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The Family Court, contempt and the press

Date:17 SEP 2015
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Designated Family Judge for Avon, North Somerset and Gloucester

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In this article HHJ Wildblood QC considers the procedure in Family Court hearings when allegations of contempt arise and how such hearings provide the press with a rare opportunity to report upon the workings of the Family Court.

The article examines the need for there to be an understanding within the court of the important role that the press may play and how the press officers need to be helped to understand what they may publish and why things are being done by the court in the way that they are.

As the author says, ‘it is the essential prerogative of the independent press and intelligent comment provides a judge with rare feedback. The press, who are the eyes and ears of our society, cannot be blamed if the court does not explain itself properly ’.

The issues considered in the article are placed in the context of the developing transparency provisions that have already led to greater media coverage of Family Court practices. However, the author also notes that:

‘recent reporting has shown that there is still a very profound lack of understanding about the family court and family law. It may well be that the way the court operates in private contributes to this very significantly. People still refer to "custody" and "access" and have very little appreciation of the equal standing of parents before the law’ .
The article also considers cases where children go missing and how there needs to be effective communication between all agencies that may become involved, especially between the police and the court. The author says: ‘The court needs to be informed about what others are saying in public and, in particular, what the police are doing. The work of the court and of the police should surely be complementary (ie they should work in harmony) to the end of securing the return of the child.’

It is hoped that the article will encourage debate on the issues that it covers and the need to improve public knowledge of family law.

More from HHJ Stephen Wildblood QC

The full version of this article appears in the September 2015 issue of Family Law.

Online subscribers can access the full version of the article here.

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