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Senior Judge endorses family court transparency

By 18 January 2021News

The media should be allowed greater access to the family courts, a senior judge has declared.x`

In a statement accompanying the publication of a new report on the topic, Sir Andrew McFarlane declared:

“The present system in the Family Courts whereby a journalist may attend any hearing but may not always report what they observe, is not sustainable. I have reached the conclusion that there needs to be a major shift in culture and process to increase the transparency.”

As President of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir Andrew McFarlane is the most senior family law judge in England and Wales. The new report follows a detailed review of media access to the family court system. It was undertaken to explore ways of increasing public confidence.

Sir Andrew explained:

“My main conclusion is that the time has come for accredited media representatives to be able, not only to attend hearings, but to report publicly on what they see and hear. Any reporting must, however, be subject to very clear rules to maintain the anonymity of children and families, and to keep confidential intimate details of their private lives.”

He added:

“These twin principles of confidence and confidentiality are not, in my view, mutually exclusive and it is possible to achieve both goals.”

Sir Andrew said he would now begin work on introducing the necessary changes.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) is an independent organisation which intervenes in cases involving children to ensure their welfare is protected. They endorsed the report but stressed the need for strict measures to protect the privacy of children.

“We…support more transparency as long as the wishes and feelings of children and young people about sensitivity and privacy are respected.”

Read Confidence and Confidentiality: Transparency in the Family Courts here.