FAMILY COURT HEARINGS AND MEDIA REPORTING

There have been calls for increased openness in the Family Court in recent years.   In particular, media reporting and others such as legal bloggers to be able to report on family cases. 

On 28 October 2021, the President of the Family Division announced proposed measures following a transparency review. These include:

  • A presumption that allows reporting of family cases subject to the judge’s discretion whether it is appropriate to report a particular case.
  • Allowing parties to speak to the press/legal bloggers about details of children proceedings. Whilst the information given could not be published the press/blogger would be able to attend and report on any hearings.  
  • Allowing the press/legal bloggers to see documents which are necessary to understand the case. 
  • A greater number of judgments to be published 
  • Greater data collection by HMRC at the conclusion of a case.

The aim of these proposals is to provide greater transparency over how decisions in the Family Court are made. Further, it suggests that the Family Court can become more open whilst still protecting the parties involved.

Similarly, a consultation was launched on the proposal for a standard Reporting Permission Order (“RPO”) to relax reporting permissions in the Financial Remedy Court.  The RPO would allow journalists who are permitted to attend hearings to have sight of key documents, subject to strict conditions. The RPO would also allow journalists to publish broad information on the finances, although also subject to a number of conditions. It is hoped that the RPO will help create a balance between allowing journalists to report on financial remedy proceedings whilst at the same time maintaining the privacy of the parties.

These proposals show there is a strong desire to move towards greater transparency. Moving away from a closed system will allow for not only greater public scrutiny, but also greater public understanding. More openness will most likely increase public trust by removing the misinformation surrounding the Family Court. 

What does this mean if you have a hearing in the family court?

Anyone considering issuing family proceedings should be aware that, if these proposals come into effect; details of their case could be reported in the press and legal blogs and there is no automatic right to keep details of family cases private. Details that may be reported on include:

  • The names of the parties although any children will continue to have the right to anonymity;
  • Pictures of the parties;
  • Descriptions of factual, evidential or legal issues including open proposals made from the parties;
  • Quotations or information from documents filed in proceedings, oral evidence, submissions, comments of the court, the court judgment and order disposing of the proceedings excluding any protected financial information;
  • A broad description of the types and amounts of the assets, liabilities, income and other financial resources of the parties, without identifying the actual items, where they are sited or by whom they are held;
  • A broad description of the open proposals of the parties giving monetary values without identifying actual items.

 

Is there any way you can avoid your case being reported? 

A judge may order that information should not be reported on. However, parties should expect that this will be the exception rather than the rule. Ultimately, resolving matters outside of court, will be the only way to guarantee a case is not reported. At Townsend Family Law our focus is on settling your case without the need for litigation. There are lots of options available to a couple who are separating before they get to the stage of going to court. Alternatives to going to court include mediation, Arbitration, Round Table Meetings and Private Financial Dispute Resolution Hearings. 

 

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