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Wall LJ lashes out at media bias

12 November 2010

The media is guilty of a damaging “anti-judge bias”, Lord Justice Wall has claimed.

Addressing an audience of expert witnesses today, Wall LJ accused the media of ignoring judicial reasoning and focusing on placing blaming on parties instead.

“What the family justice system and the expert witness both seek, I think, isfair and balanced reporting,” said Wall LJ, adding: “[Legislation] does not give it to us. Nor, currently, do the media. In my view, fair and balanced reporting requires reporting of what the judge decides, and why the judge has decided it. The judge has to give reasons. Those reasons need to be reported.”

The outspoken family court judge, well-known for championing open justice, warned that the way the media reported sensitive family proceedings risked adding to the “already chronic” shortage of expert witnesses.

“The media have shown little interest in family proceedings. Experts, however,continue to be lambasted,” said Wall LJ, adding: “The anti-judge bias of [a recent BBC Panorama documentary] demonstrates what I have publicly described as the tendentious leaking by one side to the media, which then publish that tendentious version as the whole and unvarnished truth, which it plainly is not. The judgment given by the judge, which is objective, is usually ignored.”

Speaking at the annual Bond Solon expert witness conference in London, Wall LJ grappled with the debate over anonymity for clinicians involved with child protection cases. Accepting that there was a fear among medical professionals that publicising details could deter patients from openly discussing problems with their doctor, Wall LJ defended a court’s right to reject applications for anonymity.

Instead he argued an expert witness should expect respect from the judge and the press for their involvement in a case, regardless of the value of their evidence, explaining: “It has long been my view that where experts do their work conscientiously, and express an honest opinion to the court, they are in no danger of criticism from the judge, and should not be in fear of criticism from their professional body, however much they may be the victim of attack from the disaffected litigant.”

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