Family Court and the Media – Transparency or a Step Too Far?

A pilot scheme will be operating in some areas of the UK for the next 12 months to allow accredited journalists to report on family law cases. Whilst this will not affect court users in North Wales yet, could it potentially be something that will become common practice across the UK?

Traditionally, family court proceedings have been protected from the media. This has been due to the sensitive nature of family proceedings and the need to protect the privacy of any children involved in family law cases. The information that formerly could have been reported was subject to strict controls and could be no more specific than the general gist of what happened in the courtroom.

Mrs Justice Lieven has stated that the pilot scheme is ‘fundamentally about two things; promoting public confidence in the family justice system and promoting accountability’.

Family court reporting under the scheme began in February 2023, with journalists now having the freedom to report on much more of what happens during cases at certain courts. Amongst other freedoms they now have, they can quote family members involved in cases they are covering.

The pilot scheme will be taking place in Cardiff, Carlisle and Leeds, with any further rollout across the UK subject to the success (or otherwise) of the scheme, to be decided at a later date.

There will still be some reporting restrictions in place and hearings under the following categories will be exempt from reporting:

  1. Adoption cases
  2. Standalone placement applications
  3. HFEA application
  4. Financial remedy applications
  5. Applications under the Family Law Act 1996/Domestic Abuse Act 2021

The restrictions mean that a child or family members will not be allowed to be identified when reporting, but the names of the Local Authority, legal representatives and experts can be reported. In addition, with a view to transparency, requests can be made by the media for documents in the case, including skeleton arguments and position statements.

It is, of course, important for there to be transparency in all aspects of our legal system. This is needed to help build public confidence and support that things are being done in a fair and lawful manner. However, does the potential infringement on a family’s private life take this a step too far? Making sure that the families involved are kept safe will be pivotal to whether the scheme is considered successful or not. Time will tell.

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