Concerns About Family Court Security: How Far Should Court Security Stretch?

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Following an assault on a judge in court, the president of the Family Division has told MPs there is concern about the security and safety of judges and legal professionals in the court environment.

           Sir Andrew McFarlane told a House of Commons justice select committee that there was increasing ‘apprehension’ regarding the issue of security. This comes during a spate of assaults drawing more attention to the potential dangers at hand. McFarlane specifically outlined the suggestion that security measures should be the same in both family courts and criminal courts; highlighting the potential dangers of family court, wherein ‘often domestic abuse is an issue’, McFarlane indicates that this is a high tension environment that could potentially lead to behavioural concerns. Pointing to the concerns of judges that they may also face such environments, McFarlane considered whether judges should continue to sit in the way they do, and will be looking into ramifications that may need to be made alongside the lady chief justice and senior president of tribunals.

          This concern by McFarlane is not an isolated issue. Pointing to the Central Family Court’s recently implemented robing pilot, which attempts to assess if robing ‘makes a difference to family court proceedings’ and behavioural incidents against judges,  one can recognise a concerted effort to assess and improve the perceived safety of legal practitioners. McFarlane specifically recognised the high level of incidents in the London court and pointed to the regular knife confiscations in family court.

          Yet, this increase in robust security has already proven controversial in other courts. The London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association (LCCSA) has recently penned a letter of complaint to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service regarding their treatment at the hands of court security, citing incidents such as refused entry without compliance of intrusive pat down searches. If one considers McFarlane’s wishes that security in family court should reflect that of criminal courts, it will be interesting to examine how the need for more robust security may affect other areas of the court process for all legal professionals involved.

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