Sir Mark Potter "reluctantly supported" media access to family courts

08 JUN 2010

Sir Mark PotterFormer President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, has said that he only "reluctantly supported" allowing the media access to family courts because of allegations being made about justice taking place behind closed doors.

Speaking to The Observer newspaper, Sir Mark said: "I was confident these allegations would be dispelled by the attendance of the press at the proceedings and I am happy to see this has largely been the case.

"But the fact is that if you have a newspaper report, even one subject to anonymity, most cases are tried in a local county court and of course those in the local area get to know about it. There's no denying the fact that children are bound to be adversely affected when the case becomes the subject of local gossip or bullying at school," he said. "This is a sad spin-off that has unfortunately to be recognised in the interests of open justice."

Sir Mark also criticised the funding of the family justice system saying children are being put in danger as a result.

"Delays are causing children to be left for a considerable proportion of their early lives in atmospheres of violence, high emotion and parental dispute which, if prolonged, is bound to interfere with their long-term development and give rise to problems in adolescence and later life," Sir Mark said.

"I am a pessimist as to the prospects of immediate improvement or to the likelihood of any reduction to the delays inherent in our complicated system," he added. "For years, I sought to preach the message to all the idealists and very overworked people in the family justice system that the problem of resources and its effects upon the family justice system mean there are tricky times ahead but that we can do it together.

"But now, when that promise is going to be tested in the face of further cuts threatened as a result of government difficulty, I shall not be there to share the pain. I feel like a deserter to be leaving at this acute situation of crisis. But with the current pressures upon the system and the amount of administrative work involved, five years is enough for the head of a division to serve before importing the benefits of a fresh mind."

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