Journalism in the family courts: A shift towards greater transparency
From 29 January 2024, there is now greater transparency in the family courts following the extension of a pilot scheme that allows journalists and legal bloggers to attend hearings and report on cases with the court’s permission. Of the 43 family courts in England and Wales. 19 are now participating in the Transparency Pilot.
Transparency Orders can be applied for in Liverpool, Manchester, West Yorkshire, Hull, Midlands, Dorset, Truro, Luton, Guilford, Milton Keynes and all London family courts. Transparency Orders can already be applied for in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle.
The identities of families will remain private and cannot be reported, and anonymity will also be given to individual social workers. Journalists and bloggers will, however, be able to report the names of local authorities and some experts upon the granting of a Transparency Order.
Reporting under a Transparency Order will enable attendees to speak to families about their cases, quote from documents, and describe what happens in court. The aim is to remove what has historically been perceived as secrecy in the family courts where proceedings are concerned. The purpose is to improve public confidence and understanding of the family justice system.
For now, reporting will be confined to public law cases, which involve decisions about children being taken into care.
The intention is that reporting will, in due course, be extended to private law cases (which considers child arrangements for separated parents) and will eventually be allowed at magistrates’ hearings of family cases.
So what does this mean if you find yourself in court with a journalist or blogger wanting to attend your hearing?
Given that a Transparency Order is needed, there will be an opportunity to explain to a judge whether or not it is reasonable to allow someone to attend and report. The decision will be at the judge’s discretion, balancing the need for transparency in family courts against the needs of the family.
Knowing that there is a present or future risk that a reporter or blogger could be in attendance, couples may prefer to focus on resolving matters outside court. Alternative dispute resolution methods such as mediation, round table work or arbitration have the benefit of offering a private and confidential forum to resolve all issues arising from separation. There is no risk of reporting because the meetings take place out of court in the anonymity of solicitors’ premises or barristers’ chambers. Something well worth thinking about.