Pilot scheme for media to report on family law cases starts in Cardiff
The Transparency Implementation Group Reporting Pilot launched in the Cardiff Family Court on the 30th January 2023, as well as in Leeds and Carlisle. The pilot is due to run over a 12-month period.
The pilot will allow accredited journalists to attend and report publicly on decisions taken in the family courts in relation to disputes between parents as to the contact arrangements for their children. The pilot scheme currently only applies to public law applications made by local authorities for orders to safeguard the welfare of children, often against the parents.
Up until this point, legal proceedings as to child contact arrangements between parents in the family courts have been held behind closed doors. This has led to concerns that decisions taken by judges have not been consistent across England and Wales, and the lack of scrutiny and accountability for both judges and lawyers have led to mismanagement of cases and unusual and erroneous rulings.
The pilot has been recommended by the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane with the aim of introducing greater transparency within the family courts, therefore allowing more scrutiny of decisions, and restoring public trust in the family justice system.
Strict rules of anonymity and confidentiality will apply to any reporting from journalists. Sir Andrew McFarlane says:
“Reporting must be subject to very clear rules to maintain both the anonymity of the children and family members who are before the court, and confidentiality with respect of intimate details of their private lives”.
Judges will have the discretion to prohibit reporting should they decide that it is necessary in a particular case.
Lowri Walters, a solicitor at Grant Stephens Family Law says that “whilst it is important that we look at opening up the family courts, it is also important that we safeguard the privacy of parents going through court proceedings. We must also ensure that the pilot does not deter parents from taking that first step and applying to court when it is necessary and that it does not result in parents entering early and adverse settlements because they are concerned about journalists reporting on their case in the news. Court proceedings and hearings are already a daunting prospect for parents and the presence of journalists may only seek to add to parents’ trepidation”.
It is too early to tell what impact, if any, the pilot will have on child contact disputes and the way in which the public view the family courts. There will be an independent evaluation of the pilot in 12 months’ time, and we await the findings. We, ourselves, will also be monitoring any potential impact it has on our clients.
Should the pilot prove to be successful, it will be rolled out across all remaining family courts in England and Wales and become a permanent change to the way in which family cases are reported in the future.