UK: First transparency order opens family case to reporters

The Law Society Gazette reports

Family Division liaison judge Mr Justice Poole has made what is believed to be the first transparency order to allow reporting of a case in the family courts.

The order covers a finding of fact hearing being held in Leeds and is expected to last 11 weeks. It was made under a reporting pilot being conducted in the Family Courts in Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle from 30 January.

Today’s judgment states that it is appropriate to adopt the pilot from the hearing’s outset. The transparency order (TO) was made prior to the hearing and circulated to the parties. ‘Potential pilot reporters’ were told of the case through the Royal Courts of Justice press office.

The finding of fact hearing involves three separate family law applications brought to the court by local authorities in relation to three separate families, all living in Yorkshire. The cases concern allegations that the mother in each family ‘fabricated or induced illness in one child of each family’. Three women have been arrested and a criminal investigation started.

Under the TO ‘pilot reporters’ – accredited journalists or an authorised legal blogger – may report on proceedings with restrictions to protect the identities of children.  The order adopts the template attached to president of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane’s guidance with two ‘significant variations’ which, Poole said, would ‘not be necessary in most cases.’

The variations include a condition that no reporting of the proceedings will be permitted until the conclusion of the hearing and ‘perhaps, due to possible criminal proceedings, long after that’. The second variation is the inclusion of a confidential schedule to the order with the real names of family members, including children, involved.

Poole said: ‘The purpose of doing so was to avoid inadvertent reporting of any members of the three families. If a pilot reporter has any doubts about whether an individual is subject to the prohibition on identification, they can check the confidential schedule.’

He added: ‘I would not expect the use of a schedule of identifying information to be needed in many cases in the reporting pilot, but it may be a useful addition in a few cases such as the present one.’

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