Justice Committee

Press notice No. 2 of Session 2008-09

16 December 2008 / For Immediate Release


The Justice Committee welcomes the Government's acceptance of an important recommendation by our predecessor, the Constitutional Affairs Committee, on the openness of family courts. The Chairman of the Committee, Sir Alan Beith MP, in response to the statement to the House this afternoon by the Justice Secretary, said that "transparency is vital for the justice system, including family justice, and it can be achieved while still respecting the privacy of the children and families involved".

1. In March 2005 the Constitutional Affairs Committee, under the chairmanship of the then Rt Hon Alan Beith MP, recommended that: "A greater degree of transparency is required in the family courts. An obvious move would be to allow the press and public into the family courts under appropriate reporting restrictions, and subject to the judge's discretion to exclude the public. Anonymised judgments should normally be delivered in public unless the judge in question specifically chooses to make an order to the contrary. This would make it possible for the public to have a more informed picture of what happens in the family courts, and would give the courts the 'open justice' which characterises our judicial system, while protecting the parties." (Fourth Report of 2004-05, Family justice: the operation of the family courts, HC 116.). The Government reply said that it recognised: "a growing consensus that the family courts lack transparency ... As the situation currently stands, the system is open to criticism, and the privacy of proceedings fuels the criticism further because accusations cannot be easily refuted". (Cm 6507, March 2005.) In a follow-up report, in June 2006, the Committee responded: "We are pleased that the Department for Constitutional Affairs has undertaken to consult on the issue of transparency and expect that moves towards open justice in the family court will quickly follow." (Sixth Report of 2005-06, Family justice: the operation of the family courts revisited, HC 1086.) Subsequently, the Department for Constitutional Affairs undertook to perform a consultation exercise in the early spring of 2006. The consultation paper, due for publication in March 2006, was delayed. Today's statement (16 December 2008) heralds the conclusion of this process.

2. Committee membership is as follows: Rt Hon Sir Alan Beith MP (Chairman), Mr David Heath MP, Siân James MP, Daniel Kawczynski MP, Jessica Morden MP, Julie Morgan MP, Rt Hon Alun Michael MP, Robert Neill MP, Dr Nick Palmer MP, Linda Riordan MP, Virendra Sharma MP, Mr Andrew Turner MP, Mr Andrew Tyrie MP and Dr Alan Whitehead MP

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