Five years after former family division president Sir James Munby highlighted a pressing need for greater transparency in the family justice system, the government and judiciary are to allow certain 'legal bloggers' to report on proceedings, the Gazette has learned.
From October, lawyers who hold a valid practising certificate, or work for a higher education institution or educational charity, will be able to attend family proceedings in the family court and family division of the High Court with a view to reporting the proceedings as part of a nine-month pilot scheme being led by the Ministry of Justice and the judiciary.
Bloggers will be required to provide evidence of their eligibility in the pilot and photo ID on the day of the hearing. Court staff will check the evidence and notify the court of the blogger's attendance. The judge may also request to see the evidence in court. Educational charities must receive authorisation from the family division president for their lawyers to attend proceedings for the purposes of reporting on them.
The Transparency Project, a charity which aims to make family law and family courts clearer, has long campaigned for bloggers to be permitted into family court hearings, and said it was pleased its proposal will be piloted.
The charity told the Gazette: 'We think that this pilot scheme has potential to help make clearer how family courts work, and to tell the public about the sorts of decisions family courts are making every day up and down the country, rather than just those cases involving a celebrity, a scandal or titillating fact. Although this pilot does not in any way diminish the privacy protections given to children and families under family court rules, we think that there will be some material that can legitimately be reported and that will help the public to get a better understanding of what goes on in private hearings.'
The charity stressed that journalists' role in holding the justice system to account remains crucial. However, it believes lawyers 'can provide a greater technical understanding and a different perspective, and can select what to write about without being constrained by the commercial considerations that drive the highly selective reporting of family justice by the mainstream media'.
The pilot, which comes into force on 1 October, will end in June 2019.
A spokesperson for the ministry said: 'It is vital that justice is seen to be done, which is why we’re committed to increasing transparency across our courts. Pilots such as this will improve understanding of our courts and family justice system, while maintaining vital privacy safeguards for vulnerable adults and children involved in cases.'