Newspaper Society: New law for family court will cause ‘regime of secrecy’

The Newspaper Society has presented a submission to the House of Commons’ Justice Select Committee, claiming that reporting restrictions within the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010 that aim to protect privacy within family court proceedings will result in a “regime of secrecy”.

The select committee announced it would carry out an inquiry into confidentiality and openness in family courts – partly in light of the new legislation and invited submissions from interested parties. In its submission the Newspaper Society claims the Act will place more restrictions on the press and not allow for greater public confidence in the system:

The NS says that although the media warmly supported the previous government’s aim of increasing openness and transparency and improving public confidence in the family justice system, its conclusion, regretfully, is that the Act will not achieve this.

(…) The NS points out that the Act’s effect is apparently to make it a contempt of court to publish any article referring to family proceedings, even if derived entirely from material already in the public domain and even if the parties were not identified, if the publication was not derived from an “authorised news report”.

Reporting on its submission the Newspaper Society added that the complexity of the Act may also deter press coverage altogether, concluding:

[T]hat the intention of increased transparency has been lost in the Act’s drafting, that the aim of achieving privacy for the families has been conflated into a renewed regime of secrecy which – if the relevant provisions in the Act are brought into force unamended – will not only fail to deliver the desired public accountability but will represent a major reduction in what can now be lawfully published, and will actually further reduce public debate and discussion of the family justice system.

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