What do children think about opening up the family courts?

There is serious concern that opening up the family courts, for increased media access for example, is going to harm children and is not what they want.

The Children’s Commissioner investigated this issue in 2010 and said:

For our research, we spoke to more than 50 children and young people, and what they said raises a number of serious concerns. The overwhelming view was that reporters should not be allowed into family court proceedings because the hearings address matters that are intensely private. The events discussed are painful, embarrassing and humiliating and the children and young people said their deeply personal details were the business of neither newspapers, nor the general public.

They did not trust the press to get the facts right and felt strongly that articles would be sensationalised. They were worried about being identified and fear being bullied as a result.

It is of great concern that the children and young people said that if a reporter was in court to hear the evidence, they would not speak freely to professionals charged with undertaking assessments. This could seriously impact on a judge’s ability to make difficult and often life changing decisions in the child’s best interests.

You can download the report here.

 

There has been a further report by the ALC and NYAS in 2014 which you can read here.

The children interviewed were not happy with the idea of information about their cases being widely accessed and did not think that was a solution to dealing with criticisms of the family court system.

  • In the context of early discussions young people said they are not always informed about what is happening in their case – before or during proceedings. They said out dated paternalistic approaches by professionals are not in children’s interests: they need honesty and accurate information about processes and decisions about their care and at a time when they can make informed choices.

Further reading

The not-so-secret life of five-year-olds: legal and ethical issues relating to disclosure of information and the depiction of children on broadcast and social media

Marion Oswald, Helen James & Emma Nottingham

Abstract

Widespread concerns around the privacy impact of online technologies have corresponded with the rise of fly-on-the-wall television documentaries and public-by-default social media forums allowing parallel commentary. Although information about children has traditionally been regarded by society, law and regulation as deserving of particular protection, popular documentaries such as Channel 4′s ‘The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6 year olds’ raise questions as to whether such protections are being deliberately or inadvertently eroded in this technological ‘always-on’ online age. The article first describes the documentary series and the results of an analysis of related Twitter interaction. It considers responses to freedom of information requests sent to the public bodies involved in the series with the aim of establishing the ethical considerations given to the involvement of the children. The paper goes on to explore the privacy law context; the wider child law issues, the position of parents/carers and the impact of broadcast codes. It considers if lessons can be learned from how decisions in the medical context have dealt with issues of best interests in decision-making and in disclosure of information concerning the child. The paper concludes that additional legal and ethical safeguards are needed to ensure that the best interests of children are properly considered when images and information are exposed on broadcast and social media.

 

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