Ministry of Justice
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Confidence and confidentiality: Openness in Family Courts - A new approach
Plans to promote a culture of openness in family courts, while protecting the best interests of children, were today unveiled by the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice Lord Falconer.
The package follows a consultation last year on improving both transparency and privacy in family courts. The aim was to make the culture of family courts more open, while maintaining the privacy of those involved in proceedings - especially children.
Lord Falconer said:
"Family courts make far-reaching decisions which permanently affect the lives of the people involved. Where children are involved, their welfare must be of paramount importance.
"I have listened to the views of children and young people. The clear message was the media should not be given an automatic right to attend family courts as this could jeopardise children's rights to privacy and anonymity.
"We need instead a new approach which concentrates on improving the information coming out of family courts, rather than on who can go in.
"So we will focus on providing better information about family proceedings to the public. In certain cases we will give more information to the people involved in proceedings, including to adults who were involved in family proceedings when they were children."
The measures include:
* Providing more information about how the court has reached its decision for the people involved in proceedings and for those who were subject to proceedings as children
* Where there is a clear public interest, either an anonymised transcript or an anonymised decision summary will be made available for public scrutiny, for example where a child is permanently removed from one or both parents
* Clarifying the rules on who can attend family courts, and what reporting restrictions apply.
* Developing an online information hub to provide general information on the different tiers of family court, what happens in each, on what basis the judiciary reaches decisions, and what to expect if you are going to be involved in proceedings
Working closely with the judiciary and court staff, a pilot scheme will be devised to gauge the full impact, implications and benefits to people involved in family proceedings.
Notes to Editors
1. Confidence and confidentiality: Openness in family courts - a new approach is available on the Ministry of Justice website at: [insert link]
2. The paper also seeks views on the following further proposals:
* Whether to widen disclosure rules on information by parties
* How best to protect the identity of children beyond the end of proceedings
3. The Confidence and confidentiality: Improving transparency and privacy in family courts consultation paper was published on 11 July 2006 and put forward a number of proposals with the aim of improving public confidence in the family courts, and safeguarding the privacy of those involved in proceedings.
4. In addition to the 245 formal responses from individuals and organisations, a series of events were arranged that gave people the opportunity to debate the proposals, including an on-line forum for children. As part of this over 200 young people and children contributed to the discussion.
5. An overview of the consultation responses was published on 22 March of this year, together with a Young people's guide to responses. To read the consultation paper and responses visit: http://www.dca.gov.uk/consult/courttransparencey1106/cp1106.htm