Shining New Light
A new pilot scheme means that for the first time journalists will be able to report proceedings in Family courts, a move which has been welcomed by the head of our Family team, Partner Stephen Hopwood.
The 12-month pilot covers Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle and will allow reporting while maintaining the anonymity of families and at the discretion of the Judge.
Family courts have the power to make significant decisions such as ordering children to be taken into care, deciding where they should live and considering allegations of abuse. Their proceedings are believed to involve at least half a million people every year.
Since the end of January, accredited journalists have been allowed to report on proceedings, subject to protecting the anonymity of the families.
Stephen Hopwood said: “I am all in favour of this as the public have their own beliefs about decisions and how they are made. The route to appealing those decisions is complex and not very transparent either. It would be helpful to have journalists who can hear what we are saying, the responses we get and the reasons for the decisions.
“I also believe there are ingrained trends and beliefs but the only way such trends are spotlighted is if other people see it and report on them.”
Journalists will be allowed to name local authorities in care proceedings, although some have reportedly already chosen not to, as well as the lawyers involved and court-appointed experts, although not medical professionals treating any family member.
This will be enabled through transparency orders but Judges will retain the right to refuse to issue such orders and restrict reporting.
In addition, families will be able to talk to journalists, while maintaining their anonymity.
Once the pilot scheme has been evaluated by an external agency, it could be extended to every Family court in the country.