Saturday, 12 July 2008

Understanding the family justice system

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Sir, The Family Justice Council is disappointed by the lack of understanding of the family justice system (times2, July 9, and letters, July 10). The distorted portrayal of the family justice system includes attacks on the integrity of thousands of specialist social care and medical professionals (who are working to protect children from abuse) as well as on expert lawyers. Ms Cavendish accuses the family justice system of being a secret state where social workers and medical experts are unaccountable. One of the principal functions of the courts is to scrutinise the evidence provided by medical experts and social workers, which is subjected to rigorous testing by specialist legal practitioners; the judicial task is to evaluate that evidence. The courts do not shrink from exposing poor practice by social workers and questionable medical evidence. The Family Justice Council supports greater transparency and accountability in the family courts, as detailed in its responses to the two public consultations published by the Government in 2006 and 2007. These responses were informed directly by the views of a panel of children and young people. They were clear that they did not want personal information, which could identify them in their communities and schools, placed in the public domain. The council recognises the vital importance of ensuring public confidence in the work of the family justice system. It supports judicially controlled access to the courts and has proposed reforms to guide the exercise of the judicial discretion. The council supports publication of judgments in family cases, made appropriately anonymous, to improve public understanding of this vital work, and believes it is of the greatest importance for children to understand the reasons why the courts made the decisions they did.

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