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Can the media report on my family court proceedings?
- AuthorJasmine Lees
Generally, those subject to family court proceedings are protected from the details of their case being shared with the public. This applies to both private and public law family proceedings and only very limited reporting can take place with the Court’s permission. Factors which may be reported could be particular findings in a case, a Court’s judgement or key legal principles which are seen to be in the public interest to be shared with strict anonymity.
Cases are generally heard in private and only those who are named as parties in the case or the advocates involved in the case are allowed to be present. Unlike criminal proceedings, members of the public are unable to attend these hearings and whilst journalists can attend, they are unable to report on such matters. The ability for there to be transparency in family proceedings has always been shrouded by the complexity of the competing rights of respect for private and family life (Article 8 of European Convention of Human Rights), rights of children (Article 12 of UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) and the right to freedom of expression (Article 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights).
In October 2021, Sir Andrew McFarlane who is the president of the Family Division published a report regarding the transparency in Family Courts. He stated that “there needs to be a major shift in the culture and process to increase the transparency in a number of respects”. One of the recommendations from the report was to allow accredited media representatives to attend hearings and report what is said whilst maintaining confidentiality.
What is the difference between public law and private law proceedings?
Private law proceedings usually relate to disagreements between parents or other family members regarding where a child lives, who they spend time with or other specific issues which require the Court to make a determination.
Public law proceedings are usually initiated by the Local Authority due to safeguarding concerns in relation to a child. There are a range of orders which can be made in those proceedings and the Court can make decisions in respect of a child’s removal from their birth family in the interim and in the long term to include adoption. The Court is highly likely to deal with sensitive information and the Court is also able to assess the extent to which the Local Authority have provided the necessary support to families.
What changes to reporting are being introduced?
On 18th January 2023, it was confirmed that a Transparency Reporting Pilot was due to be rolled out at 3 courts with reporting to only be allowed by accredited journalists and legal bloggers. The pilot began at Leeds, Carlisle and Cardiff courts from 30th January 2023. At a briefing on the pilot, The Honourable Mrs Justice Lieven emphasised that aim was to promote “public confidence in the family justice system and [about] promoting accountability”. 
The pilot will be subject to a strict ‘transparency order’ which will detail what can and cannot be reported with a duty to preserve the names of the children in the case. However, legal representatives, judges and Local Authorities may be named. Certain documents may also be released such as skeleton arguments, position statements and case summaries. At the stage that a journalist attends a family court hearing, the Court will issue the transparency order specific to that particular case and it will take the form of an injunction, in which the reporters are bound.
The media will not be able to report on any family cases heard by magistrates, adoption cases or financial remedy cases at this stage.
The pilot will run for 12 months and will be evaluated and reviewed accordingly.
The full guidance can be found here.
The future of reporting in family court proceedings
It is reported that many parents involved in proceedings report miscarriages of justice to the press, it remains to be seen what impact this initiative will have on those reports. If anything, it will allow the wider public to understand how family law works as it an area of law which affects many families on a daily basis.
How Johnson Astills can help
If you have current Local Authority involvement in respect of your child then please contact us for specialist advice. Please contact Johnson Astills at either our Leicester Office on 0116 255 4855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610 312 and ask for a member of the Care Team so that we can advise you accordingly. Alternatively, please email us on email@example.com and a member of our team will be happy to assist you.