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Northern Ireland politicians and others in Contempt of Court for discussing Children Order matters?

Having taken some time out to concentrate on political developments in Northern Ireland, most of our original readers will be glad to hear that I am going back to my specialist subject, family law reform. Of course I would like our new readers to stay, but unless the issues I normally blog on affect them or their family or friends they have my permission to blog off!

On Friday past I was with a politician whose name has been mooted as a potential new Minister of Justice in Northern Ireland. To comply with the draconian laws governing communication of family court cases in Northern Ireland, I do not feel comfortable naming them.  Of course it goes without saying that I am also potentially in contempt for being in receipt of such communications without leave; as is my client for disclosing such information in his legitimate quest for assistance.

The law on communicating and being in receipt of documents from the family court is much more realistic in England and Wales and the anachronistic position in Northern Ireland is apparent when one contrasts my personal liability during two similar cases on the same day, in two different jurisdictions within the UK.

Imagine if you will I am assisting a client in England and Wales in the morning under the Children Act 1989. I need no permission from the court to see any documents in the case due to Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 1976 (L. 18 ) The Family Proceedings (Amendment No 4) Rules 2005 and subsequent primary and secondary legislation.

However, when I fly back to Belfast in the afternoon for a Contact application under the virtually identical Children (NI) Order 1995 I am put through the mill, having to go into the witness box to give a verbal undertaking not to disclose any information I glean in court, and then having to be given leave by the jurist to see the papers, that I may or may not have already seen. How does the court in Northern Ireland expect me to have gotten this far with the client without seeing the papers!!!

This charade is similar to the ‘Silent Movie McKenzie Friend Game’ whereby it is ok for me to whisper what to say into a litigant in persons ear and for him to repeat it, but I am not allowed to address the court on his or her behalf. This certainly helps to speed things up doesn’t it Mr Magill and Mr Alcorn?

Currently these matters are within the competence of the Westminster parliament, but if and when Policing and Justice is devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly such matters will be under the purview of local politicians.

I can’t wait….

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