Understanding media and journalist presence at family Court proceedings
This guide provides an overview of the transparency pilot and what kind of media presence there could be at your family Court proceedings.
I am concerned about privacy – are Court proceedings about my separation and divorce/dissolution of my civil partnership private?
Going through family proceedings in Court has traditionally been a private and confidential process, which is not open to the public to see. Since 2009 journalists, bloggers and reporters have been permitted to attend family proceedings and there is now a greater drive for them to be able to report more openly about the outcomes of cases and how the Family Court works to increase transparency and understanding of the family justice system.
In January 2023 in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle a pilot was introduced to trial the extension of what could be reported on from Family Court proceedings. On 29 January 2024, a further sixteen Courts were added to the pilot, including some of the biggest and busiest Courts. This means that an increasing number of people may see reporters in Court.
What does the pilot mean in practice?
Reporters will be permitted to attend hearings in the Family Court to watch proceedings and report on what they have seen (subject to restrictions). They will also be permitted to look at certain documents from the case to help them understand the issues that the Court is being asked to consider. For any cases concerning the arrangements for children, any reporting must be anonymised unless the Judge specifically orders something else, to ensure that the privacy of the children is maintained. The Court can also restrict reporting on a case, if the Judge considers this to be appropriate.
The pilot means that the following information cannot be disclosed:
- The name or date of birth of any child in the case;
- The name of any parent or family member who is a party or who is mention in the case, or whose name may lead to any child being identified;
- The name of any person who is a party to, or intervening in, the proceedings;
- The address of any child or family member;
- The name or address of any foster carer;
- The school/hospital/placement name or address, or any identifying features of a school of the child;
- 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;
- The names of any medical professional who is or has been treating any of the children or family member;
- In cases involving alleged sexual abuse, the details of such alleged abuse; and
- Any other information likely to identify the child as a subject child or former subject child.
What if reporters sit in on my hearing?
In the event that your case has piqued the interest of reporters, it is important that you don’t panic. They will be bound by the above and therefore the personal or sensitive details that could be reported are likely to be limited. Ultimately the aim of the pilot is to improve transparency and the confidence about how the Family Court operates, not to provide personal information about you and your family to the general public.
What if I don’t want my case to be reported?
If you do not wish your case to be reported you can raise an objection to this. It is then up to the Judge to decide whether or not it is suitable for reporters to be permitted to attend and whether any specific reporting restrictions should be added.
Remember, even if a reporter is present at your hearing, you do not have to speak to them.
You should also consider whether in light of these changes an out of Court dispute resolution process may be better for resolving your matter, as these processes are entirely confidential and private.
Does any of this change what I can say about my case?
In short, no. There are very strict rules about who information and documents from Family Court proceedings can be shared with. Obviously there is no issue with you speaking with your legal or financial advisor or others involved in the case about matters. Although even with those people it is essential that you share information about your case in a safe way. This is because the information is likely to contain very personal or sensitive details about you or your family members, including your children and your finances.
You should not talk about matters publicly, this includes posting on social media platforms as these are public forums or speaking to the media. If you share information about your case in this way, you could be in contempt of court, or even have committed a criminal offence, and could face serious penalties.