Family court reporting to be allowed for first time

Family courts have powers to make significant interventions – such as ordering children be put into care.

Image source, Getty Images

For the first time, journalists will be able to report what happens in family courts, under a pilot scheme.

Until now, reporters have been able to observe hearings but could only report what was allowed by a judge.

The 12-month pilot, which will not allow journalists to identify families, takes place in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle from the end of January.

Family courts have powers to make drastic interventions – such as ordering children be taken into care.

They also decide where children should live when parents cannot agree or where there are allegations of abuse.

The changes being trialled are potentially very significant, affecting a court system which involves at least half a million people every year.

From the end of January, accredited journalists will be able to report what they see and hear as long as they protect the anonymity of families.

Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle have been chosen as a representative mix of rural and urban communities.

Criticised as ‘secretive’

Despite the fact that family courts have the power to make significant interventions in the lives of families, they are often criticised as “secretive” and there is very little reporting of them.

That is because, until now, journalists have been able to observe hearings but only report what is allowed by a judge, unless they go to the Court of Appeal.

Sir Andrew MacFarlane, the president of the family courts, has said there is a crisis of public confidence, and greater openness is essential.

Under the pilot, journalists will be able to name local authorities in care proceedings, as well as the director of local children’s services. They won’t, however, be able to name individual social workers, unless ordered by the court.

They will be allowed to name the lawyers involved, and the court-appointed experts, but not medical professionals treating children or any family member involved in a case.

Journalists will be able to interview families about their cases, as long as they protect their identity.

All of this is done through transparency orders, issued by the judge in each case. Judges will retain the right to refuse to issue one of these orders, and restrict reporting.

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