Page last updated at 20:08 GMT, Thursday, 9 July 2009 21:08 UK

Family court reporting 'to ease'

Silhouette of a family
Family courts deal with divorce and custody battles

Plans to make family courts in England and Wales more "transparent" by easing reporting curbs have been announced by Justice Secretary Jack Straw.

It paves the way for expert witness reports to be published, which could contain child abuse allegations.

A ban on identifying people would remain, although judges could lift that if it was in the public interest.

The ban on journalists attending family court hearings was lifted earlier this year to encourage "greater openness".

'Public confidence'

There are currently 10 pieces of legislation which restrict what can be reported, each of which will be replaced by new laws later this year, Mr Straw said.

"Family courts play a very important role in our society, and the decisions they make need to be transparent so that the public who use them have confidence in them," he said.

"Allowing the substance of children's cases to be reported in more detail will lead to greater transparency in the family justice system, resulting in greater public confidence in the excellent service that it provides."

The changes would make family courts similar to youth courts, where journalists can attend as long as they do not publish anything which might identify the juvenile involved.

Meanwhile Sir Mark Potter, the most senior family judge in England and Wales, is to head a committee to explore what changes can be made before any new law comes into force.

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