Is the Family Court Private?
Most Family Court proceedings are private. This protects sensitive information about the personal lives of those involved, particularly children.
Family Court privacy means that in general:
- Only people with permission from the Court can attend Court hearings
- Court documents should not be shared with people outside the proceedings
- Parties in the case should not discuss it with people outside the case
- Parties in the case (or others who they have discussed it with) should not post about proceedings on social media
However, there has been public concern that the Family Court operates behind closed doors. Most non-family legal proceedings are open to the public. There has been debate about making the Family Court more transparent.
Can journalists attend Family Court proceedings?
On 31 January 2023 the Family Reporting Pilot was launched. Its purpose is to increase transparency. Under the Pilot, accredited journalists and “legal bloggers” are allowed to attend Court hearings. “Legal bloggers” require very specific qualifications.
The Reporting Pilot applies only in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle. Initially, it applied only to public law cases. These are often known as care proceedings and generally concern local authorities applying to remove children into care. From 15 May 2023 the Reporting Pilot applied to private law cases too. These include cases about who a child should live with and how often they should spend time with the other parent.
What can journalists report about Family Court hearings?
A Court order is likely to be made which clearly sets out what is confidential and what is not. The Court can order that there be no reporting of the case at all.
All children are anonymous unless the Court orders otherwise. The Court’s order will also provide as standard that information may not be reported where it could identify the child by association. For example, their date of birth, family members or school. The order will also provide as standard that the name of a medical professional treating a child is withheld as well as details of any alleged sexual abuse. These are simply standard starting points. The Court may decide that a particular case warrants more or less reporting than those standard provisions. The Local Authority and any expert instructed will be named unless the court decides otherwise. The specific social workers working with the family will not be named unless the court decides otherwise.
It is likely that the Pilot will be extended to hearings before magistrates in the autumn. It is increasingly important to obtain legal advice on confidentiality in your case. Even for a hearing covered by the Pilot, you can ask the court to limit what is published about the case. A lawyer will be able to explain to the court on your behalf why certain case details should or should not be reported upon.
Here to Help
If you need advice on any family matter, please get in touch with Kerrie Hall , Senior Solicitor specialising in Family Law.
Please note the contents of this article are given for information only and must not be relied upon. Legal advice should always be sought in relation to specific circumstances.