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Family Courts: Disclosure of Information

Question for Ministry of Justice

UIN 7149, tabled on 25 May 2021

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps his Department is taking to improve transparency in the Family Court process.

Answered on

7 June 2021

This answer is a correction from the original answer.

Ensuring that decisions made in family proceedings are open and transparent to the public is something to which this Government gives careful consideration. We recognise that there is a delicate balance to be struck between ensuring that family proceedings are open and transparent to ensure adequate public scrutiny and the principle of public justice, whilst also ensuring that we protect the privacy of vulnerable children and families who are party to such proceedings.

In terms of attendance at hearings, most family proceedings are held in private. However, ‘accredited media representatives’ have been permitted to attend most types of hearings in family proceedings for several years. In addition, a pilot scheme to allow duly authorised lawyers, attending for journalistic, research or public legal educational purposes (colloquially referred to as 'legal bloggers') access to those same types of hearings was initiated in October 2018. That pilot scheme is scheduled to end in December 2021, but it is intended that it should be replaced by permanent provision in court rules, before that end date.

In terms of disclosure of information from family proceedings, for example by reporting it in the press or online, there are various legal provisions which determine if and when it is possible to disclose such information. These include laws on reporting restrictions and contempt of court. Judges dealing with cases have discretion to allow publication of information from family proceedings. In addition, court rules include provision about when it is possible to make disclosures of information without this being a potential contempt of court.

The livestreaming of some Court of Appeal family proceedings is also now possible as a result of amendments made by the Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) (Amendment) Order 2020, which extended the existing livestreaming provision to cover family proceedings. Under this scheme, members of the public may view selected Court of Appeal family cases on the internet. Members of the judiciary select suitable cases for livestreaming, having taken into account the public interest. Proceedings involving litigants in person, and those with specific reporting restrictions, will not be selected. Participants in all selected hearings will be given the opportunity beforehand to object or to obtain further information.

Further recommendations for increasing transparency will be carefully considered to ensure that the children and families who use the family courts continue to be protected, whilst also ensuring adequate scrutiny is given to the family courts.

Original answer

Ensuring that decisions made in family proceedings are open and transparent to the public is something to which this Government has given careful consideration. We recognise that there is a delicate balance to be struck between ensuring that family proceedings are open and transparent to ensure adequate public scrutiny and the principle of public justice, whilst also ensuring that the we protect the privacy of vulnerable children and families who are party to such proceedings.

This Government has taken several steps to increase transparency in family proceedings where appropriate. This has included continuing to support a pilot which allows accredited representatives of media outlets to have access to proceedings. The pilot allows legal bloggers access to proceedings with permission of the presiding judge. It also allows the blogger to write about their experiences at court but requires that names and personal information are kept anonymous.

We have also allowed the livestreaming of Court of Appeal family proceedings. This became a permanent arrangement in June 2020 through the Live Streaming Court of Appeal SI 2020 and allows anyone to view a Court of Appeal family case on the internet (again, whilst protecting the anonymity of the parties involved).

Further recommendations for increasing transparency will be carefully considered to ensure that the children and families who use the family courts continue to be protected, whilst also ensuring adequate scrutiny is given to the family courts.

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