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Family court proceedings should be more transparent

Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, has said that, whilst a balance should be struck between openness and confidentiality, the media should be able to report more fully on family court hearings.

Bradie Pell

After 30 years of discussion about transparency in the courts – an issue which Sir Andrew says has never been fully addressed – he has called for a ‘major shift in culture’.  His recently published report, which calls for widespread reforms, suggests that increasing transparency in family court proceedings, with openness being the ‘new norm’, will help to improve waning public confidence in the family justice system.   

Sir Andrew has called for government to urgently consider a review of the rule that restricts reporting on family court proceedings, and which is supposed to ‘protect and support the administration of justice’, as he believes that it has had the opposite effect and has undermined confidence in the system. Whilst acknowledging that greater openness should not affect children involved in court proceedings, Sir Andrew says that ‘accredited media representatives and legal bloggers’ should be able to attend, observe and report on family court hearings.

The review also calls for more action from family court judges, recommending that they publish at least 10% of their judgements every year and that communication between judges and the media is improved.  It also suggests that the Family Procedure Rules should be changed to allow the parties in family proceedings to discuss their cases with journalists more freely.

Author: Bradie Pell, partner and head of Graysons’ family team.

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