Society welcomes launch of Family Court pilot scheme

Posted on: January 30, 2023 by Claire Meadows

A pilot scheme aimed at increasing transparency in the work of the Family Court has today launched in three cities.

The pilot, launched following the publication of the President of the Family Division’s Transparency Review in October 2021, will see accredited journalists and legal bloggers in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle able to report more freely on court proceedings provided that they protect the anonymity of the families involved.

Responding to today’s launch, Dawn Alford, Executive Director of the Society of Editors said that the pilot was a long-awaited step towards achieving greater transparency in the work of the Family Division.

She said: “Since the launch in 2019 of the long-awaited Review into Transparency in the Family Court, the Society has stressed that greater openness can be achieved without sacrificing the safety and anonymity of children and families involved.

“For too long a lack of transparency and scrutiny around the work of the Family Court has undermined public confidence and understanding of this important facet of the justice system.  It is hoped that today’s pilot scheme will help shine a light in this area and enhance public scrutiny and knowledge of how, and why, decisions are made.”

As part of the pilot, journalists will be issued with a “transparency order” and given key court documents to enable reporting. While they are still prohibited from publishing any details that could identify a family involved in a case, they will be able to name local authorities and high-level individuals involved such as court-appointed experts.  In another significant change, the pilot will also see journalists able to quote family members involved in cases provided that they remain anonymous. Judges will still retain the discretion to ban reporting of cases if circumstances justify such an order. 

Announcing the launch of the pilot, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, said: “The reporting pilot in Leeds, Carlisle and Cardiff marks the start of the judiciary’s ongoing work to make transparency in the Family Court a reality. Openness and confidentiality are not irreconcilable, and each is achievable. The aim of the pilot is to understand the impact of open reporting and to enhance public confidence, whilst at the same time firmly protecting continued confidentiality.

“The pilot is a work in progress, and the judges in each area, practitioners and media will be monitoring the transparency orders, and the process, as cases come to court. The reporting pilot is one aspect of the work being done to open up the Family Court, there are other working groups for data collection, financial remedies, and anonymisation and publication of judgments.”

Full details of the pilot including detailed guidance for reporters can be found on the Reporting Pilot page.