THERE has long been dissatisfaction with the way in which Family Courts are conducted in Britain.
Matters affecting lives of individual children and their families have been discussed and determined in almost complete secrecy and parents who feel their rights and responsibilities have not been sufficiently recognised have had no means of appealing against the courts' decisions. Just as the names of children concerned are withheld so have been the identities of the professionals whose evidence may be conclusive.

From yesterday, however, a small step forward was taken to bring great openness to these procedures. For the first time representatives of the media may attend with the judge's permission although their reporting will be strictly limited in character and may even be subject to special guidance from the judge. No responsible newspaper or TV channel would want to report Family Court proceedings in a sensational way and the restrictions being placed on them seem excessive. They certainly go beyond what the Justice Secretary Jack Straw appeared to promise when he first talked about this reform; perhaps he was persuaded by the judges - who often have extremely sensitive decisions to take - that reform should be introduced very slowly.

For the moment, the media will be able to learn something about how these important courts work and to report on this in general terms. In particular they will be able to form a judgement on how objectively and openly local authorities and expert witnesses approach the cases that come before the Family Courts.