Posted on 28th April 2009

Family Courts: New Rules Won't Create Open, Transparent System

A North East lawyer has warned that new rules to open family courts to the media, rushed in by the government, represent a missed opportunity to allow thorough and effective public scrutiny.

Judith Middleton, a partner at Latimer Hinks law firm, is the regional spokesperson for family lawyers group Resolution, which has called for the establishment of a Family Courts Inspectorate.

Accredited journalists have recently (April 27) been allowed to start attending divorce, custody and care proceedings, unless the court has specifically excluded them.

But the new rules still will not allow journalists to report on what they hear in court and cases not considered newsworthy by the media will be completely without public scrutiny.

Judith Middleton said: "Resolution is concerned that the new rules may cause more confusion when the public and the press realise that journalists cannot report on the specifics of a case, even in an anonymised format.

"The extent of the restrictions on press reporting could breed further suspicion and actually further damage public confidence in the system.

Andrew Greensmith, Resolutions spokesperson on family court transparency, said: "These changes simply tinker at the edges of the issue and have created a system which could well make matters worse when members of the public and press realise that details of cases cannot not be made public.

He added: "Greater openness and transparency has an important part to play in ensuring public confidence in the family court system, but simply allowing the media to sit in on cases is not enough. The new rules need to be extended to allow journalists to report what they see and hear in court, providing the identity of the families involved is protected.

"Resolution is calling on the government to set up a Family Courts Inspectorate, made up predominantly of lay people, which could act as an effective guardian of standards in the family courts. Otherwise the risk is that only those cases that are newsworthy will be subject to any public scrutiny.

Notes:

Latimer Hinks law firm has a team of more than 50 people serving private and corporate clients.

Their range of expertise and services covers legal issues surrounding residential property, wills and lasting powers of attorney, trusts, probate, long-term care, tax planning, commercial law, divorce, pensions, employment, and land-owning.

It is based in Darlington in the North East of England.

Resolution is a 5,700-strong association of family lawyers committed to promoting a non-confrontational atmosphere in which family law matters are dealt with in a sensitive, constructive and cost-effective way. It sets high standards of good practice in family law and runs an accreditation scheme for specialist family lawyers.