New family court reporting legislation 'potential overkill'

Some of the provisions in the new law covering reporting of the family courts are potential overkill, according to a judge.

The provisions detailed in Part II of the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 passed in the wash-up period before the General Election have yet to be brought into force, however they brought a stern warning from Judge Patrick Moloney.

“I expect it was intended as a liberalising measure, but it has attracted flak from both sides,” he told delegates at the IBC-Reed Smith Protecting the Media conference.

The Ministry of Justice had recently said that it would be examining the provisions closely before taking any decision on their implementation.

The provisions posed problems, and could cause the media real difficulties, restricting reporting of family cases even more than the law does at present, the conference was told.

Moloney said: “Just to introduce a sort of frisson of fear in those of you who work in this field, let me give you one example of the bits of that, if they come in, will be less liberal and will pose a real threat to media reporting of these cases as we are at present used to it.

“You will recall that the old rules, particularly section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, effectively provide that children are not to be identified, and their schools and addresses are not to be identified, as is anything else which will tend to identify them.

“The new Act, in the way of modern legislation, is a little more specific.

“It says you are not to give the name of the individual – it is mainly directed at children but could also be parents and other people – the name of the children, their title, pseudonym or alias, their address or locality, their appearance, their style of dress, their employment, their relationship with particular relatives, friends or acquaintances, their recreational interests, political, philosophical or religious beliefs, their property, real or personal.”

He went on: “So, as you appreciate, you’re not to publish the political or philosophical views of a person even if they are otherwise unidentifiable.

“Apparently, this is to stop those features that we frequently see – stressed mother tells tale of how children were taken by social workers – which gives a fairly detailed account and says at the end that names and details have been changed.

“Potentially, if any of the facts in it are true, you might be in contempt, even if there cannot be identification, I suppose because the fact is that the more of these details you give the more likely it is that there really will be identification.

“That’s an example of potential overkill, I think one might say.

“At the moment the main thing I am going to say about this is that there is no need to worry about this at present, but keep an eye on it because if it comes into force those of you who are involved with media organisations are going to need to run some training courses pretty fast.”

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