The president of the family division has called for independent research to be carried out on cases reported by the press to see if courts are making mistakes and failing to protect victims and children.
In a speech to the Personal Support Unit conference on Domestic Abuse yesterday, Sir Andrew McFarlane said the media was right to focus on perceived failures of the family justice system, pointing out that at least two national newspapers are running campaigns.
However, he highlighted difficulties with such campaigns: 'In almost every case the journalists will have little more information than an account given to them by one or other parent. Whilst a growing number of family court judgments are published, they are published anonymously and the judgment in the particular case that has been referred to the media may either not be published or, if published, not readily identifiable as being the judgment relating to the parent who is speaking to the journalist.
'From my perspective, when reading such media reports, which I can assure you I do, I am left, having read the worrying headline and short account in the paper, with an inability to identify the individual parent or children concerned and no ability, therefore, to call for the court file to see what has happened in the particular case.'
This, McFarlane said, was a 'wholly unsatisfactory position' for the complainant parent, journalist, public and justice system, and he said the questions raised by the media coverage 'cries out for a thorough independent research project'.
He said: 'A starting point would be for the researchers to take up each and every case that has been properly highlighted in the press and then be allowed access to the court file, the orders made and, particularly, the statement of the reasons given by the judges and the magistrates for making any court order. I and the family judiciary as a whole would readily cooperate with such research, so that if mistakes have been made or, more worryingly, if the system as a whole is at fault, that can be seen to be the case and immediate steps may be taken to enhance the safety of victims and children in the future.'