Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Family Courts; Central London

Of the 66 hearings listed for the Principal Registry of the Family Division in Central London yesterday, 11 were already marked Not open to the media.
In those cases, Her Majestys Courts Service said, the press were automatically barred, and so the hearings were not covered by the new regulations.
Of those hearings to which the press was allowed to try to gain access, many were harrowing residency cases involving children, or divorcing couples arguing over dwindling assets. But in nearly all, the press was allowed to report only the workings of the court, to avoid identifying the children involved.
In some cases, barristers had been employed by local authorities or childrens charities seeking judicial approval about the best way to return youngsters to parents who now appeared fit enough to look after their offspring.
On the first day that reporters were allowed into the imposing seven-floor building just off Chancery Lane, The Times was granted access to sit in a hearing involving a celebrity who was trying to gain the right for his child to live with him.
However, the presss presence in the case, which already has a series of strict reporting restrictions placed on it, led Her Honour Judge Vera Mayer to transfer it to High Court to establish exactly what journalists could report, if anything.
Referring to the new regulations allowing journalists to attend such sensitive cases, she said: I think this is a new field and none of us has any proper guidelines. It has come at a speed that none of us anticipated.
And a case of this nature has issues very specific to it; a foreign element and many other specific concerns. It could either be a case making bad law or an error which if it happened could not be rectified.
The case was adjourned and the celebrity left court. One divorced couple who had probably not exchanged a civil word in months, paused as the immaculately dressed man walked passed them in the corridor, before one nudged the other and said: Isnt that, you know?

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