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Media reporting in the family court: what does it mean for your court case?

In a new pilot scheme, journalists and legal bloggers will be able to report on cases Family Courts in Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle, subject to rules of anonymity.

As a forward-looking boutique family law firm, LGFL will be keeping a close eye on how this pilot progresses over the next 12 months.

“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).”

 

The current rules on family court reporting

What can and cannot be reported in relation to Family Court and High Court cases is governed by The Family Procedure Rules 2010. Generally, hearings about family matters are held in private, so the general public are not allowed to attend. Where the media are allowed in, there are “Strict limits on what they can report”.

Publishing any information about a private hearing relating to children can be a contempt of court. Under the Children Act 1989, it is an offence to publish any information which could lead to the identification of a child involved in proceedings.

What’s changed with this pilot scheme?

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, believes the courts need to allow:

“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. 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.”

The pilot treads a fine line in an age when images and information can be posted on social media in a blink of an eye. That’s one reason the pilot scheme is restricted to just a few Family Courts and only so-called ‘pilot reporters’ will be allowed in.

 

Imposing reporting limits with transparency orders

The court can also issue a “transparency order” for each case which is an injunction and reporters must stick to its terms. Equally the court can also use its discretion to no allow any reporting of a case.

The Transparency order will normally prevent public reporting of key information such as:

  • The name and age of any subject child in the case
  • Their parents’ names or family members if this could lead to the identification of the child
  • Addresses of the child, any family member, any foster carer, the child’s school, etc

Crucially for those concerned about their photos being taken:

“Photographs or images of the child, their parents, carer or any other identifying person, or any of the locations specified above in conjunction with other information relating to the proceedings. This includes photographs of the parents or other parties leaving the Court building.”

 

Why is media reporting important? The judge’s viewpoint.

Mrs Justice Lieven, liaison judge for the Midlands Circuit, explained how the new pilot scheme is:

“This is a big cultural change for family justice. (It is) fundamentally about two things – promoting public confidence in the family justice system and promoting accountability … This is not about allowing voyeuristic interest. The last thing we need is to interfere with the welfare of the kids or interfering with personal or professional relationships that those kids need. This is absolutely not about naming and shaming, this is about opening up the system.”

 

Why is media reporting important? The journalist’s viewpoint.

In an article for the Press Gazette, long-time campaigner and freelance journalist Louise Tickle explained how it is very difficult to raise awareness of important issues around court cases without the ability to give any details of what happened.

“The law’s gagging effect makes it difficult for people affected to explain their experiences. As media, or as people who are campaigning, it’s really difficult for them to give examples and talk about the things that are potentially going wrong, the things that they observe that need scrutiny, because you are literally not allowed to give examples of what you see in court.”

 

Just because you can...

As with many issues around children and divorce, just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should. The court will consider the question closely, and will only allow media coverage whether this is appropriate in your case, given the individual circumstances. You can voice any concerns you may have before your case is heard (more on this below).

 

Can I prevent the media reporting on my case?

According to the latest guidance:

“If the media is attending any part of the proceedings in your case, the court will ask you and the parties involved if you have any concerns. If you do, you should tell the court, specifying at least one of the reasons (in the document) that you feel is relevant to your case.”

These reasons include if keeping proceedings private is “necessary in the interests of any child concerned in, or connected with, the case.” At LGFL, we are glad that this is the first reason cited, placing (like we do) the child or children involved at the centre of the case.

 

Can I talk to the media about my case?

There are legal restrictions on what you can tell anyone, including journalists. At LGFL, we will advise you on what is allowed or not allowed long before you reach court, so you are aware of these important legal restrictions. Helping prepare you for court is very much part of what we offer as boutique family law solicitors.

 

Need help with a potential family court case?

Contact us here at LGFL for a reduced fee 60-minute consultation to discuss all aspects of your situation.

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