Saturday, April 25, 2009

Under the Microscope

OK, so family courts will be opened up to the media as from Monday, but exactly what is the purpose of this reform, and will it make any difference?

In a comment to this post I was asked what I feel about the reform and my reply was: "Personally, I'm not convinced either that the courts should be opened up at the behest of the media, or that these reforms will make much difference. The proof, as ever, will be in the eating." Yes, it is probably true that public confidence in the family justice system is at a low, but this is only because of a sustained campaign by the media and others, such as fathers' rights groups. As someone who works within the system, I do not witness such cause for concern (although I do have some worries, such as delay in the system). That is not to say that we should be complacent - I'm sure that the system could be improved, and we should constantly be seeking ways of achieving this. However, my experience is of seeing dedicated, highly motivated professional people doing their best for those unfortunate enough to be caught up within the system, especially the children, and of good results being achieved in the vast majority of cases. Of course, there are people who the system has failed, but this would probably be the case with any system - not that we should give up the hope of finding a 'perfect' system.

As to whether or not the reform will make a difference, both the media and Resolution have already expressed substantial reservations, and I agree with many of those. The same severe limits upon what can be reported remain, which makes the purpose of the whole exercise somewhat dubious, and in any event, the media will not be the slightest bit interested in the vast majority of cases. It has also worryingly been suggested that the reforms may lead to more litigation - the very last thing we want, particularly in children cases. The ultimate rationale for the reform is of course that, with more media involvement, the public will be better informed and the system will be improved. I'm not at all sure that either of these aims will be achieved.

Whatever transpires, one thing is clear: the system is going to be under the microscope like never before, if only to see how the new rules work.

If you want to know the detail of the changes, you will find the Rules here and here, the Practice Directions here and here and the President's Guidance here.

3 comments:

  1. The interesting part in the President's guidance is the word "expressly" in communication to the media.

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  2. Yes, that is interesting. I'm not entirely certain of the effect of that.

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  3. The answers to the questions, 'what is the purpose and will it make any difference', are respectively, 'to restore public confidence' and 'no'. To justify that I'd simply draw attention to the report into the very similar New Zealand experiment which Jack Straw seems not to have read.

    I dispute the idea, however, that it is the media and fathers' rights groups which have undermined public confidence; we have merely shed a little light. It is the conduct of the family justice system which has destroyed confidence; all by itself.

    ReplyDelete

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