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Top judge’s war on secret courts: Family hearings must be exposed to ‘glare of publicity’

Sunday, October 27, 2013 13:29
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  • Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court  said parents of children taken into care should no longer be gagged by courts
  • Judgment came in case of parents whose four children taken into state care
  • Council tried to ban video of seizure in April by social workers and police
  • Sir James said there is a ‘pressing need’ for workings of family courts to be opened up to public scrutiny

One of Britain’s most senior judges vowed yesterday to expose family courts to ‘the glare of publicity’ after decades of obsessive secrecy.

In a landmark ruling, Sir James Munby said parents of children taken into care must no longer be gagged by the courts and the public should be told what social workers are up to.

Sir James, who is president of the Family Division of the High Court, said the removal of children from their families had become the most drastic matter judges dealt with now there was no death penalty. He said the rulings could affect mothers for ‘upwards of 60 or even 70 years’ and children for even longer.

There was a ‘pressing need’ for the workings of the family courts to be opened to public view and the arguments for scrutiny and public accountability were compelling.

Parents must be given the freedom to criticise judges, the courts and social workers, and the Press must be free to report what has happened without the interference of judges, Sir James added. The break-up of families by the state must no longer happen in secret, on the pretext of protecting the children involved.

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