Transparency in the Family Court

What has changed - can you watch Family Court Proceedings?
Thu 25th Jan 2024

The Family Reporting Pilot (FRP) was launched on 30 January 2023 in three designated areas: Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle. Prior to this, family matters have been held privately – meaning that usually the only people allowed in the court room are the parties themselves, their legal representatives, and the court staff. Under the pilot, that accredited media representatives and legal bloggers may report on family cases, what they see and hear at the hearings, provided strict rules on anonymity are adhered to.

Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, who has been calling for greater transparency, spearheaded this campaign. Many have welcomed such a change, hoping that transparency can instil confidence in the family justice system and provide insight into the difficult issues faced by the family courts and how these are handled.

As of 29 January 2024, the pilot is being extended to 16 courts across the country, including Liverpool, Manchester, West Yorkshire, Kingston-Upon-Hull, Nottingham, Stoke, Derby, Birmingham, Central Family Court, East London, West London, Dorset, Truro, Luton, Guildford and Milton Keynes.

The new pilot will run over a period of the next 12-months and be subject to independent evaluation to ensure reporting can be done safely and with minimum disruption to those involved. Financial remedy cases, such as money claims made on divorce, along with injunctive applications such as Non-Molestation and Occupation Orders will not form part of the pilot.

There has been a flurry of coverage on the FRP since January 2023, including a mini-series on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sunday Times, the Economist, and the Guardian, to name a few. Media interest will no doubt increase as the pilot rolls out across additional courts.

What cases can be reported on?

Applications to discharge, vary or enforce existing orders about children will be included under the new pilot.

Judges in the courts under the pilot will make transparency orders which set out what can and cannot be reported to the public. This is to ensure that children, vulnerable adults, and families are protected from unwanted publicity.

The strict rules include:

  1. Ensuring anonymity of all children and parties,
  2. No personal information of the children or the parties to be disclosed,
  3. No reporting on any behaviour of a sexual nature where a child is involved,
  4. Media and legal bloggers can be excluded from all or part of the proceedings in certain circumstances.

What information can be made public?

This includes information that identifies:

  1. The local authority(ties) involved in the proceedings,
  2. The director and assistant director of children’s services within the local authority (but usually not the social workers working directly with the family, including the team manager, unless the court so orders),
  3. Senior Cafcass personnel (but usually not the guardian appointed for the child),
  4. Any NHS Trust,
  5. Court-appointed experts (but not treating clinicians or medical professionals),
  6. Legal representatives and judges, and
  7. Anyone else named in a published judgment.

What does the transparency in the family courts mean for you?

For the first time, these pilots enable family members to speak to journalists without being at risk of contempt of court. Journalists will be able to quote family members, as long as no names or personal information is mentioned in their report. However, parties will not be allowed to publish information themselves where these are already restricted - including re-publishing any media articles or blogs written under the pilot where it may be possible to identify a child.

If you are about to enter Children proceedings which are then heard in one of the courts undertaking the pilot, there may be members of the accredited press in your court room, which may result in your case being in the press - albeit anonymously.

Help and advice

If you are faced with any difficulties making arrangements for your children after a divorce or separation, speak to one of our specialist family lawyers who will be able to provide practical advice and answer your questions. 

Contact Marilyn Bell

Use this form to contact Marilyn Bell directly with details of your enquiry. It costs nothing to make an enquiry and it is entirely confidential.

Alternatively, you can email marilyn.bell@salaw.com or call 01727 798066.

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