Family Courts are told to co-operate with journalists
Posted on 14th January 2020
Louise Tickle wrote a piece about her fight to “open up Family Court to greater scrutiny” for The Guardian Newspaper in February 2019. The Freelance Journalist describes how she attended the Royal Court of Justice to challenge a Reporting Restriction Order (RRO) which she believed had been made unlawfully. The restriction order banned the media from reporting on a Council’s attempt to remove a child from her mother.
The facts of this case were that the child had been placed in foster care in 2015 and in 2017 the Council applied for the child to be adopted, the Family Court ruled in the child’s favour but the mother appealed the decision in 2018 and at the beginning of 2018 the Court of Appeal declared the Southampton Children’s Services had offered “the slimmest of evidence” to back up its assertion that the little girl should be adopted so the Court of Appeal held that the Judge had fallen into error in analysing whether adoption would be best for the child and his ability to make any such decision as to whether the adoption should take place was compromised by weak evidence from the local authority. The Court of Appeal ruled that if the Council insisted that the Child be adopted then they would have to make their case again, a date for the case to be heard was set in October 2018 but reunited the mother and her child during the summer.
The hearing went ahead in October 2018 however the Council applied for an RRO banning the publication of the names of the professional who had been involved in the case, or the ages and ethnicity of the family. You can read more about Louise Tickle’s “fight” here.
It is impossible for the Family Court to be subject to the same level of openness as the rest of the justice system particularly because the safeguarding of the children involved in these cases are paramount. That said the Family Courts must have some form of public scrutiny to ensure the integrity and fairness of the life-changing decisions being made and to assist to preserve confidentiality and respect the private and family lives of those who need guidance and help from the court.
Following this case, Sir Andrew McFarlane, head of the Family Division has release guidance on how courts should deal with applications from reporters wishing to report of family cases stating that “Courts should be astute to assist reporters seeking to attend a hearing, or to relax reporting restrictions, and should provide them with relevant contact details of the court office, the judge’s clerk and the parties where requested”. In the final guidance, whilst made to assist the press in performing their watchdog role, Sir Andrew McFarlane made it clear that although reporters may attend family hearings, it does not mean that they can publish any reports on such cases, especially those that involve minors.
Whilst there has been much support for transparency in relation to family proceedings the new guidance issued by the President of the Family Division there has been some criticism by those worried about costs. For example, if the hearing runs into a second day because of the time taken in hearing an application from the media where one party resisted the application. If the application then fails, surely there should be provision for the media organisation to pay the parties’ costs? If you need the best legal advice on anything family, property, or personal injury related, then just ask our team of local solicitors.
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