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Justice: Family Courts

Volume 710: debated on Monday 27 April 2009


My right honourable friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice (Jack Straw) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I made an oral Statement and laid in Parliament the Government's response to the recent consultation on improving the openness of family courts in December 2008, entitled Family Justice in View. In that paper I announced that we would make a number of changes to current court rules to make family proceedings more open and transparent.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my honourable friend the Member for Lewisham East (Bridget Prentice), laid before Parliament on 6 April the Family Proceedings (Amendment) (No.2) Rules 2009 and The Family Proceedings Courts (Miscellaneous Amendments) Rules 2009. These rules provide for the media to be present at family proceedings but give the courts limited discretion to exclude in set circumstances prescribed in the rules. The rules also make it easier for parties and their legal advisers involved in family proceedings to be able to disclose information for the purpose of advice and support, mediation and the investigation of a complaint. The rules will also make it easier for the person to whom the party has disclosed information to make onward disclosure of it for the same purpose, and with the party's consent, without seeking permission of the court. These new rules of court, which are the first phase of the wider package of measures I announced in December, will come into effect today.

The media attendance rules are supported by practice directions issued by the President of the Family Division.

The second phase of the measures will be the information pilots, which will test the provision of written judgments in more cases than now, and put anonymised versions in the public domain. These pilots will start when the necessary procedures and security arrangements have been agreed and are in place.

A revised reporting restriction framework will be the third phase. Primary legislation is needed to give effect to a clearer and more consistent reporting restriction framework applicable across all tiers of family courts, which will support the wider objectives of the transparency programme while respecting the rights to privacy of parties to proceedings, and children. This is because key existing restrictions on reporting are contained piecemeal in primary legislation, and the balanced, flexible and simplified framework which is our aim cannot be achieved through rule changes. We will do this as and when parliamentary time allows.

In December I also announced that we would be reversing the effect of the landmark judgment made in Clayton v Clayton. Since making that statement I have taken the time to reflect and reconsider my position on this issue. I have now come to the conclusion that unless good evidence can be provided to show me that by not reversing Clayton v Clayton the effects to the child will be harmful (and so far no such evidence has been forthcoming), I will not disturb the effects of Clayton v Clayton. I will of course keep this decision under review should evidence emerge of a negative impact. I will also consider the implications of the judgment with interest groups as part of wider discussions on legislative requirements to introduce transparency in the courts.