Children 'concerned about press in family courts'

Children may be less willing to discuss sensitive issues during family court proceedings if journalists are given greater access to the hearings, according to research published today.

Legislative proposals included in the Children, Schools and Families Bill would allow the press greater access to family court cases.

But research published by the Children’s Commissioner for England, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, warned that most children involved in family court cases would be unwilling to disclose maltreatment by a parent or other problems if a journalist was present.

This could affect a judge’s ability to make difficult decisions in the youngsters’ best interests, the authors of the report warned.

Youngsters involved in the research, carried out by the University of Oxford, said they were worried that media reports about their families could lead to embarrassment and bullying.

Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner for England said: “Our research findings to date are a cause for concern.

“We support the principle of openness but our overriding consideration is to protect the welfare of children.

“Transparency can be achieved in other ways such as publishing summaries of anonymised judgments.

“If these children and young people’s concerns fail to be addressed in the Bill, we could be faced with a situation where they are unwilling to speak out during family court proceedings and this could result in their best interests not being met.”

The evidence gathered so far by the Children’s Commissioner also said children were sceptical at the power of the law to protect their privacy.

The youngsters stressed the importance of being told that a journalist may be in court when they were to give evidence.

They also want judges and magistrates to seek children’s views before deciding whether to admit the media to a hearing.

The Children’s Commissioner’s final report will be published in the spring.

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