Can the media now report my case?
Family law

Can the media now report on my case?

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Walker Family Law
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You may have noticed in the news that family courts are being opened up to reporting by the media.

And if you are involved in family court proceedings you may well want to know whether the media will be able to report on your case, whether you are worried about the prospect, or welcoming it.

Can the media now report my case?

So can the media now report on your case?

The answer is a little complicated, but to simplify we will divide cases into those involving children, and those involving finances.

Reporting in children cases

Here we are talking about both public law children cases involving social services, such as care proceedings, and private law children cases, where parents need to sort out arrangements for their children, such as with whom they are to live.

The rules concerning reporting in these cases are quite strict and restrictive.

Hearings relating to family matters (including financial cases) are generally held in private, which means that members of the public cannot be present. Duly accredited media representatives may attend hearings, subject to exceptions, but there are strict limits on what they can report.

It may, for example, be a contempt of court to publish information about proceedings relating to children if a court sits in private. Additionally, it is an offence to publish information which could identify a child involved in certain proceedings.

These restrictions have led to concerns that the family courts are not allowing effective public scrutiny. To address these concerns, a new scheme to allow reporting is being piloted – this was what was in the recent news.

The pilot, which will run until early next year, is taking place in just three courts, in Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle, and will apply to both public law and private law children cases.

Under the pilot accredited journalists and legal bloggers (i.e. authorised lawyers attending for journalistic, research or public legal educational purposes) will be allowed to attend court and report upon what they see and hear.

The rules on what may or may not be reported in a particular case will be set out in a transparency order issued by the court. All reporting will be subject to the principle of anonymity in relation to children, family members and other specified parties, unless the court orders otherwise.

Once the pilot has been completed it will be independently evaluated. If the evaluation is positive, then we can expect the scheme, or something similar, to be rolled out in all family courts across England and Wales.

Reporting in financial cases

Here we are talking about financial remedy applications, sorting out the future financial arrangements following a divorce or civil partnership dissolution.

The rule mentioned above about contempt of court does not usually apply to hearings in financial cases, except where the application is wholly or mainly about the upbringing of a child, for example where it concerns child maintenance.

As indicated earlier, the reporting pilot does not apply to financial cases. Journalists and legal bloggers can attend hearings in financial cases, although quite what they can report is currently unclear.

Recently, a distinguished High Court judge stated that in his view in financial remedy hearings which do not concern children journalists and legal bloggers are lawfully entitled to report anything that they see and hear, without restriction, unless the court specifically imposes a reporting restriction order, prohibiting the publication of specified information.

However, the views of this judge are not necessarily shared by other judges, who believe that the parties in financial cases should normally be provided with anonymity. It therefore seems that what might happen in any given case depends upon the views of the judge dealing with the case.

The issue of reporting in financial remedy cases is currently being looked into, and hopefully matters will be in due course be clarified.

Ian Walker Family Law & Mediation Solicitors are award-winning family solicitors and are recognised as one of the leading family law firms in the South West of England with services covering family law & mediation, divorce, child law, and arbitration. For expert advice, please contact the team.