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Journalists and bloggers granted access to more family court hearings

AuthorsCarys Keeble

Journalists and bloggers granted access to more family court hearings

The family court system is opening up to permit the media and authorised legal bloggers greater reporting rights during hearings. The move is designed to counter arguments around secrecy, following claims of a lack of transparency as to how important decisions — that can have major and lasting impacts on families — are being made. 

Here, Carys Keeble explains what the changes are and how they are impacting the court system.

 

Why allow reporting on family law hearings?

In October 2021, a transparency review was published that included radical changes around the media’s reporting of family cases. A family reporting pilot was also introduced to enable media representatives and legal bloggers to report on what they see and hear at hearings — providing that they maintain the anonymity of children and their families and keep intimate details of their private lives confidential.

Allowing reporting on such cases promotes a greater understanding among the public as to how the courts operate and why decisions are made. It also opens the door to greater accountability and could even prevent injustices. The pilot has the potential to dispel some of the myths that currently swirl around the family justice system, including allegations of bias towards mothers in private child arrangements and the loss of parental rights. One of the aims of the pilot was to reduce stress levels and confusion in what are invariably emotional circumstances.

 

What can be reported on?

The purpose of the family reporting pilot is to allow the reporting of family proceedings and promote open justice. Judges must strike a careful balance between a family’s right to privacy and the openness and transparency of the judicial system.

The anonymity of children protected during proceedings is extended until the child's 18th birthday. There are strict penalties for any reporter who breaches these protections.

 

‘Apprehensive’ judiciary

It has been reported that almost half of the family courts of England and Wales will be part of the transparency pilot, which has come under scrutiny — with some of the judiciary claimed to be ‘apprehensive’ about the impact of the changes. 

For the first time in these courts, reporters will be able to speak to families about their cases, quote from documents and describe what they see and hear in court. The transparency scheme is expected to eventually be rolled out to all family courts across England and Wales.

 

Alternative dispute resolution

The idea that the media could report details of your family law case will inevitably cause some concern. This is another reason why alternative dispute resolution methods — such as mediation, collaborative law, solicitor negotiation and arbitration — continue to grow in popularity. Such avenues can keep a case out of the court system, therefore ensuring privacy from any reporting.

If you have a case that is being heard in one of the pilot courts, you may find that journalists attend your hearing. While media representatives and legal bloggers can’t name you or any children involved, they may be able to report on the details of your case — for example, by naming any court-appointed experts — subject to the terms of the transparency order made by the judge.

If you need advice about any upcoming hearings and how the reporting rules may affect you — or if you’d like to discuss alternative dispute resolution methods that can keep your case out of the court system — we can help. 

Talk to our award-winning family law team.

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