29 Oct 2021
Partner Mark Harper comments on the President of the Family Division’s decision to open family courts for reporting
Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the High Court family division, has today announced his intention to implement a major shift in culture and process to increase the transparency of the family courts in a number of respects. This includes changing the default position on publicity so family courts are “open for reporting”.
Cases dealt with in the family division currently sit in private and, although journalists are allowed in, they can’t report the details of what they see. The president’s decision means journalists could now report “all that they see and hear” at family courts for the first time.
Mark Harper commented:
“The current law in this respect is a mess. Although this review will provide more transparency on family proceedings, it also opens the door to potentially dangerous outcomes for children – from mental health to hesitancy to testify, who, through no fault of their own, are forced to have one of the most difficult times of their lives made publicly available for years to come.
“Justifying decisions in children’s cases should not take priority over protecting children and the identities of them and their parents.
“Almost all of the children and young people in a survey for the 2010 Children’s Commissioner for England’s report on the views of children and young people on media access to family courts were opposed to the decision to permit reporters into family court hearings, with the majority feeling the issues addressed by court hearings are private. These issues are considered ‘painful, embarrassing and humiliating’ for children and the majority of respondents said they were not the business of newspapers or the general public.
“Most worryingly about this report were findings that children will be unwilling or less willing to talk to a clinician about ill-treatment or disputes about their care, or about their wishes and feelings once they are told a reporter might be in court. This could have significant implications on the future well-being and safety of the child.”
Read Mark’s comments in The Law Society Gazette, New Law Journal and The Legal Diary.