Thursday 9 December 2010

Independent: Secretive court opened up to press

One of Britain's most secretive courts opened itself to public scrutiny yesterday after a High Court judge lifted reporting restrictions on work done by a hitherto-closed corner of the British justice system, the Independent reports today.

The Court of Protection oversees cases involving vulnerable people who lack the mental capacity to make key decisions about their life, such as brain-damaged soldiers or people with Alzheimer's. But its workings were conducted entirely behind closed doors until a successful legal challenge by The Independent earlier this year.

Yesterday, Mr Justice Hedley allowed reporting for the first time on a mother's fight to have her son returned to her. Neither the mother, her son, nor the local authorities can be named. But some details of the case can be reported for the first time, providing the public with an insight into the desperately hard, often-controversial decisions made by the court on a daily basis.

The Independent says in a leader today: "The rule of law is a pillar of our democracy. The courts provide one of the vital checks on the activities of the executive. But the justice system is not infallible. And it too requires democratic scrutiny, especially when it is makes controversial interventions into family life, as the Court of Protection regularly does. Blanket restrictions on reporting of the functioning of our courts are fundamentally inimical to that scrutiny.

"Piece by piece, the wall of secrecy that has been erected around the Court of Protection is being torn down. And this newspaper is proud to be part of the demolition crew."

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