Legal director Amy Chapman delves into the evolving landscape of family court proceedings, highlighting the historic secrecy surrounding these cases and discussing the impact of the ‘Transparency Pilot’.
The secrecy surrounding family courts
Up until this year, people have been left to wonder what goes on during family proceedings. Many have relied on basic information in the press about a case to piece together the details. However, this is set to change.
Proceedings in the family court, by their nature, are extremely sensitive. Important decisions are made about children and the issues considered are highly personal. To protect the sensitive and personal nature of the cases, such proceedings have historically been held in private. Reporting restrictions are in place and decisions are made 'behind closed doors’ with only those involved in the case allowed into the courtroom. The limited information allowed to be shared publicly has led to concerns about the lack of transparency over decisions being made.
The Transparency Pilot
Following reviews across England and Wales on how to make the family court more transparent while protecting the most vulnerable, the ‘Transparency Pilot’ was trialled in three courts: Carlisle, Cardiff and Leeds. The purpose of the pilot was to allow journalists and legal bloggers to be present during hearings and to report on cases heard in the family court. However, it was stipulated that all reporting must be anonymised and a Transparency Order made to set out what can be reported.
This pilot is expanding in the new year to include the Surrey Family Court, where our children team regularly appear. Due to the private nature of the proceedings it is likely that many families we represent will be worried about personal information being reported. However, family details will remain anonymous to ensure that families are not identifiable in the press.
I attended the ALC conference in Manchester earlier this month was able to hear directly about the impact of the Pilot, and the outcome is generally positive. I know that people will feel nervous about this but I believe that this is an important change to our system. It will help to demystify the family courts and allow the public to understand the decisions that are being made.”
We are faced with numerous challenges in family proceedings due to a lack of resources, immensely impacting the families we represent. With the press present and gaining insight into the challenges, we hope that this will raise awareness in England and Wales of the issues faced by young people. We can only hope that the increased awareness may contribute to securing much-needed resources for the families in genuine need.
We welcome the change and will support all the families we represent navigating already sensitive and complex matters in family court.