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Experts in family proceedings to be identified

20 November 2009

Experts appearing as witnesses in family proceedings could be named under proposals unveiled by the Ministry of Justice yesterday.

The justice secretary Jack Straw has tabled amendments to the Children, Schools and Families Bill, which would further open the family courts to the media and allow judges to name paid experts "in the interest of open justice and to improve public confidence".

New rules which entered into force in April have already allowed the press into the family courts.

If adopted this latest move would be phased over two stages, the first of which would allow reporting of all family proceedings, including placement proceedings.

Only the identity of the children and of the families involved would remain covered by reporting restrictions, as would sensitive personal information – unless, in the case of the latter, the court directed otherwise.

Current rules on access to court documents would be unchanged and would continue to require journalists to make an application to the court, with no automatic right to access.

Straw said that “greater media access to family courts will lead to greater trust in family courts”.

The announcement follows the speech earlier this week by the Lord Chief Justice at the Society of Editors’ annual lecture, where he acknowledged the role of the press in keeping public bodies and the courts to account.

“Just as an independent press can expose the errors made by local authorities and governments, so too, the administration of justice in the courts should be open to the public scrutiny which an independent press provides”, Sir Igor Judge said.

He told the press: “You have the right to be present in court unless the right has been taken away. Unless the right has been expressly taken away, your right to be in court is no different to and no less than the right of the lawyers, the advocates, even the judge himself or herself. You are not performing the same function as the judge, but you have a valued function to perform.”

Categorised in:

Police & Prisons Divorce Children Procedures