This article examines the arguments for and against publicity in proceedings relating to children and examines which way the balance might fall. On the one side are those who take the view that any publicity involving the affairs of disadvantaged children and adults is unwarranted; that the media are unashamedly sensationalist (quite apart from being anti-judge) and that children and families are entitled to privacy when forced to litigate about the intimate detail of their lives. At the other extreme are those weary of the constant refrain that the family court practices ‘secret' justice and the equally constant refrain that children can be removed from their parents at a whim unless there is media scrutiny. The consequence of this ‘secret' justice, it is argued by those who use the phrase, is that social workers, judges and all engaged in the Family Justice System are both unprincipled and autocratic, as well as riding roughshod over parents' European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 Art 8 rights.
The retiring President of the Family Division explores whether the two positions can be reconciled and whether there is a workable solution to the problem. Of course, the simple answer would be to bring family justice into line with civil and criminal justice. There are occasions when anonymity is practised. But they are few and far between. The print media usually have free admission to such proceedings and are on the whole free to report as they wish. Proceedings are (usually) conducted in open court. There are few complaints from either side. One of the questions is, therefore, whether those systems including procedures in the Court of Protection can be adapted to family justice.
The full version of this article appears in the December 2012 issue of Family Law.