Pilot scheme begins aimed at opening up proceedings in family courts

Pilot scheme begins aimed at opening up proceedings in family courts

A pilot scheme has been launched which aims to shed light on the workings of the family court system.

Although reporters have had access to courts dealing with sensitive cases involving children for some time, despite being closed to the public, reporting is highly restricted to what a judge will allow.

A pilot scheme started in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle on Monday which will allow accredited journalists and legal bloggers to report on cases as they unfold, as they would in the criminal courts, as long as the identities of the families and certain professionals involved are not disclosed. is, is. not revealed.

The project officially began on Monday, but the first case to be held under the new rules began last week when a High Court judge in Leeds decided to adopt the protocols at the start of an 11-week trial rather than bringing it in halfway. through the proceedings.

Despite this, very few details of the case can be reported at this stage, pending the conclusion of any criminal proceedings arising from the matters considered at the trial.

A lawyer holding a legal wig at his side (Clara Molden/PA)

At the beginning of the trial last week, Mr. Justice Poole allowed the reporting of certain details, including that this was a finding-of-fact trial involving three families and allegations of fabricated or induced illness.

Under current law, journalists and legally qualified bloggers can attend hearings in family courts, which are closed to the public, but can only report details of what happens in the courtroom if the judge hearing the case allows it.

In the pilot courts, the starting point will be that accredited journalists and legal bloggers can report on trials, subject to strict reporting restrictions to protect the anonymity of the families involved.

Cases attended by journalists and bloggers will be covered by a transparency order, which outlines what can and cannot be reported, and reporters will have access to some basic case documents.

Families will also be able to speak to a journalist about their case, without risking punishment for contempt of court, as under the current regime.

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However, judges can still decide that some cases may not be reported, or that reporting should be delayed in certain circumstances.

The pilot will run for 12 months, after which there will be an evaluation before the scheme is rolled out to other family courts.

Only public law cases, for example those involving local authorities, will be included in the pilot project, but this will be expanded to cover private law cases, such as custody disputes between divorced parents.

The president of the family division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, recently described the new reporting provisions as a “big change” and said it was important for the public to know what happens in family courts to ensure confidence in the justice system.

At a launch event last Thursday, he said there were currently just under 250,000 cases heard each year in the family courts in England and Wales.

He said the issue of greater transparency had “sat in the too-hard box” for a number of years, but that some of his predecessors had made great strides towards more openness.

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