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Archive for the ‘media access to the courts’ Category

(I hope you appreciate the alliteration in the title!).

Since April last year, the media have had their foot in the door of proceedings in the family court. I remember being on a number of mini-pupillages at the time at the Principal Registry. There seemed to be an initial rush of reporters to take up their newly granted rights to sit in on court proceedings. However, from what I gather, this has died down as the novelty has worn off. This is what I thought would happen. After all, media have always had access to family proceedings courts (where the real ‘bread and butter’ proceedings are dealt with) but, despite this, the media have never really taken advantage of this access.

Of course, the main reason why there hasnt been much of a takeup of these new rights is that they are pretty hollow. This is because, whilst the media can now go into the courtroom, they have no right to see any of the papers nor print anything that will indentify the children of the case. I read this morning in The Times that Jack Straw is having problems pressing ahead with further reforms to media access. Good! In essence, he is trying to remove anonymity. Whilst he says that this will still be protected, I think this is rather doubtful. Think about it this way- in care proceedings involving a child from a council estate, even if the actual names are kept confidential, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together and find out which family is involved. Jack Straw may be able to control what happens within the confines of a courtroom, but he cannot control gossip. Gossip can spread like fire through a forest- it only takes one little spark to set the whole thing ablaze.

So my advice to Jack Straw would be to listen to the people who really know what they’re talking about- the professionals who deal with these cases on a day-to-day basis. Their jobs will be made even more difficult than they already are if they also have to contend with local newspapers spreading malicious gossip.

With the PM being accused this week of bullying members of his staff possibly weeks before a general election, you would think Mr Straw would understand the harm gossip can do!

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