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Family Court to be more open

22 September 2004

Family Court to be more open

Family Court proceedings are to be opened up to the public and media under the close control of judges, to ensure confidence in the court is maintained, the Government announced today.

Cabinet this week approved suggestions by the Law Commission to provide for accredited news media to attend family court proceedings.

Courts Minister Rick Barker and Associate Justice Minister David Benson-Pope say the wide-ranging changes are designed to improve transparency in the court without compromising family proceedings.

Mr Barker says these changes will remove misconceptions by individuals, interest groups and the media that the Family Court's closed nature might allow for unfair processes and bias.

"We have acted to produce solutions that strike a balance between open justice, and essentially, protecting the privacy of the children and families involved," Mr Barker said. "As well as media, other people, including support people, will also be allowed to attend hearings with the Judge's permission. However, judges will retain the discretion to exclude people from hearings where necessary and can be asked to exclude people by any of the parties involved.

"Judges may also direct draft news reports to be submitted to the court to check journalists have complied with directions given by the Court. Breaches of reporting restrictions could leave individuals liable to up to three months imprisonment or $2000 fines and organisations up to $10,000 in fines."

Associate Justice Minister David Benson-Pope, welcoming the cabinet decision, says broader publication will give a clearer picture of the Court's decision-making processes and allow access by a much wider audience, but there are strict guidelines.

"Although publishing of reports of family proceedings will be allowed, in cases involving children, domestic violence, or vulnerable persons, all identifying information must be omitted unless the leave of the Court is first obtained," Mr Benson-Pope explained. "These changes will allow people to tell their personal stories, whether or not identifiable details can be published or not."

New legislation in the Family Court Matters Bill will implement these changes.


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