The ‘Reporting Pilot’ currently operates in three family courts with regard to cases about children. A new pilot is to begin in cases about financial disputes on divorce.
The following press release was sent out by the Judicial Press Office on 14 December:
Journalists and legal bloggers will be able to report on financial remedies proceedings in the Financial Remedies Court (FRC) at three courts from 29 January 2024, in the latest reporting pilot launched by the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane.
This is the latest announcement following Sir Andrew McFarlane’s “Transparency in the Family Court” review, which was published in 2021, and committed to achieving better and purposeful transparency in the family court, to increase understanding and scrutiny of the system.
The FRC reporting pilot will cover the Central Family Court, Birmingham and Leeds. FRC proceedings concern financial issues that need to be resolved after the breakdown of a marriage or civil partnership, including financial support for children.
As part of the pilot, cause lists for all FRC courts, including cases heard at the Royal Courts of Justice, will name the parties and state that the proceedings involve financial remedies.
The pilot will not include Financial Dispute Resolution hearings which remain a vital, and confidential, part of the process to enable parties to reach settlement with the assistance of the judge. Financial Dispute Resolution hearings are a without prejudice settlement meeting at court which under the rules of court cannot be attended by the media, nor can the contents be referred to publicly.
President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane said: “This is an important step which will complement the work already being done in the family court reporting pilot and is part of the ongoing process of making the family courts more transparent so as to achieve greater understanding of how family proceedings are conducted.”
The press release links to:
The full guidance on the reporting pilot for FRC hearings here.
Although the guidance includes a copy of The Transparency Project guidance note, ‘What to do when a reporter attends (or wants to attend) your hearing’, our own guide relates to the media or legal bloggers attending, as they are entitled to do, general family court hearings. Just a reminder that The Transparency Project is us! – we are not the President’s Review or the Reporting Pilots.
The report from the Financial Remedies Court Sub-Group of the Transparency Implementation Group (TIG) here.
The Financial Remedies Court here.
And the Transparency Implementation Group (TIG) in general here.
The Reporting Pilot has been operating in children cases for nearly a year and the evaluation of that is due out soon. We hope that it will be positive about the contribution made to better understanding of family justice. The new Pilot for finance cases is also taking place in Leeds, but in two courts that haven’t been in the current Pilot – Central London and Birmingham. We don’t know if these two courts will be joining the children cases Pilot roll-out early next year.
Interestingly, the more complex and ‘big money’ cases that are heard in the High Court will also be open to the media and legal bloggers to report on, in about a year’s time.
The legislation about restrictions in children cases and money cases is different – and the parties’ wish for privacy can also be quite different. The law in connection with money cases has been under some debate recently (as can be seen in the TIG report referred to and which we wrote on here). However, it’s clear that the intention in the new Pilot is for hearings to still be private and for parties and any children to have their identities protected.
We note that court lists will still show parties’ names, but that reporting will be subject to anonymity provisions. Presumably there aren’t concerns about jigsaw identification between lists and subsequent publications. In children cases, the names are always listed anonymously e.g. Re A (A minor) because section 97(2) of the children Act 1989 requires this for children subject to proceedings. While the law applicable to the FRC is less clear-cut, the traditional approach of giving considerable weight to parties’ privacy rights is not unduly threatened by this new Pilot.
Image: Creative commons licence – thanks to Nick Youngson at picpedia.
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