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Transparency in Family proceedings – what is changing?

Mar 16, 2023 | Uncategorised

What are the current reporting rules in the Family Court?The status quo for the last three decades in family proceedings has been that hearings are held in private, except where the Court directs otherwise. This means that members of the public are not allowed to attend hearings in family proceedings. Media representatives and accredited legal bloggers are allowed to attend most family hearings under the current scheme, but their reporting is restricted, and they are prevented from publishing information about proceedings relating to children. Although the media and legal bloggers can attend most hearings under the current rules, this can often involve complex and time-consuming applications to Court, which often result in delays and impact the running of the case itself

Given the strict limits on reporting particularly around children proceedings, there is a perception that the Family Court conduct hearings behind closed doors under an air of secrecy. The ongoing concern is that the current closed system means that the public has little indication of how the system operates and how decisions are made. There has therefore been a question mark over whether there should be a shift towards openness in Family Court. The argument for more openness centres around two competing interests: the need to maintain confidentiality and privacy, and the objective of enhancing public confidence in the Family Court.

The reporting pilot scheme

In 2019, the President of the Family Division called for a review into transparency in the Family Court. Its findings and recommendations were published in 2021, and it was decided that the time had come for media representatives and legal bloggers to be allowed to report publicly on what they see and hear in Family Court hearings. The aim is to enhance public confidence, whilst at the same time recognising the importance of maintaining confidentiality. Therefore, reporting is subject to preserving the privacy of children and adult family members with regards to intimate details of their private lives.

A 12-month reporting pilot began on 30 January 2023 in the Family Court in Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle. Under the pilot scheme, accredited journalists and legal bloggers can report on what they see and hear under the transparency principle, subject to conditions. The conditions on what they can and cannot report on will be contained in transparency orders issued by the Court where the Judge sets out the rules on reporting. Financial remedy proceedings are excluded from the pilot.

What happens next?

This move towards openness in the Family Court is a major shift in culture. The pilot will continue to run for 12 months in the three Family Courts mentioned above and will be evaluated independently. If your case is being heard in one of the three listed courts, journalists may be in attendance and can report on the case, subject to the rules on anonymity. If your case is heard by a different Court, it may not be affected now, but it is likely that the scheme will be extended to all Family Courts in England and Wales in the future.

Privacy in financial remedy proceedings has always been preserved; however, given the major shift in culture and move towards openness, it is also likely that this will change in the near future.

It is hoped that the transparency scheme will lead to the public gaining a better understanding of the legal system and how proceedings are conducted in the Family Court.

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