The family court has faced decades of criticism that it operates in secret, with decisions about children and families being delivered ‘behind closed doors’, making it impossible for the public to scrutinise the work of the court or have confidence in the system.
There have been successive attempts to push the heavy court doors open to allow the press in. Progress has been made, but many have felt that ongoing hurdles and restrictions undermined efforts to bring the family court into the light.
A step forward in understanding of the family justice system
The latest step in the Family court’s ongoing efforts to open up came in on 29th January 2024 and may be the most radical to date. The Transparency Reporting Pilot originally started in just three court areas. It was designed to break down the barriers to journalists and legal bloggers having access to case information and to ease the restrictions on what they can report. These changes saw the BBC, the Sunday Times, the Economist, the Guardian and the Observer and the Daily Mail and others publishing reports on cases in those areas. The pilot was heralded as a success and has now been expanded to a further sixteen areas.
The President of the Family Division, has said:
“Extending the reporting pilot to family courts across the country is a huge step in the judiciary’s ongoing work to increase transparency and improve public confidence and understanding of the family justice system. After a pioneering year of reporting from Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle journalists and legal bloggers will be allowed to report from a further sixteen courts.
“We hope than in extending the pilot further we can continue to understand the impact that family court reporting has. I would like to urge the media to read the guidance and come to the family courts to see the vital and challenging work that is done there, and to report on the cases and issues that are so important.”
Striking a balance
Many lawyers and Judges have been nervous about extending media coverage of family court proceedings; these cases involve the most private and personal aspects of people’s lives and are confidential.
While the scheme introduces the presumption that the media are allowed to report on what they see and hear in family court proceedings, and access to documents, the anonymity of those involved must be protected. Only court-accredited members of the media can attend hearings, and if they attend the court must consider whether to make a Transparency Order which details what can be reported on and what must be kept confidential. Transparency Orders remain in force until any child who is the subject of proceedings turns 18. Crucially, the court still retains the power to bar any reporting of a case.
There were worries about ‘jigsaw identification’, where someone is identified by putting together different pieces of information that’s published, but the success of the original pilot scheme has allayed those fears.
How our child care lawyers can help
At Hanne & Co we have a specialist childcare team who represent parents, guardians, grandparents, extended family members and children who have separated from their guardians throughout all areas of care proceedings. We also represent parents who wish to have contact with their child(ren) in care, and on Discharge of Care Order applications.
If you have received a letter before proceedings, or a letter outlining the local authority’s intention to issue care proceedings in relation to you child(ren), or if you would like advice on how to issue an application for contact with a child in care, or to discharge a care order, please do not hesitate to contact our childcare specialist team.