Page last updated at 10:32 GMT, Tuesday, 7 April 2009 11:32 UK

Family courts opened up to media

Young girl
Children's right to privacy will be protected, the government says

Family court proceedings are to be opened up to the media, Justice Secretary Jack Straw has announced.

At the moment the hearings, which include divorce and custody battles, are held behind closed doors.

But from 27 April accredited reporters will be allowed to cover them - although they will not be allowed to name those involved.

Mr Straw said he wanted to boost trust in the court system but critics say it will make little difference.

The proposed changes would bring procedures in family courts at all levels into line with youth courts where reporting of proceedings has been allowed, subject to certain restrictions, for some time.

'Confidence'

The proceedings will be open to accredited journalists holding UK press cards but the scheme is not open to bloggers, foreign media or people who write occasional newsletters.

Judges will also have the power to relax reporting restrictions in individual cases or limit further what can be reported to protect the welfare of children and families.

Mr Straw said: "Public confidence in the justice system is a necessary and vital part of a democratic society. I want to ensure that reforms to the family courts system increase their accountability to the public.

"People need to trust the justice system. One important way is by creating a more open, transparent and accountable system while protecting children and families during a difficult and traumatic time in their lives."

Campaigners, including a senior judge, have challenged current arrangements in family courts as being too secretive.

But critics say the changes do not go far enough.

A High Court judge, Mr Justice McFarlane, said last month that the media would be in "no better position than now".



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