Court reporting plans could threaten children’s privacy

Vulnerable children’s privacy will be put at risk by government plans to relax media reporting of family courts, according to a critical Oxford University report.

The Children, Schools and Families Bill, which is awaiting its second reading in Parliament, plans to allow the media to report details of individual cases and name expert witnesses.

Although the bill pledges to keep children’s identities secret, the Nuffield Foundation-funded briefing paper The Media and the Family Courts – Key Information and Questions about the Children, Schools and Families Bill, says that the bill “lacks sufficient clarity” surrounding privacy.

Report co-author Robert George says: “Under these changes we could see very personal details of vulnerable children and adults published in local and national newspapers and online.

“Journalists will not be able to name children and families, but that will not necessarily prevent them from being identified.”

The report also urges the government to consider alternative ways of opening up family courts to greater public scrutiny. This includes waiting for the findings of a pilot launched this year to make anonymised family court judgements readily available to the public.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said that the bill and the anonymised judgements pilot “address different policy goals”.

He added: “The information pilots provide easily accessible anonymised records of decisions made in family court cases, which will be available for the public, media and parties to view. Allowing greater reporting of family cases where a media representative is in attendance will allow the media to scrutinise court processes on the public’s behalf in the interests of transparency and public accountability.”


Published in: on December 4, 2009 at 7:46 am  Leave a Comment  
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