Judge wants 'only accredited journalists' admitted to family courts

An Appeal Court judge has said judges holding proceedings in family courts should be allowed to negotiate a system where "only accredited journalists would be admitted" if new reporting rules are brought in to the family courts.

Under proposals put forward by the Department for Constitutional Affairs in July members of the media would be given access to family courts, and members of the public would also be admitted at the discretion of the judge.

Lord Justice Wall tolda law conference on Monday: "If the judiciary wishes to minimise tendentious, inaccurate or sensationalist reporting, it must meet the press half way and ensure that when it takes the view that an issue ought to be reported, the issue in question is presented to the press in a way in which the press can properly use it.

He said: "Which journalists do we admit to the courtroom? I do not see this as a particular difficulty. I hope it would prove possible to negotiate a system of accreditation with the Press, so that only accredited journalists would be admitted to the family courts."

Wall said he had an "element of cynicism" about the current press campaign for transparency in family justice and that the cynicism derived from many years of trying to encourage responsible press interest in issues which regularly come before the family courts.

Citing a case heard in the Court of Appeal in October 2005 but not reported until last summer he said: "A newspaper published a highly tendentious, and illicitly obtained account of both care proceedings and the subsequent application to free the children concerned for adoption.

"The message from the newspaper was that local authorities, aided and abetted by a secretive judiciary, were implementing a covert policy of social engineering by removing children from the care of their worthy and God-fearing parents on the specious ground that the parents concerned were not sufficiently intelligent to care for them."

A Daily Mail article on Tuesday claimed that Wall's remarks referred to a Mail report.

A page two story said: "The case won widespread attention after it was highlighted in the Mail" although Wall did not name the paper.

Mail Columnist Melanie Phillips wrote on Wednesday: "The idea that the judges would allow in those journalists whom they deem a safe pair of hands while excluding those of whom they disapprove is an outrageous abuse of power."

"It is hard not to conclude that what is going on here is merely a rearguard action by a hidebound judiciary which, while paying lip-service to the opening of the family courts, is determined to keep its hands on the levers of power and secrecy which have served the cause of justice so ill for so long."


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