A new trial to “improve transparency and accountability” in family courts will see journalists being able to report on certain family court proceedings for the first time. The Transparency Reporting pilot will take place in 3 courts; Leeds, Carlisle, and Cardiff, starting from 30th January 2023.
The decision follows the review of transparency in the family courts by president of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane in 2021. In a briefing on Wednesday 18th January Mrs Justice Lieven, liaison judge for the Midlands Circuit, said:
“”This is fundamentally about two things, promoting public confidence in the family justice system and promoting accountability.”
“I would not be giving anything away or speaking out of turn to say… the last few years… has undermined public confidence in the family divisional justice system. Because we usually conduct our business behind closed doors effectively and journalists cannot report what is said it has allowed suspicion to grow.”
The trial will see some proceedings, including court and placements applications, open to reporting. Journalists will be able to report on both in person and remote hearings. To protect the integrity of the reporting only accredited journalists and legal bloggers will be allowed to report with “transparency orders” clearly defining what can and cannot be reported on.
After the initial pilot, private law children cases may also be reported on, but Mrs Lieven made it clear that journalists will not be able to report on sensitive cases involving financial remedies, HFEA applications, domestic abuse.
The move follows Sir Andrew McFarlane’s evidence provided to the Justice Select Committee last week in which he told MP’s it is “not tenable” for family court proceedings restrictions to remain. “There must be a way of allowing openness … yet maintain the anonymity of the individuals involved,” said Sir Andrew.
Sir Andrew told MPs that it is “not tenable” for reporting of family proceedings to be effectively prevented by automatic statutory reporting restrictions, saying that “there must be a way of allowing openness … yet maintain the anonymity of the individuals involved”.
Responding to the news A Law Society spokesperson said:
“Transparency and open justice are important to help the public understand how the law works and how decisions are made. Provided it’s done in a sensitive manner, such reporting will be a valuable tool in re-educating the public. It can also raise awareness of what the rule of law means and why it’s important.”
“We are pleased to see the pilot will not allow journalists to identify families. This sensitivity is important, particularly when children are involved.”
Julian Hayes, senior partner at Berris Law suggested that that move may open the eyes of the public to the “negative impact that LASPO has had on proceedings and the significant increase in litigants in person and the difficulties they face.”