It is always a difficult balance to develop further openness in family court proceedings while at the same time maintaining confidentiality for the children involved.
This situation is not helped by the sometimes inaccurate - and therefore misleading - press reporting of cases which results in the diminishing of increased understanding and informed debate. These difficulties arise as journalists are often limited in their access to material to report on, or to link their reporting to the source material, and often rely on personal stories, which can be a partial and inaccurate narrative of just one party to the proceedings. Here’s the opinion of one blogger with the Transparency Project.
What’s the answer?
After months of liaison with the Family Procedure Rules Committee the proposal by the Transparency Project to permit legal bloggers into Family Court hearings is going to be piloted. The pilot will launch on 1 October and run for nine months until 30 June 2019. The pilot will allow practising lawyers, academic lawyers and those under the umbrella of an educational charity (such as the Transparency Project) into said hearings.
Lawyers will need to provide proof of their eligibility under the scheme on the day of the hearing (as accredited members of the press do by showing their Press cards in the Family Court) and will need to complete a form which amounts to an undertaking not to breach privacy rules and a confirmation that the lawyer is not acting as a lawyer with an interest in the case, but is attending for public legal educational, journalistic or research purposes.
The aim of the scheme is to help the public to understand how the Family Court works and to inform of the decisions that are made by this courts on a daily basis.
The role of journalists in holding the justice system to account is crucial. However, lawyers can provide a greater technical understanding, as well as a different perspective, and what’s more are not constrained by any commercial considerations that may drive the sometimes highly selective reporting of family justice.