From today, in Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle, a pilot scheme has begun to enable reporting in our family courts. Journalists are currently allowed to attend family courts but cannot report on proceedings. However, from 30th January 2023, accredited journalists and legal bloggers will be allowed to report on family proceedings. This does not mean that a reporter can be in attendance at every hearing as adoption cases, standalone placement applications, HFEA applications, financial remedies and Family Law Act 1996/Domestic Abuse Act 2021 applications will not form part of the reporting pilot. What will form part of the pilot is court applications and placement applications made within Court proceedings and Private Law Children Proceedings.
Despite there now being the ability for journalists to report on hearings without needing the permission of the Judge, they will still have to maintain the anonymity and privacy of the family involved. Therefore, any published piece will not name the parents involved or the child and individual Social Workers will not be named unless the Court orders that the Social Worker’s name should be published. Judges, Solicitors, Barristers, expert witnesses and the Local Authority can all be named.
Judges and Magistrates in family law cases make the hardest, highly sensitive and often, the most draconian decisions such as removing children from the care of parents to what a Final Order should be in relation to a child’s contact with a parent. As such, there is often some discretion involved in making these decisions and by using their discretion, it has been said that Judges and Magistrates represent the key values of our communities in relation to what a fair outcome is. The pilot scheme aims to increase the transparency involved in our legal system and better the public trust in relation to what our Courts deal with on a daily basis and the decisions that are made. Whilst the aim is to ensure that there is transparency for all involved, the privacy of the individuals involved and the children that the proceedings relate to, must also be maintained.
The Family Court sitting at Cardiff (our local Court) has been chosen as the capital city of Wales but also to ensure that the pilot scheme gathers evidence from a mixture of communities across Wales and England.
The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane has described this as a “big change” and has added that “for the pilot to work we really need journalists to turn up to an ordinary case on a wet Tuesday afternoon in March so that we get a reasonable volume and spread of experience.” The pilot will run for 12 months and as such, if you find yourself involved in Court proceedings and need further guidance in relation to what to expect due to this change to our system, our experts are here to assist you and provide you with further information.
I discussed this pilot scheme on Radio Cymru’s morning breakfast show – ‘Dros Frecwast’, this morning.
Author: Fay Jones