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The Semi-Secret Family Courts

May 10, 2010

Pink Tape has blogged about the provisions in the (not yet implimented) Children Schools & Families Act 2010 and the Times has commented. The consensus seems to be that Family and Child Protection proceedings before the court, despite much political talk of opening up the courts, are in effect just as secret or private as before.

I have mixed feelings about this issue. It can be acutely hurtful to children to have their family difficulties exposed in the media and have that then fed back to them, probably very unsympathetically, in the playground. On the other hand justice should be seen to be done and Judges, lawyers and social workers can become complacent if they know they are not being scrutinised. If one moves around the country it can sometimes feel as if the courts in one area are following entiely different laws than the ones followed elsewhere. What is quite common is for lawyers, social workers, guardians and experts all to get together in a friendly huddle seemingly insensitive to how this looks to the lay parties. Going to court with a burning sense of grievance, or a terrible fear for what may be decided and then seeing the lawyer you expect to fight your case chatting cheerfully with old friends who just happen, this time to be ‘on the other side’,  does  not imbue a feeling of confidence that your case is going to be fought as fiercely as you feel it should.  Professionals, free of the fear of being observed by the hardened and cynical eye of the press may, just may, let standards slip a bit.

On the other hand I have little sympathy with the father’s groups who claim the courts are biased in favour of mothers and against fathers and insist it is their right to expose that bias in the press. Trouble is when one of these agrieved “good dads” and “loving fathers” does manage to get into the press one just feels very sorry for their children.  See for instance this from Southport or this from the USA. Or, on a lesser note,  imagine the embarrassment this caused some child.

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