Are family court proceedings open to the public?

 

The family courts in England and Wales hear over 400,000 cases every year. Most of these cases are extremely personal, and the decisions made in each one of these cases will have a profound impact on the families involved. The cases often look at the complexity of human relationships and often bring up moral dilemmas. For this reason there is often public interest in family court proceedings. Your family law solicitor can explain if the public will be allowed into the court hearing your case.

Traditionally, family court proceedings have always been held in private. The public have not had any access, and the findings have remained confidential at all times. However, there was much criticism that family court proceedings have not been transparent and have been conducted away from any sort of public scrutiny. However, recent changes have meant that family court proceedings are now open to the media. New legislation was put before Parliament at the end of 2009, and the media are now allowed to attend most family proceedings. There are, however, restrictions on what can be reported by the media. Your family law solicitor can give you details of what aspects of your case can and cannot be reported publicly.

The legislation aims to balance the need to make family courts open and accountable against the importance of protecting the welfare of children and families involved in family proceedings. However, striking the correct balance may be problematic. Although greater transparency may indeed be needed, there is the requirement to protect the identity of individuals who are involved in personal family court proceedings. Your solicitor can request that some evidence is given by video link to protect the identity of any witness that may be vulnerable. This relates especially to children, who are often at the centre of highly sensitive proceedings, which are heard by the family courts. For this reason the court is able to restrict attendance if a child's welfare required it, or if it was necessary to do so for the safety and protection of parties or witnesses. Your family lawyer can make an application to the court to restrict any reporting of your case.

Further, safeguards have been put in place to prohibit confidential information from being reported, unless the court directs otherwise. Also, parties to cases are able to make representations to a court if the media are present but it is felt that there were good reasons for excluding them. Speak with your family lawyer about this point, as they can advise on the likelihood of the court granting your wish to restrict what can be reported about your case.

If you would like to obtain expert family law advice, then Contact Law can put you in touch with a local family law firm with specialist family solicitors free of charge. Please call us on 0800 1777 162 or complete the web-form above.

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