Rule changes came into force on 27 April 2009 which allows media representatives to attend most family proceedings. They also provide that the court can exclude such representatives from all (or part) of individual hearings for reasons set out in the relevant Practice Direction.
Media Access to the Family Courts: A Guide to the New Rules and their Application
provides an essential examination of the extent of these reforms and analyses how they should operate in practice. Representations to the court are made orally and usually without notice. Thus immediate access to the relevant source material is critical for both lawyers and the media. This is an essential guide for the judiciary (including magistracy, justices' clerks, legal advisers), barristers, solicitors, and the Press.
The access of the media into the family courts throws into sharp relief theissues of open justice, privacy and confidentiality.
The new rules as to media access – and communication as to information – require focus on three distinct and separate areas of family law practice:
(1) The extent and limits of the right of the media access to the courts and to watch.
(2) The extent of what can – and cannot – be reported in relation to cases involving children, with particular reference to the inter-action of the following statutes (see Appendices 3 and 4):
(i) Administration of Justice Act 1960, s 12;
(ii) Contempt of Court Act 1981, s 11;
(iii) Section 97 of the Children Act 1989 as interpreted in Clayton v Clayton.
(3) The extent and limit of the right of a party (or legal representative) to communicate information for purposes connected with the proceedings.
Whilst the new statutory dispensation provides a very restricted access, and intimates an agenda more in the nature of permitting debate as to the ‘system’ of justice rather than the reporting of the individual case in the court room, the very fact of legislative change casts a stone into the mill pond and must necessarily ferment debate with the potential for further change.
One may anticipate that increasingly, application will be made on behalf of the media to be permitted to do more than just sit and watch.
Against that backdrop, the purpose of this book is to provide in one
compendium, commentary and source material which brackets the three foci set out above, in anticipation that in any such application time will be of the essence.
The simpler and easier the corpus of knowledge is capable of ready
assimilation, so the greater will access to justice be secured.
This need for immediate accessibility to source material is accentuated in the context of applications vis a vis media exclusion not necessarily being made on notice, and one may equally expect such applications to be made in very difficult pressing circumstances, as evidenced in the case of Re Child X.1
Such access in this arena is so very critical, given the interests of children.
One not infrequently sees pervading the cases in this arena, a suggestion of local authority inadequacy, if not worse. This book should not be interpreted as other than seeking to strike the fairest of balances between all stakeholders in this area of law. Against that backdrop the following dicta of Munby J in Re B; X Council v B2 bear repetition:
‘There is one further observation I wish to make. As McFarlane J said in Re X (Emergency Protection Orders3) at para :
“The ordinary experience of the family courts is of social workers and
social services departments whose professional work is both valuable and appropriately targeted to meeting the particular needs of children and their families.”
I agree with that view, which accords entirely with my own experience in the family courts. But too often this experience goes either unremarked or recorded in judgments where the local authority is not named. If local authorities which merit criticism are to be named then so too surely should those which deserve praise. If the public interest is a reason for naming the incompetent then surely the very same public interest requires the naming of the competent. Otherwise the public may have a seriously distorted impression of the family justice system – and that is very certainly not in the public interest.’
It is appropriate that dicta of Munby J should feature in this Preface, given the quite profound contribution he has made to the jurisprudence in this field.
Iain Goldrein, QC
7 Harrington Street
7 Bell Yard
1 August 2009
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