Family courts ‘must open to public’

MPs have urged the government to allow members of the press and the public to attend family court proceedings.

The House of Commons constitutional affairs committee argues that the legitimacy of family cases involving child custody after divorce cases are currently being damaged by claims of bias.

By opening up the courts, confidence would be boosted and controversy surrounding them would disappear, they claim.

“It would go a long way towards dispelling accusations of bias and restoring public confidence in the system if the process was open – with the necessary reporting restrictions in place to protect the child,” explained committee chairman Alan Beith.

“Ideally, many more cases would be resolved through mediation. To that end we would like to see everyone at least meet with a mediator and see if the process could work for them.”

Constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman welcomed the report, saying that “it is important that a system which affects so many is properly understood and commands public confidence”.

The Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA) is likely to implement proposals contained in today’s report in the near future, with a consultancy paper on “transparency” in family courts expected shortly.

Today’s committee report calls on the government to introduce measures whereby judges would retain power to impose restrictions on public access rights in order “to protect the child and the interest of justice”.