News and Events

The Transparency Order in Family Law

View profile for Rhian Evans
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What is the Reporting Pilot?

Journalists and legal bloggers are now able to report from Family Courts in Cardiff, Leeds, and Carlisle as part of a 12-month pilot which began on the 30th of January 2023. The pilot allows for ‘pilot reporters’ to attend and report on proceedings heard in pilot courts. This being the first time that media access is allowed in family law proceedings.

The judges in the pilot courts will make a ‘Transparency Order’ which sets out the rules of what can and cannot be reported in the proceedings.

Why is the Pilot happening?

Family proceedings are heard in private to protect the privacy of the families involved. There is a great perception that the family courts are masked in secrecy, with many not understanding how the process works and coming out of the process feeling confused. The Transparency Pilot aims to challenge this issue, by reporting on cases this will allow the public to gain a better understanding of how the family courts work.

Moreover, there is an ongoing drive to make justice visible and more accessible. A fundamental reason for the Transparency Pilot is to improve the courts and make the law fairer to everyone. Everyday judgements are not open to public scrutiny, patterns of decisions cannot be seen by the public and the risk of injustice increases. The Transparency Pilot hopes to begin the start of tackling this problem, by opening decisions to the public for comment and scrutiny.

Leeds Court Transparency Order

Mr Justice Poole in the Leeds Court made the first transparency order. The Transparency Order was made before a hearing which was expected to last for 11 weeks. The finding-of-fact hearing involved three separate family law applications brought by local authorities in relation to three separate families, all living in the Yorkshire region. The Order included a prohibition on any reporting until after the conclusion of the hearing, and potentially longer. The Order is the first of its kind, however, is unlikely to result in the first press coverage under the pilot due to the nature of the reporting restrictions.

Is this an end to secrecy in the family court?

While accredited media representatives may attend hearings, they are subject to strict limitations on what they are able to report. The cases will still be anonymised, no reporter is allowed to name or take photos of the mums, dads, husbands, and wives or their children. Though you may be able to identify your case based on dates and location, the aim is to make sure that others cannot identify your case by any of the facts reported.

Comments from our Family Head of Department Jo Harriman

Some perceive that there has been a decline in the public’s confidence in the family justice system, it is hoped that the pilot might tackle this issue, leading to the public having a greater understanding of family proceedings and how they are conducted, and how decisions are made.

The pilot could assist parents in family proceedings to understand what to expect, a better understanding of how a court may approach decision-making in family cases may even lead to a larger proportion of matters settling by agreement before they reach the court.