Transparency in the Family Courts: Private and Public Children Proceedings

31 January 2023
Transparency in Family Courts Pilot Scheme

As of Monday 30th January 2023, Family Courts in Leeds, Carlisle, and Cardiff will be taking part in a new 12-month pilot scheme which will allow accredited journalists to report on cases, subject to strict rules on anonymity. Up until now, journalists have been able to attend hearings that are closed to the public, but have rarely done so because they could only report on a case if the Judge agreed to vary the automatic reporting restrictions in place. 

The reporting of the cases will be permitted by way of a ‘Transparency Order’ in which a Judge will set out the rules of what can and cannot be reported. Further, lay parties will be able to give interviews to the press without finding themselves in contempt of Court.  

There has been a call for greater transparency in the Family Court in recent years, which culminated in the President of the Family Division’s Transparency Review, and then the Transparency Implementation Group which was set up to ensure the recommendations from the review were implemented. 

It is hoped the pilot scheme will enable scrutiny of the actions of the Courts and Local Authority’s and improve public confidence in the system, whilst protecting the anonymity of children and parents.  If the pilot is successful, there is an expectation that it will be extended to Family Courts across England and Wales in the future.

So how does this Pilot impact me and my case?

The scheme is only being piloted in three areas to start; Leeds, Carlisle and Cardiff.  If your case is being heard outside of these pilot areas then there will be no impact on your case for the time being.  It would be reasonable however to expect that the scheme is likely to be expanded to cover all Family Courts in England and Wales in the not-so-distant future.    

If your case is being heard in one of the Pilot areas, then you may find journalists are in attendance at your hearing.  They cannot name you or your child/ren, but depending on the terms of the Transparency Order made by the Judge, they may be able to report on the details of the case including naming the Local Authority and any Court appointed experts in your case.  

Public Children Law cases will always be within the confines of the Court system as these are cases where the Local Authority seeks an order in relation to a child.  
In contrast, in Private Children Law, the Court is generally asked to resolve a difference in view between two or more private individuals, often the parents of the child in question.  If you are concerned about the impact of the pilot on your family, then there are other options for resolving the issues between you in private that you may want to consider, such as mediation, collaborative law or arbitration.   

For further advice, contact one of our specialist family solicitors.