A call for greater transparency could put children at risk if courts increase publicity.
A senior government adviser has warned that children will be at greater risk of suicide if family court proceedings are opened up to greater publicity.
Sue Berelowitz, deputy children’s commissioner said the principle of increased transparency could have unintended consequences for children involved in proceedings.
Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, has called for greater transparency in the family court, with more judgements available to the public and current restrictions relaxed.
The risk, however, is that greater transparency might not be in the children’s best interests.
‘It is only a matter of time before this deeply misguided motion, which has at its heart, I believe, an utter disregard for the welfare and best interests of children, and is in my view therefore unlawful, will result in the death of a child,’ Berelowitz said.
She said it was the view of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner that the European Convention on Human Rights requires that family proceedings to fully protect the privacy of any child involved.
The concern, of course, is that to include details of the case might allow others to piece the information together to identify the child concerned.
Berelowitz argued that by comparison that having the press at criminal proceedings does not lead to justice being or being seen to be done. With the family court she argued that children might be less willing to speak to other professionals such as a social worker, teacher or doctor.
Certainly there is a shared view that confidence in the family law system needs to improve. But the risk is how transparency will expose children to risk and how the family courts can protect against this. Transparency is good as it allows all to see and understand court decisions; and that public officials are accountable. But it can be argued that this is an extremely risky step that may severely compromise the court’s ability to guarantee children’s rights.
At present media are allowed into family courts and there are restrictions on publicity. Decisions are also published and on an anonymous basis. A balance needs to be draw because it will only be a matter of time before information about a child will be seen on social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook.
It would be a good idea to compare how other countries deal with transparency and balance the need to protect a child. Transparency may lead to fewer problems but like most things in life there needs to be a proper balance.