"No reporter who heard Neal Gray tell the judge she would have “blood on her hands” if she returned his young granddaughter to her birth parents would have been able to publish his anguished warning. It was given as evidence four years ago against Ben Butler at an appeal heard by the family judge Mrs Justice Hogg. Hogg did return Ellie to her birth parents, and yesterday Butler was convicted of killing his six-year-old daughter in 2013."
There is an almost total lack of transparency in family courts: cases are held in private, and witness evidence and judicial decisions are still, to all intents and purposes, secret. The intention is to safeguard individuals’ privacy at what is likely to be at best an acutely embarrassing, and at worst, immensely painful time in their life. But a shocking lack of public scrutiny and accountability has become the result."
"The ban on reporting means decisions made by judges, as well as evidence given and processes followed - sometimes extremely poorly - by local authority social work departments in care cases, are simply not subject to any sort of scrutiny. Had Gray’s warning been reported, together with the overwhelming witness evidence from the council, police and medical experts against Butler’s fitness to be a parent, there would have been opportunities for significant public debate about the judicial decision that was reached."
"As it was, the only version of events – and assessment of the quality of evidence given in court – that was allowed to reach the public domain was the ruling handed down by the judge. Reporting of what went on in court may not have saved Ellie. But grave decisions that affect the future of vulnerable children and entire families should not be allowed to evade public view in the name of privacy. Although there are difficulties, as I have discovered over 18 months of struggling to report on the family courts, it is possible to do so responsibly while including a great deal of detail in the public interest."