings have ended, Lord Justice Wall said: "We need to have a system which is understood by and accountable to the public."

The Court of Appeal judge said that he was not in favour of family proceedings being broadcast. "I see no benefit in that process, only dangers." But, he added, the public needed to be fully and properly informed.

The judge's comments come as ministers are preparing to publish proposals on opening the family courts.

Lord Justice Wall stopped short of allowing the public admittance. He said that there needed to be safeguards against nosy neighbours or "former colleagues or lovers" coming and listening to a person's disputes with a new partner or other intimate issues.

Giving the Hershman/Levy Memorial Lecture in Birmingham, Lord Justice Wall said that allowing the media to report family court proceedings would help to overturn accusations and criticism that the family justice system was designed to be secretive.

"I am in favour of giving the media access to family proceedings, provided that there are clear ground rules about what they can and cannot report and the extent to which, if at all, they are to be at liberty when reporting the proceedings, to identify the parties and in particular the children concerned," he said.

"I find it unacceptable that conscientious magistrates and judges, struggling to make difficult decisions in the best interests of children should be accused of administering 'secret justice'." But he said that there was "a difference between the public interest and public curiosity".

Parents and children in family proceedings had a right to privacy; if the public were admitted it would be impossible to prevent people attending hearings when their real interest was to learn about the family's confidential affairs.

Lord Justice Wall said that judges should as a matter of routine give family judgments in open court with the names kept anonymous if necessary so that the public could be informed. He believed that there needed to be a dialogue between the judiciary and media before access was given to reporting family courts.


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