Family court lifts ban on press after legal challenge

A weekly newspaper has won a battle to be allowed to cover family court sessions.

The Middleton & North Manchester Guardian, fought to have a ban on attending the sessions at Rochdale Magistrates’ Court lifted.

The Guardian’s news editor, Ava Soe, has been investigating a number of high-profile cases about the performance of Rochdale Social Services, which attracted national publicity when instigating proceedings about alleged “Satanic Abuse” on a local council estate 14 years ago.

The claims were later found to be erroneous.

As part of the Guardian’s monitoring of more recent cases, the paper wanted to attend family court proceedings at the court.

The Guardian said its reporter was refused entry, despite the clerk of the court being reminded of the press’s legal right to attend family courts in certain circumstances. Under section 69 (2) of the Magistrates Court Act 1980, representatives of newspapers and news agencies cannot be excluded during such proceedings unless the court is discussing adoption arrangements or dealing with evidence involving indecency.

The Guardian’s legal representatives complained to the court, whose head of legal services admitted the reporter should have been allowed entry.

He said: “We concede that an error was made on the day and the reporter had a right to be present. By way of explanation, the case itself was complex, with difficult issues and strong feelings to be addressed.

“The legal adviser accepts that he failed to give full consideration to the request while he was dealing with other issues which had arisen.”

The court has now assured the paper that reporters will not be excluded from future proceedings except in certain cases, and when that happened they would be allowed to know why they were being excluded.

Editor Gerry Sammon said: “This is a victory for the press. All too often we have had our rights eroded. This case has proved that, if you have right on your side -plus in our case a good legal team – we can win the day.

“What is particularly disturbing is that we had to tell the legal experts at court what the law was regarding press attendance. And when they disregarded our representations to be present we had to take our own legal route to ensure our rights.”

By Jon Slattery

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