Pilot scheme to open up proceedings in family courts expanded
Journalists will be allowed to report on cases as they unfold, as long as the identities of families are not revealed
A pilot scheme to increase transparency in the family court system is set to be expanded to courts across the country.
Although reporters have had access to courts dealing with sensitive matters involving children for some time, despite them being closed to the public, reporting has been highly restricted to only what a judge will allow.
Last year a pilot scheme began in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle which allowed accredited journalists and legal bloggers to report on cases as they unfold, as they would do in the criminal courts, as long as the identities of the families and certain professionals involved were not revealed.
And from January 29, the pilot will be extended to 16 courts across the country, including in Liverpool, Yorkshire, Truro and Milton Keynes.
Under the current law, journalists and legally-qualified bloggers can attend hearings in family courts, which are closed to the public, but can only report details of what happens in the courtroom if the judge hearing the case allows it.
In the pilot courts, the starting point is that accredited journalists and legal bloggers can report on hearings, subject to strict reporting restrictions to protect the anonymity of the families involved.
Cases where journalists and bloggers attend have been covered by a Transparency Order, setting out what can and cannot be reported, and reporters will be able to access some basic case documents.
Families can also talk to a journalist about their case, without risking punishment for contempt of court.
However, judges can still decide that some cases may not be reported on, or that reporting should be postponed in certain circumstances.
President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane 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 16 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.”
The family courts taking part in the expanded pilot are Liverpool, Manchester, West Yorkshire, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Nottingham, Stoke, Derby, Birmingham, the Central Family Court in London, East London, West London, Dorset Truro, Luton, Guildford and Milton Keynes.
Published: by Radio NewsHub