Government delays family court reporting decision

The Government is delaying a decision on whether to bring into force legislation which the Labour government had claimed would make the family courts more transparent and open to greater reporting, it was announced yesterday.

No decision would be made until the Family Justice Review had published its final report, junior justice minister Jonathan Djanogly and education minister Tim Loughton said in a written ministerial statement in the Commons.

The reforms – which media organisations and other critics have said will actually have the effect of making reporting of family cases even more difficult than it is at present – were introduced in Part 2 of the Children Schools and Families Act 2010, which was rushed through Parliament in “wash-up” period before the General Election.

The Government statement said: “The Act received Royal Assent in April, but the provisions in Part 2, which relate to the reporting of family court proceedings by the media, have not yet been commenced.

“This is a sensitive issue, on which a broad range of views have been strongly expressed. It is important that the Family Justice System is properly understood and commands public confidence.

“At the same time, there is a clear need to protect the privacy of vulnerable children and adults involved in cases in the family courts.

“My Hon Friend and I have decided to wait until the Family Justice Review has published its final report before determining whether to commence these provisions, which will allow us to consider the changes Part 2 of the Act would introduce in light of the Review’s recommendations for reform of the family justice system.”

The independent review, being led by David Norgrove, chairman of the Pensions Regulator and the Low Pay Commission, was commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, the Department for Education, and the Welsh Assembly Government.

It is due to produce an interim report in spring 2011, which will be followed by a consultation period, and to produce a final reporting, including proposals for legislation, in autumn next year.

The Justice Select Committee at the House of Commons has also launched an inquiry into the working of the family courts, and specifically said the issues it is particularly interested in include confidentiality and openness in family courts, and the effect of the changes contained in the Children, Schools and Families Act.

The legislation was recently described by Lord Justice Munby, who until recently was a senior judge in the Family Division of the High Court, as a “lost opportunity” to introduce a comprehensive reform of the working of the family courts, according to a senior judge.

Although the Act achieved a greater degree of consistency, this was “at the heavy price of an increase in the areas covered, for the first time, by reporting restrictions, he said.

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