Children's rights panel seeks lawyers' backing

LAWYERS, social workers and journalists should work together to protect children, according to a forum on child protection and media coverage of child abuse cases, chaired by the family specialist Elizabeth Lawson QC.

The panel, which includes representatives from the charity Action on Child Exploitation and the media ethics group PressWise, has called for a Royal Commission of

Inquiry into the rules surrounding media coverage of children's issues.

Last week, the forum issued 12 recommendations designed to give child abuse victims greater protection. It will also meet in private for frank discussions about the media. Its recommendations include:

a call for “more detailed consideration” to be given to court procedures involving children;

a “policy of openness” in local authorities and social service agencies when allegations of abuse of children in care are made;

a revision of the codes of conduct for the media.

Lawson, a deputy High Court Judge and chair of the Family Law Bar Association, stressed that the forum's findings were “just the beginning”.

Submissions to the panel, which was set up in response to last year's World Congress Against Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children, are to be forwarded to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, government departments and professional bodies. Among the submissions were an anonymous solicitor's call for legislation forbidding the identification of any person bringing a legal challenge involving allegations of a sexually degrading nature.

The press needed to “win back the confidence of those who now fear that by denouncing sexual violence they will themselves be denounced,” said the solicitor. But barrister Jane Hoyal argued that the legal system and the court's confidentiality had stifled legal debate about the family law system “by gagging the media from publicly scrutinising individual cases”.