A long overdue light could soon be shone into the dark corners of the family court system. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary has relaxed the existing ban on reporting family proceedings and from April 2009 the media will be given access to and allowed to report on custody, care and divorce proceedings. There will still be the power to exclude the press for certain cases but the basic principle will be that reporting is permitted.
The move has been welcomed by campaigners, notably The Times newspaper which has spearheaded the call for the veil of secrecy to be lifted from the family courts.
The lack of scrutiny over family proceedings has been a cause of concern and controversy for many years. During the past decade there have been several cases and miscarriages of justice that could have been prevented through greater transparency over what happens in the child welfare cases and the use of ‘expert witnesses’ who give evidence that can have devastating effect on children and their families. While some children have been wrongfully removed from their parents, others have been overlooked. Allowing the media to cast its watchful eye over these family courts will hopefully provide proactive checks and balances that may help prevent some of the distressing headlines that have resulted from the closed courts of the past.
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