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Opening up the Family Courts: A Personal View

Date:22 AUG 2006

The Rt Hon Lord Justice Wall. This is an excerpt from an article based on the Association of Lawyers for Children Hershman-Levy lecture delivered by Lord Justice Wall in June 2006 in Birmingham:

'The President made it clear (as did I) that Clayton was not about public access to family proceedings. It is, however, I think, a further step on the road towards transparency and thus prompts a wider discussion. Access to the family courts, therefore, is the real theme of this lecture and I think I need to make it clear where I stand on this. I emphasise that what follow are my personal views.

In summary, I am in favour of giving the media and in practice this means the press access to family proceedings, provided that there are clear ground rules about what they can and cannot report. In practice this means the extent to which, if at all, they are to be at liberty when reporting the proceedings, to identify the parties and, in particular, the children concerned. Unlike the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, both in its Fourth Report: Family Justice the operation of the family courts, HC 116-1 (TSO, 2005) and in its most recent report entitled Family Justice: the operations of the family courts revisited, HC 1086 (TSO, 2006). I do not favour, indeed I am opposed to, the admission of the public into family courts, even given the qualification which the Select Committee envisages, namely that there would be a judicial discretion to exclude the public in certain circumstances. I will explain how and why I reach these conclusions later.

Over the last 11 years I have attempted to be open about the work I do. Every judgment that was published was made available to the press, which did not appear to be even remotely interested, despite some of the cases, on their facts, being quite extraordinary. You must, accordingly, understand that I have an element of cynicism about the press campaigning for transparency in family law. That cynicism derives from many years of trying, without any success at all, to encourage responsible press interest in the issues which regularly come before the family courts.'

See September [2006] Fam Law 747 for the full article.

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