Media access to family courts
In April 2009, the Government made changes to allow the media to attend Family Court cases. In April 2010, further changes were made in the Children Schools and Families Act, allowing journalists to report the details of family court proceedings for the first time.
Research undertaken by academics at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of Oxford examined evidence from other jurisdictions and scrutinised the provisions of the new legislation. Findings from this research were published in two briefing papers funded by the Nuffield Foundation.
- The proposals in Part 2 of the Children, Schools and Families Bill will allow the media to report on the details of family court cases for the first time. The level of access to court documents is without international precedent.
- Relaxing the restrictions on media reporting of family court cases could put the personal privacy of vulnerable children and families at risk.
- Under the new proposals, journalists will not be able to report information that could compromise a person’s anonymity, but they will be able to report details of people’s private lives; if the local community or others are aware that a court case is underway, publishing this personal information could identify parties in the case even if a name is not published in the wider media.
- The lack of adequate protection of privacy may violate people’s right to respect for their private lives under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
- The Government’s stated goal in introducing this legislation is to increase the openness and transparency of family courts, but the evidence from similar countries such as Australia and New Zealand does not show that allowing greater media access will achieve that goal.
- Alternative options to provide greater openness and accountability in the family courts have not been fully explored. One such alternative is the publication of anonymised family court judgements, currently being piloted in Leeds, Cardiff and Wolverhampton.
New family court reporting rules are unclear and will put privacy of vulnerable children at risk, Nuffield Foundation media release, December 2010
Family Policy Briefing 6, The Media and the Family Courts – key information and questions about the Children, Schools and Families Bill, Ceridwen Roberts and Robert H George, University of Oxford, December 2009
Family Policy Briefing 5, ‘Openness and transparency’ in family courts: what the experience of other countries tells us about reform in England and Wales, Julia Brophy and Ceridwen Roberts, May 2009