Family & Divorce

Is Having an Open Family Court Really a Good Idea?

In the last few years we have seen much change in Court reporting.

08 Mar 2023

Team name
Jaspreet Pannu

Jaspreet Pannu

In 2016 the Court of Protection became a public court, in July 2022 the first ever televised court sentencing hearing was aired, and as of 30th January 2023 accredited journalists and legal bloggers will be permitted to report on cases in the Family Courts sitting in Leeds, Carlisle and Cardiff in the latest Pilot Scheme.

This is a significant change in the family court as previously journalists have only been allowed to report on cases that have reached the Court of Appeal, and even then, it is for the Judge to decide what can and cannot be reported.

So, is having an open family court really a good idea?  As with any significant change there are always going to be pros and cons.  The Family Division have implemented some restrictions to the reporting in order to safeguard families and children.

Not all cases will be open for reporting, at present only applications within existing proceedings are permitted, and in the next 6-8 weeks, journalists may be permitted to report on private children cases between private couples. Certain cases such as those involving domestic violence and finances will not be open for reporting:-

Judges will have control over what can be included in any reporting. Journalists will be permitted to include details of legal representatives, judges, local authorities, and experts, however, will not be allowed to name individual social workers, family members or treating medical practitioners.

I think it is important to highlight that the family court will not be accessible to the public.

Pro’s

  • Likely to be more accountability in the Court system as there will be more scrutiny of the people involved
  • May help reduce the amount of bias towards the Family Courts and boost confidence in the system
  • Family members can be interviewed on the proviso that their identity remains anonymous.
  • Behaviour in courts may improve as people tend to behave better if they know a journalist is reporting. Currently journalists can attend hearings but are not permitted to report.

Con’s

  • Children (and families) are at a greater risk of not being anonymous in court proceedings
  • Families may not want to have a journalist reporting
  • Reporters will have access to confidential documents which can be reported on.
  • There is a risk that families and individuals may become confused about their own confidentiality obligations.

M&P Commentary

Jas Pannu, Solicitor in the Family team said:

“This Pilot Scheme represents a significant shift in the transparency of Family Courts. Whilst there may be some uncertainty in the early days, if the anonymity of families and children remains effective, this could be the change needed in the Family Courts. The reporting of case is likely to encourage change and development in a court system that is struggling to keep up with the modernisation of law. Being able to access legal reports on such cases will help legal professionals advise their client’s more effectively if they are able to see decisions made in similar cases in lower courts. At present, they only really have their own experience, and court reported case law to reply upon.”

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