The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane has announced a reporting pilot for children proceedings in Leeds, Cardiff & Carlisle, running from January 2023 – January 2024. Under the pilot, accredited journalists & legal bloggers will be allowed to report what they see and hear in court and have access to some of the case documents provided they "protect the anonymity of families".
Where a journalist attends one of the pilot courts, the court will make a "transparency order", which will ordinarily remain in place until any child to whom the proceedings relate reaches the age of 18. The Transparency Order will provide that, in any reporting about the proceedings, no details that might identify the child, a parent or family member who is mentioned in the proceedings may be reported without the express permission of the Court. Nor can any details that might lead to indirectly identifying the child, such as information about their school, or any photographs or details of locations be published. Third parties, such as treating medical professionals or foster carers, will also be protected from being identified. Where the case involves alleged sexual abuse, the order will prohibit details of such alleged abuse from being reported.
The Transparency Order does not, however, prevent publication by a parent of information that they would ordinarily be permitted to publish, for example information concerning their child, if it does not relate to or refer to the proceedings, the child’s involvement in those proceedings or the evidence concerning that child within the case.
The guidance provides that the reporter will be able to see documents drafted by advocates or the parties if they are litigants in person, including case outlines, skeleton arguments, summaries, position statements, threshold documents and chronologies and any indices from the court bundle. If, however, the document quotes from a document that the reporter is not entitled to see, they must obtain court permission before referring to that quote.
Parties will be able to discuss the case with the reporter, but not to give them documents without court permission.
Sheena Cassidy Hope says: There has been significant recent focus on transparency in the Family Court, with successive Presidents of the Family Division keen to permit the public to understand what takes place within family proceedings. The difficulty has been in finding an appropriate balance between enabling the press to have sufficient information to be able to meaningfully report on a case, with the need to protect parties who are divulging extremely sensitive personal information and the interests of children at the centre of many family disputes. It is hoped that the pilot, and the use of Transparency Orders will help to achieve that balance and permit greater public confidence in the family court system without prejudicing those families who engage with it.