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Open family justice reforms could leave public less informed, Munby LJ warns

2 July 2010

Former justice secretary Jack Straw’s reforms aimed at opening up the family courts to the media and the public could leave people less informed, Lord Justice Munby has warned.

Munby LJ, a senior family judge, said the overall impact of the reforms and Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010, if implemented by the new government, was “difficult to predict, not least given the complexity and technicality of the new statutory provisions”.

He went on: “One view voiced by various commentators, and a view I am inclined to share, is that if anything the Act is likely to reduce, rather than increase, the amount of information about children and other family proceedings which finds its way into the public domain.”

Delivering the Hershman-Levy Memorial Lecture for the Association of Lawyers for Children yesterday, Lord Justice Munby asked: “Do the reforms which have taken place meet the criteria I have set out? Do they even meet the criteria identified by their architect? My answer to each question can only be a saddened and regretful No!

“The new ‘scheme’, if that is what one can call it, is far from comprehensive. Divorce and ancillary relief are scarcely affected; the adult inherent jurisdiction not all.

“A greater degree of consistency has been achieved – the different treatment of the county court and the family proceedings court will now be a thing of the past – but at the heavy price of an increase in the areas covered, for the first time, by reporting restrictions.

“And at the same time it is far from obvious that the supposed relaxation of the reporting restrictions in children cases – surely the crux of the problem – will actually have the desired effects, if, indeed, any effect at all.”

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