Submitted by the Royal
the President of the Royal
am submitting written evidence in relation to the Children, Schools and
Families Bill on behalf of the Royal College of
1. We support the family courts to be more open
2. Our single most important guiding principle
is that the anonymity of children should be reserved in perpetuity.
3. In the light of 2, we believe that
paediatricians who are giving evidence as professional witnesses (ie they have
met the child in the course of their day-to-day work or the child was one of
their patients) should retain anonymity in order that the child and family may
not be identified. This is a particular
risk if the child comes from a small community in a rural area where there are
only a small number of paediatricians.
Furthermore, research from
4. We do not necessarily believe that expert
witnesses should retain anonymity. They
are being paid a fee for giving their evidence and they are not obliged to do
so. However, the DCSF should be aware
that the pool of expert witnesses willing to come forward to help courts has
been dwindling and this measure may reduce that pool even further.
5. As the Royal College of
6. Interim findings to date indicate that
children and young people tend not to trust the press and are clear about the
information they do not want published about their case and families. In addition to not being named, they do not
want information about, for example, allegations/findings of fact regarding
maltreatment, or details of failures of parents made freely known (all
information the press would arguably want).
Further and more careful attention needs to be given to what constitutes
'sensitive information' - it has to encompass what children and young people
deem sensitive and data indicate this is more wide ranging than you appear to
acknowledge. In addition to information appearing
in newspapers, young people are concerned that
information once in the public arena will get on to the Internet and
social networking websites where it will remain forever, available to anyone
who wishes to 'Google' and download it and share with others. Data to date indicate that once told a
reporter may be in court, children and young people will be unwilling/less
willing to disclose parental ill-treatment, or the impact of warring parents,
or their wishes and feelings to doctors.
The implication of this is that family courts may be faced with making
life changing decisions about a child/young person based on incomplete evidence
from children themselves.
7. We are particularly concerned for very young children who cannot be involved in any decision making. In the future they may greatly regret the fact that their name or the family's name has appeared in the newspaper. I would draw an analogy with 'fly on the wall' documentaries of families where the parents have consented to TV cameras being allowed into their home. Some of these have resulted in the demonising or stigmatising of children who are far too young to be able to express a view and override their parents consent. However, in future years they may greatly regret the fact that their name, their homes and their lives have been betrayed in the media and will be available for ever in this digital age.
I hope you find this written evidence helpful. I am sorry that neither myself nor the College's Child Protection Officer are able to appear in person to give oral evidence on the 21st of January 2010 as both of us have prior commitments in Liverpool and Northern Ireland respectively.