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Court reporters

Judge wants power to ban newspapers

By Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent: Daily Mail 31st October 2006

JUDGES should be given powers to single out and ban newspapers such as the Daily Mail from attending family courts, a senior figure in the judiciary said yesterday.

Lord Justice Wall said journalists from certain papers could be barred when new rules are brought in to lift the blanket of secrecy that currently covers cases dealing with disputes over children.

He criticised the Mail’s reporting of a key case last year in which an Essex couple’s children were taken from them by social workers. But the Mail maintains that it was entirely accurate and in this case highlighted the type of decisions made in the secretive courts that many would consider totally unjust. The children in question were put up for adoption on the grounds that their mother did not have the intellectual capacity to look after them and their father was said to be too devoted to routine in the way he cared for them.

The children were, a court heard, loved, clean, well-dressed and well-fed, and had never been hurt or cruelly treated. However a High Court judge agreed with social workers that the parents’ wish to raise their own children should be overruled.

The couple have been banned from seeing their children, now aged five and two. The case won widespread attention after it was highlighted by the Mail. In a speech to a conference on family law yesterday, Mr Justice Wall, an Appeal Court judge, said the newspaper – which he did not name – had published a ‘highly tendentious and illicitly-obtained’ account.

In the past, media representatives have been prevented from reporting family court hearings. Constitutional Affairs Minister Harriet Harman is drawing up new rules that would grant the media access.

But Mr Justice Wall said that if newspapers displease them, judges should consider ‘the withdrawal of accreditation’ – preventing a paper from preparing its own reports of a case. It would mean judges having the power to pick and choose who can report on cases involving 400,000 children and families every year.

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