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22 AUG 2006

Openness - Refocusing the Debate

Alistair MacDonald, Joint Chair, Association of Lawyers for Children, Barrister, St Philips Chambers, Birmingham. The Department for Constitutional Affairs' consultation paper 'Confidence and Confidentiality: Improving Transparency and Privacy in Family Courts' stipulates that the primary motivation for consulting on the issue of greater openness is to increase public confidence in the court system. The author makes clear from the outset that he does not seek to argue against greater openness in the family courts per se. There is a need for better public understanding of the role of the courts in safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children, and of how the court process achieves that aim. There is a need to address the complex and piecemeal legal provisions that currently govern confidentiality in different ways at different levels within the family justice system. The author seeks rather to demonstrate that the current debate on this issue, while illuminating certain problems within the system, has excluded, and risks continuing to exclude to an unusual degree the interests of children. This in turn risks a failure to consider the key practical issues necessary to ensure that the interests of children are protected within the context of debating greater openness in the family courts. When considering different methods of increasing openness we need to refocus the debate to bring the interests and views of children and young people back to its centre. We need then to consider the key practical issues highlighted by a debate from this perspective. See October [2006] Fam Law for the full article.

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