30th March 2007
Family Justice Minister Harriet Harman will today visit Darlington County Court to see how it deals with family cases.
The Government is consulting on how to make the family court system more open and accountable to the public.
The Rt Honourable Harriet Harman QC MP said:
"It is hard to overstate the importance of the work the family courts like Darlington do and the difficult judgments they have to make. Family courts make decisions that have important effects on people's lives and that affect them forever. But often these decisions are made behind closed doors and without the child being present.
"Opening up the courts and building confidence in the family justice system is important not just for the general public, but for the people involved in the proceedings.
Ms Harman's plans also look at how to ensure that children are given more choice over their level of involvement in court proceedings affecting them.
Ms Harman said:
“The family courts must make their decisions based on what is in the best interests of the child. It seems strange to me that the person that the court is least likely to see is the one who is supposed to matter most – the child.
I think we should ensure that children who are old enough are as fully involved in the process as they want to be, for example by giving them the option of attending the proceedings or speaking to the judge deciding their case directly.
Notes for Editors
1. Harriet Harman will visit Darlington County Court at 13:30 today as part of a programme of court visits to help her see how the family courts work.
2. The Government paper on responses to the consultation, 'Confidence and Confidentiality: Improving Transparency and Privacy in Family Courts' is available from the DCA website at: http://www.dca.gov.uk/consult/courttransparencey1106/response-cp1106.pdf. The Government will be reflecting further on these responses before coming forward with our final proposals.