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President criticises plans to extend media access in family courts

Date:19 OCT 2009

Sir Mark Potter has criticised the government's plans to increase media access to the family courts.

Speaking at the Family Law Conference in London last week, the President of the Family Division criticised the Ministry of Justice's plans to provide the media with access to reports and papers filed in family proceedings, saying that the proposed "stop-gap rules" have received little support.

The proposals were revealed by the Ministry of Justice at a Family Justice Council meeting in July. Members of the Council were alarmed by the proposals and raised a number of concerns, including compatibility with Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.

In his keynote speech, Sir Mark said: "What I know for sure is that, if the new regime is not carefully thought out, the consequent burden and real cost will fall not on the media but on those judges, magistrates and advocates who will be required to consume time arguing and deciding press-related issues, rather than concentrating on the case in hand.

"At a time when the courts' expanding workload is increasing with no additional judges or court days, this would be a particularly regrettable development. Regrettably, also, from the point of view of the profession it would be yet another expense to be absorbed by them within any fee regime imposed upon them by the LSC and a yet further disincentive to experienced advocates to engage in children work," he said.

Medical experts argue that providing media access to medical reports could conflict with their regulatory bodies and there could also be issues about patient confidentiality.

In this month's Family Law journal, Danya Glaser, a Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist, writes "for a clinician, it is inconceivable that one may now be put in a position of having to warn the patient that what is being discussed, almost invariably highly personal and often distressing, and already being necessarily included in one's report, will also be read by the media. It borders on insulting the family member and is thus unethical".

This year, despite the economic downturn, around 320 delegates attended the Family Law Conference in London last week, the largest annual gathering of senior family lawyers.

The conference was Chaired by David Salter, Joint Head of Family Law at Mills & Reeve and a contributor to Family Court Practice 2009. Mr Justice Ryder will deliver the keynote speech at the next Family Law Conference in Manchester on 9 November 2009.