On 28 April we reported that the Reporting Pilot was being extended to cover private law cases. That new regime came into play on 15 May.

Although the bulletin which announced the extension also set out some proposed changes to listing arrangements under the aspirational title ‘making listings better’, those changes don’t yet seem to have been implemented as described.

However, a version of the proposals does appear to have been implemented in Carlisle (we’ve not seen equivalent markings on lists in Leeds or Cardiff) and some family court cases are now marked as ‘Cat 3’ or ‘Cat 2’.

Confusingly, these 3 categories correspond in part with proposals in the bulletin to differentiate pilot hearings from non pilot hearings, and to flag non-pilot hearings where reporters can attend but not automatically report – but the labelling doesn’t correspond. In the bulletin category 2 and 3 were intended to flag the existence of allegations of domestic or sexual abuse. In fact these labels are being used as follows:

  • Cat 1 -Journalists/legal bloggers are not allowed to attend this hearing (eg adoption)
  • Cat 2 -Journalists/bloggers permitted to observe but this case is not currently part of the Pilot
  • Cat 3 – Journalists/bloggers may observe and the case is part of the Pilot

(Cat 3 should really say ‘observe and report‘ but you get the gist).

It’s unhelpful that this is not yet being applied consistently and that the key is not published anywhere. Unless they read this post or find the relevant tweet thread, reporters will not be able to make any use from these cryptic markings (it’s not an especially transparent improvement!). It’s also not entirely clear why the list can’t just say ‘Reporting Pilot’ or ‘RP’ (or non-pilot or no reporters), and then it wouldn’t need a key at all!

We understand the other proposals about codes which help give an indication of what issues feature in the case are still under consideration. So watch this space…

Separately, we see mention on twitter of reporters seeking to attend hearings in non-pilot courts being told they are not allowed to attend hearings because the court is not a pilot court, seemingly unaware that there is a freestanding right of attendance at most hearings under FPR 27.11. All the pilot does is it reduces the pain associated with trying to report by adopting a transparency order that will generally permit reporting on an anonymised basis, so that reporters know where they stand before wasting time observing a hearing they then can’t write about.

The reality is though that everyone is on a learning curve here and we have to make the best of what we have got. Judges and court staff are very busy and especially in non-pilot courts may be unfamiliar with the rules around attendance of reporters. We don’t think there is any realistic prospect of lists being published earlier, so reporters will still need to request links for hearings they are entitled to attend at short notice, meaning there isn’t time for faffing about or pushback when someone gets it wrong. We suggest that when reporters wish to attend a hearing they pre-emptively and explicitly state the basis upon which they intend to attend i.e. cite the rule, and use terminology indicating that they are exercising a right of attendance rather than seeking permission – and we also suggest they might find it helpful to provide a copy of our guidance at the same time (which has recently been endorsed by the Financial Remedies Court Subgroup of the Transparency Implementation Group. They might also refer court staff to the HMCTS Media Guidance, reissued in April this year.

You can download our guidance here:

Feature pic : Pilots – by Pixaby via Pexels, reproduced with thanks.

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