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Baby P shows why Northern Ireland family courts should be more open: judge

By Rebecca Black

Published 07/10/2016

Lord Justice Gillen
Lord Justice Gillen

The public might not have heard about the Baby P case if it had happened in Northern Ireland, a senior judge has claimed.

Lord Justice Gillen also called for the family courts to be opened to the media.

Under Article 22 of The Criminal Justice (Children) (NI) Order 1998, press and media are restricted from reporting proceedings in youth courts.

Yet family courts were opened up to the media in England in 2009 in order to combat the perceived secrecy under which the courts and judges operated.

Lord Justice Gillen, who is heading the Review of Civil and Family Justice in Northern Ireland, made a number of recommendations in his 250-page draft report.

He told investigative journalism website The Detail that the "key to a successful family justice system is public confidence". "The public must have confidence in the family justice system," he explained

"And there is a tension, a tension between on the one hand the right of children to have privacy, to have protection from the public knowing all about their little lives, and anonymity is important, and on the other hand there is a need for the public to know what is happening in the courts.

"Courts must be transparent, and courts must be accountable. The only way you can do that is by opening up the courts to the media so the public can find out what is going on - so long as we have appropriate protections for children within that system."

Lord Justice Gillen said he has found the media here to be "extremely responsible".

He cited the case of Baby Peter Connelly as one reason for greater media access.

The child suffered more than 50 injuries, despite being on the at-risk register and receiving 60 visits from social workers, police and health professionals over eight months.

His mother, Tracey Connelly, her boyfriend, Steven Barker, and his brother, Jason Owen, were jailed in May 2009 for causing or allowing the child's death.

Sharon Shoesmith, the Northern Ireland-born head of Haringey children's services, was sacked in December 2008.

Lord Justice Gillen said: "Let me give you one illustration - The case of Baby P in England. If that happens in the courts in Northern Ireland, the public have a right to know about it.

"They should know who is to be held to account for misdemeanours with children. The only way you can do that is by opening up the courts to the media."

Lord Justice Gillen also said courts should become the last resort for separated families.

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