A while back I took part in a consultation regarding the proposals set forward by Tim Loughton MP, Children’s Minister to allow the media greater access to the family courts, this involved meeting with young people from all across the UK to discuss the potential issues which could ensue and the objections they strongly held. At the moment the consultation document is still confidential so I can not share it with you but the views of the individuals who took part are much along the same lines with great concerns for article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, that is the right to privacy as in many cases it would be easy to identify a person who’s case may be reported, especially within smaller communities.
The idea the minister had was to provide greater transparency of the family courts in order to help people understand the system and its fairness, generally a good idea, but what about case studies and court reporting, couldn’t these systems be improved as well as more basic information given to families and young people in general rather than private issues becoming matters of public debate and [in many cases] humiliation? Also you have to consider whether the media can be trusted with such power with phone hacking scandals and their tendency to overplay negatives and wash over the positives. The media is an unethical midfield with immoral practices being used and reports being filed before all the facts are checked.
For anyone who knows me you can probably pick out each of my quotes and say “Yeah, CJ said that”. I share the feeling with my peers that the media should be used with caution and not trusted in its entirety with the lack of fact checking and ability to twist the truth for its own means. In short we do not trust or like the media. Another reason the media should not be allowed access into the courts is that of consent, can they morally publish a picture of a baby, child or young person without their permission if they are even capable of doing it? Adults do not always do what is best for them, and when being dragged through a stressful legal battle their judgement may be clouded by a need for revenge or to vent, among many other reasons.
As you may be aware many family court proceedings are conducted in private where there is no means for the public to view proceedings due to the right to a private life, so we must ask why the Government deems it suitable for a reporter to observe proceedings and then release details to the public. It may be illegal for them to report whilst proceedings are happening, but the lasting impact on the people concerned can affect all areas of their life and create a stigma on them in their local communities or even further afield.
Should the media be permitted to enter the courts and report on a case involving such personal details, surely this could deter individuals from seeking justice or even running a fair trial with certain facts being omitted to save face or even overplayed to cause a media frenzy in an attempt to find fame, or even infamy. A child or young person should not have to fear their problems being publicized and potentially following them for the rest of their lives, their maturity may far outweigh what the courts currently give them granted for and the stigmatization of the situation they are not responsible for could damage their social and academic life with people shunning or molly coddling them to try and make them ‘feel normal’.
It should also not be for a child or young person to learn about their personal situations through the media, nor for the court to decide what they are or are not told in fear that it may ‘damage’ them. Some individuals are far more capable of coping than they are given credit for, and it was felt during the consultation that they may be better emotionally equip to deal with such stressful situations as being dragged through court than the ‘average’ child.
There is much more in the report I urge you to read through when it is released, fortunately we have been invited to give a presentation at the Association of Lawyers for Children conference (13-15 November 2014) to convey our views and start publicizing the report as much as possible. For more information or to give your views please feel free to comment or get in touch!