Family court reporting reform: 'Government right to wait'

The government is correct to wait until completion of the family law review before deciding on court reporting reforms, according to the country’s senior family judge.

Sir Nicholas Wall, president of the Family Division of the High Court, said the although it wasn’t popular with the press, judges and litigants, it was wise to not implement a new Act of Parliament which would have brought forward changes in the family courts.

The reforms, in Part II of the Children, Schools, Families Act 2010, were rushed through their Parliamentary stages in the closing days of the last Parliament, with most of the process taking place in the two-week “wash-up” period just before Parliament dissolved for the General Election.

Although the then Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, had promised that the legislation would open up the family courts to more reporting and make them more transparent, journalists and legal observers have since warned that they are likely to have the opposite effect.

Sir Nicholas told BBC Radio 4’s Law in Action last week that he did not believe the issue of reporting the family courts should be dealt with by legislation – it was a matter for negotiation.

“I think we have to reach an accommodation with the press, we have to reach a protocol with the press,” he said.

“We live in a media age and we must adapt and so I tend to issue press releases, I encourage my judges to publish their judgments, albeit anonymising them.

“My own view is you can bridge this gap between the intensely private nature of family proceedings and the issues which it throws up by publicising anonymised judgments and by much greater transparency as to what we’re actually doing.”

Society of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell said he was pleased that the government was not bringing the new legislation into effect.

“We need to sit down and talk about it and get it right,” he said.

“The legislation was rushed through in response to powerful lobbying.”

Satchwell said the new laws would stop journalists from naming almost everyone involved in a family case.

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