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Industry hits out at 'backwards step' over family court access

The Society of Editors and the Newspaper Society have hit out at a decision to scrap proposals which would have allowed the media in to family courts as of right.

Following a Government consultation Lord Falconer has said the proposals – intended to improve openness in family courts – will not be taken forward.

But this has been labelled as a “backwards step” by the SoE, with the NS also condemning it as “not so much a U-turn as a full throttle reverse”.

Bob Satchwell, SoE executive director, told HoldtheFrontPage he was disappointed that the Lord Chancellor had taken a backwards step, and had appeared to have listened to and given too much weight to some “very narrow interests”.

He said: “Of course some of those interests are quite important and of those who have the interests of children at heart, but there should be greater openness in the courts.

“All justice should be as open as possible as a matter of principle.”

He added: “The public have a right to know and need to know that the legal system is working well on behalf of the public.

“Openness will in fact enhance the administration of justice and remove some of the mystique and concerns about possible miscarriages of justice, and therefore has got to be to the advantage of everyone concerned.

“It’s sad that it’s a backward step and I hope this might not be the end of the story.”

Bob said the SoE would be taking the matter up with the Lord Chancellor, and planned to make a submission to the second consultation, which is now underway, as it had done to the first.

The NS said it was also intending to respond once it had considered the proposals in detail, but its initial reaction was one of dismay.

A spokesperson said: “Given that the initial proposal to allow media access as of right was a government initiative, this volte face is all the more of concern.

“We and all media organisations involved in this debate made quite clear, repeatedly, that we accepted that along with universal access must go provision for the courts to impose reporting restrictions, particularly to protect children. This seems to have been lost sight of.

“We do not believe that the new proposals adequately reflect the need to balance the public interest in the proper administration of justice with private interests, and the interests of privacy along with the public interest in freedom of information and fair judicial process.”

Lord Falconer had said that there had been a “clear message” from children and young people that the media should not be given an automatic right to attend family courts, as this could jeopardise children’s rights to privacy and anonymity.

He said instead a new approach was needed, which would concentrate on improving the information coming out of family courts, rather than on who can go in.

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