Home / The Rix & Kay Blog / Transparency in Family Court – changes to Family Procedure Rules
Rebecca Jones

Partner - West Kent (Hadlow)

21st February 2023

The Family Procedure Rules have recently been changed to allow accredited journalists to attend hearings in the Family Court as part of a pilot scheme in Cardiff, Leeds and Carlisle to not only observe, as they have been able to do since 2009, but also to report publicly on what they see and hear. The pilot allows care proceedings that are issued by the children’s services department in each county, to be reported on. In due course the pilot will be extended to include all children hearings, including private law disputes between parents about who children should live with and who they should spend time with.

This change comes following the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, appointing a review panel in 2019 to investigate transparency. The pilot started on 30 January 2023 and will run for 12 months, after which, if the pilot is successful, transparency rules will extend to all courts across England and Wales.

Changes to the Family Procedure Rules explained

Family Courts deal with the most difficult time in families’ lives, usually involving vulnerable children, and as a result cases are heard in private and journalists have not been allowed to report on them, save for published cases dealing with points of law. The aim of the pilot scheme is to improve transparency and public confidence in the Family Courts, whilst also ensuring families’ identities are protected. The changes should enable journalists to critique the actions of local authorities and the Courts themselves, holding them to account for the decisions made, and should ensure cases are dealt with appropriately and in the best interests of the children involved.

Journalists have struggled to report on family law cases for many years, with parents contacting the media describing miscarriages of justice, but no action being permitted, especially since, under the rules, parents are not allowed to speak to anyone about their case, it having been heard in private. This has left the media frustrated and the public unaware of what goes on in this area of law behind the Court’s doors.

Sir Andrew McFarlane has said: “I don’t think there is a crisis of [public] confidence but I think there is a vacuum at the moment. They don’t know what we do, so they can’t be confident.” The changes will allow parties in these cases to talk to journalists and give interviews anonymously, which is a stark improvement for those that want their voices to be heard.

The pilot excludes financial remedy cases on divorce and domestic abuse cases, given the sensitivity of these areas, though in time once the full impact of the pilot is known, transparency rules may be extended.

Some restrictions on reporting remain, and in each case the media wish to attend, the rules on what they may report will be set out in a Transparency Order issued by the Court, ensuring each case is considered on its own facts. All reporting will be anonymous in relation to any children, family members and other specified parties, unless the court orders otherwise.

We are here to help

We understand that it is often at a very difficult time in a person’s life when they need assistance regarding family law. If you would like to discuss any family law matters and seek advice on the different options available to you in your individual circumstances, please get in touch with Rebecca Jones Partner in Rix & Kay’s Family & Divorce team or call 01732 440856. Alternatively, please complete the online form available here: https://www.rixandkay.co.uk/family-and-divorce-law/ after which a member of our team will be in contact to arrange your appointment.