We Must End the 'Secrecy' of Family Courts Says Judge; Adoption Heartbreak Couple Welcome Call for More Openness

Article excerpt

Byline: FIONA BARTON

ONE of the country's most senior judges called yesterday for greater openness in the Family Courts.

Lord Justice Wall said the lack of public access could lead to accusations of 'secret justice'.

The judge spoke out in the High Court after hearing the case of a couple whose children were taken by their local authority because they were judged too slow to care for them.

But he refused them permission to appeal against the enforced adoption of their toddler son and four-year-old daughter.

The Essex couple, whose case was first highlighted by the Daily Mail, were distraught at the defeat but welcomed the judge's admission that there was public distrust of the secrecy surrounding Family Courts.

Family Court proceedings are heard in the absence of juries or any form of public scrutiny to protect the anonymity of the children involved.

The rules mean families cannot seek outside help or advice or highlight what they fear could be a miscarriage of justice.

Lord Justice Wall, sitting with Lord Justice Thorpe, said: 'This case provides a strong argument for those who, like myself, take the view that the judgments of circuit and family division judges hearing care and adoption proceedings should, as a matter of routine, be given in an anonymised form in open court.

'The exclusion of the public from family courts, and the general lack of knowledge on the part of the public about what happens in them, easily lead to the accusation of "secret justice".

'The best way to tackle that problem is by greater openness in the decision-making process.' But he said there should be no appeal in the couple's case because it was not about 'social engineering or state intervention' but about children suffering or being likely to suffer because of the parents' 'lack of parenting skills'.

During the family's assessment by Essex Council social services, the children were found to be loved, kept clean, well-dressed and fed. …