Journalists and reporters can attend and report on hearings
A new 12-month pilot scheme has launched in January 2023, allowing for journalists and bloggers to report on family court proceedings for the first time in a new & unconventional way. It is undoubtedly that the matters dealt with in family courts are beyond compelling and place a significant impact on day-to-day societal life.
Although historically, reporters have been allowed to be present at Court and have reported on Court judgements, they have now been granted leave to report extensively on “what they see and hear” at Court. The restrictions placed on publications have been relaxed to allow for an in-depth and gritty account of how family matters are dealt with and settled at court. The scheme introduces 4 major changes:
- The holder of a UK Press Authority press card and legal bloggers will be able to talk to family members and if their case is in the scheme, will be able to quote them in their reports,
- Journalists/reporters will be allowed access to and be able to quote from specific court documents such as case outlines, skeleton arguments, position statements, and a hearing index.
- Journalists/reporters will be able to report what they actually see in Court which was previously considered a serious contempt of Court.
- Reporters will be able to name local authorities, court-appointed experts, directors of local children’s services, and lawyers involved in proceedings.
Journalists and reports can attend and report certain types of family court hearings on an anonymous basis, where previously this would have not been possible. The scheme, however, enforces specific guidelines and measures to ensure that the parties who are the subject of the proceedings (and family members) are provided protection and a Transparency Order (TO) must be lodged with the Court to put in place the following restrictions:
- Reporters will not be able to name individual social workers, medical professionals treating children, or any family member involved in a case.
- All reporting will be subject to the principles of protection of the anonymity of any children involved unless the Judge orders otherwise.
Furthermore, the pilot scheme will only apply to private law and public law cases, alongside applications made for non-molestation or occupation orders where the parties are also involved in concurrent private or public law proceedings. This scheme will strictly not apply to the following cases:
- Cases involving allegations of sexual abuse of a child;
- Adoption applications;
- Surrogacy or IVF cases;
- Money claims on divorce;
- Financial support for children outside marriage or CMS cases;
- Other Family Law cases not connected to ongoing proceedings;
- Cases that are associated with ongoing criminal proceedings;
It has been advocated that this introduction to the legal system could provide a significant opportunity for the hard work and changes being made by the family court to ensure that the Court protects those involved in family law disputes and shines a light on the changes that are being implemented for the better.
It should be noted that in the cases where parties consider that a court-ruled decision has been made in error and does not represent their interests correctly, they are disadvantaged in their ability to publicise what they consider to be a miscarriage of justice. Typically, in family law cases – fathers have campaigned and fought for equal rights on the role they deserve to play in their children’s lives which has, in recent years, led to widespread movements such as the ‘Fathers4Justice’ organisation and protests which have attracted mass media attention. It appears that the Court, in light of popular public opinion and in recognition of encouraging fairness and equality in the legal justice system – is moving towards making the family court more transparent.
It is plain that change is afoot in how the family courts will operate. The objective is that it increases public confidence and visibility in how the Court works. If the anonymity of parties can be protected, alongside such landmark changes, the family law process could undergo a significant evolution.
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