Children vote unanimously against media access to family court hearings
Children with experience of family court hearings voted unanimously against further media access, stating they are private “for good reason”.
In a report commissioned by the National Youth Advocacy Service (NYAS) and the Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC), 11 young people were quizzed on their views of media access to family court hearings. The results expressed distrust over the ability of the media to respect privacy or to meet the “public education agenda it claims to defend when it pleads for increased access.”
The foreword of the report, which was co-written by the children’s commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, and the children’s commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler, states: “Article 16 [of the United Nations Convention on Rights of the Child] is crystal clear: all children have an inalienable, undeniable right to have their privacy protected, unless there are things happening in their lives that place them in danger. If we take this international treaty seriously, and if children tell us they do not want their private lives made public, we have a clear mandate: to ensure their dignity is guaranteed by not exposing their private troubles to the public gaze.”
Chief executive at NYAS, Christine Renouf, conceded that the sample of interviewees was small, but stressed this was due to “the speed in which things are moving in family courts,” making it difficult to create a larger report demographic.
Children interviewed for the report said they were concerned about their personal privacy being infringed, making their identification available to the public domain (whether intentionally or unintentionally) without consent.
They agreed that personal information in the public domain could lead to further implications for the child involved, which may in turn lead to detrimental effects such as “depression”, “humiliation” and “self harm” or “suicide”. They stated that “media access and reporting will exacerbate stress”.
Following changes in the Family Proceedings Rules in 2009, accredited media representatives are permitted to attend hearings unless the court directs otherwise. While a case is ongoing however, the media is currently not permitted to publish information intended or likely to lead to the identification of a child(ren) in the case.