Douglas Carswell

07 SEP 2016

Family-court secrecy needs to end

Yesterday I asked the Justice Secretary what progress the government has made on opening up the family courts. Too often, families are broken up without proper scrutiny. This is an urgent issue. Yet, year after year, little seems to change.

Often courts have no alternative but to take children suffering abuse into care. But I fear that in too many cases the wrong decision is made. Good parents have been judged unfit, and children have been adopted by strangers rather than loving grandparents.

Part of the problem is a lack of transparency in the family-court system. Access for the press is limited. The identities of expert witnesses and social workers – on whose evidence the judgment often depends – are protected. Proceedings aren't made public.

Some miscarriages of justice have been documented by journalists, notably Camilla Cavendish. But how many others are unknown because judgments are made behind closed doors? Secrecy opens the door to injustice.

Almost a year ago, UKIP in Parliament released a paper calling for the family courts to be opened up. We called for court proceedings to be published, and the identities of expert witnesses and social workers who testify in court to be revealed.

We're not the only ones to raise the issue. Sir James Munby, president of the family courts division, opened a consultation on transparency two years ago.

But what's happened since?

That was the question I put to the new Justice Secretary. Her response gave little indication that this issue is a priority for the government.

Since the referendum, there has been the sense of political upheaval in Britain. A new prime minister, a new government, a new Brexit outlook.

But much of the change that excites politicians and pundits is superficial. Too often, we get different personnel, but government stays the same.

For families on the wrong end of the family-court secrecy, transparency can't wait. This is a real opportunity for urgent reform. I hope the new Justice Secretary takes it.

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