As reported in The Times today journalists and activists are beginning to realise that the reforms in respect of media access to family proceedings are not a green light to report anything and everything juicy, salacious or gruesome. Or really much of anything at all.
Not a few people were so caught up whooping at the successful drawing back of the cloak of secrecy that they failed to pay attention to what was actually being announced and what was actually possible in the timescale between announcement (Dec) and implementation (next Fri). Is that a ‘con-trick’? No. Reporting restrictions were ALWAYS going to take longer than four months to sort out because the law concerning the reporting of proceedings concerning children is spread across several different pieces of primary legislation (Administration of Justice Act 1960, Children Act 1989, Children & Young Persons Act 1933, Contempt of Court Act 1980 etc). The easy bit: media access – well that could be fixed simply by tweaking the rules quick as you like.
Far from a case of ‘hoodwinking’ as suggested by Mr Hemmings MP (who ought really to know that statute requires amendment by Parliament and that the process of amending primary legislation can be laborious and slow), the limitations on the changes announced for implementation in April this year ought to have been obvious to anyone paying proper attention from the outset.
The media have been misled, says Mr Hemmings. Perhaps they have, but at the risk of siding with Jack Straw – not by the Government. One might venture to suggest that ‘the media’ have been so busy dancing their little victory dance that they have gone almost to the day of implementation without really scrutinising the proposals and public statements to see what they actually promise. One might also note (with just a little snidey grin) that this does not instill confidence in the ability of the media to thoroughly and comprehensively analyse and present sensitive or complex material arising from family proceedings for the purposes of fair and appropriate reporting. But that would just be catty.
Mr Hemmings is right. Significant change on a day to day level will come only when the law relating to reporting restrictions is reformed. And it remains to be seen what shape that reform will take. The process of legislative reform of reporting restrictions is likely be complex, controversial and time consuming. Watch this space – carefully. And DOooooo pay attention. There will be a test.