New media rights of access to family hearings

Recent changes to the law mean that as from 27 April 2009 the media have access to Court hearings in family proceedings.

Who can attend hearings?

The general public do not have the right to attend family proceedings heard in private.  However, since 27 April 2009, the right to attend such hearings has been extended to accredited representatives of “news gathering and reporting organisations”.  An accredited representative is someone who holds a valid UK Press Card.

In certain limited circumstances it is possible for the media to be excluded from hearings.  The Court can order that the media should not attend all or part of the proceedings if satisfied that it is necessary in the interests of any child involved in the proceedings, for the safety or protection of a person involved in the proceedings, for the orderly conduct of the proceedings or if their attendance would otherwise impede justice.

What hearings can the media attend?

The media can attend hearings in family proceedings in private law cases, such as those involving divorce or disputes about arrangements for children, and in public law cases, such as care cases involving Social Services.

The media are not entitled to attend hearings where the judge is assisting in resolving the dispute through conciliation or negotiation.

Will details of the case be reported in the press?

Journalists will be able to report on the Court procedure and the processes followed during hearings but they are not permitted to release identifying details of cases heard in private.  For example, they would not be able to name the children involved in proceedings.  Those in favour of opening up the family Courts to the media have commented that enabling journalists to attend and report on the procedure will provide those who are not privy to the hearings with an understanding of how the judges reach their decisions.

As it is still early days, the effect of this change to the law remains to be seen.  Perhaps the biggest test will come with the next high profile celebrity divorce.

For further advice on any of the issues raised in this article please contact a member of the Family team at BLB Solicitors.

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