Journalists and legal bloggers can report from Family Courts in Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle as part of a 12-month pilot which began on 30 January, subject to rules of anonymity.

This Insight examines the rules that govern reporting in the Family Court, the background to the reporting pilot and how it will work.

Rules on reporting Family Court proceedings

The Family Procedure Rules 2010 govern the procedure in the Family Court and the High Court.

Under rule 27.10, hearings relating to family matters are generally held in private, meaning members of the public cannot be present.

While accredited media representatives may attend hearings under rule 27.11(2), subject to exceptions, there are strict limits on what they can report.

Under section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 it may, for example, be a contempt of court to publish information about proceedings relating to children if a court sits in private. Additionally, under section 97(2) of the Children Act 1989, it’s an offence to publish information which could identify a child involved in certain proceedings.

HM Courts and Tribunals Service guidance on media attendance at family court hearings provides more information.

Review of transparency in the Family Courts

In 2019, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, appointed a review panel to investigate transparency in the Family Courts.

Sir Andrew published the panel’s findings and his recommendations in the October 2021 report, Confidence and Confidentiality: Transparency in the Family Courts.

Sir Andrew said the time had come: “for accredited media representatives and legal bloggers to be able, not only to attend and observe Family Court hearings, but also to report publicly on what they see and hear.”

He said: “Openness and confidentiality are not irreconcilable and each is achievable. The aim is to enhance public confidence significantly, whilst at the same time firmly protecting continued confidentiality.”

Sir Andrew noted that witnesses to the review panel had referred to the “chilling effect” (PDF) of section 12 of the 1960 Act (contempt of court). Sir Andrew said: “… the fear of breaching it and the costs involved in litigation have acted as a major disincentive to journalists and others reporting on Family cases.” He said it was not for judiciary to consider whether section 12 should be repealed or replaced but that he supported “calls for urgent consideration to be given by government and Parliament to a review of this provision.”

The reporting pilot

In the October 2021 report, Sir Andrew proposed bringing forward rules to mitigate the impact of section 12, so allowing journalists and legal bloggers to attend, and report on, Family Court proceedings – subject to conditions.

In November 2021, a Transparency Implementation Group was established to carry out these recommendations. The result of this work is the ‘reporting pilot’.

How will the pilot work?

The pilot started on 30 January 2023 in courts in Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle.

It enables accredited journalists and legal bloggers to “report on what they see and hear in court” (PDF) under ‘the transparency principle’. Only so-called ‘pilot reporters’ will be able to attend and report on proceedings heard in pilot courts.

Transparency orders

The rules on what may or may not be reported in a particular case will be set out in a transparency order issued by the court. Each order will take the form of an injunction and reporters will be bound by its terms.

All reporting will be subject to the principle of anonymity in relation to children, family members and other specified parties, unless the court orders otherwise.

Qualifying cases

The pilot will start with public law cases (such as care order proceedings) and then proceed to include private law cases (for example, child arrangements orders).

Guidance on the pilot provides further information on the types of cases covered by the scheme (PDF).

Financial remedy proceedings are excluded

The pilot excludes financial remedy cases, such as money claims made on divorce, along with applications under the Family Law Act 1996.

Current practice is for courts to restrict the publication of confidential financial information where parties have been compelled to disclose their affairs as part of the proceedings.

The transparency of such proceedings continues to be a source of judicial comment. The Transparency Implementation Group is examining the issue as part of ongoing work to open up the Family Court.

What happens next?

The pilot is running for 12 months and will be evaluated independently.

About the authors: Lisa Rowland is a legal researcher in the Home Affairs Section at the House of Commons Library.

About the authors: David Foster is a researcher at the House of Commons Library and covers family law relating to children.

Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash

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