17th January 2024
Family courts: Maintaining standards during extended reporting pilot scheme

At a time when freedoms and access granted to journalists are often limited, it is heartening to see a pilot scheme that will allow reporters into family courts across England and Wales extended.

Previously, the scheme saw three courts allow reporters into hearings but that will soon be widened to 19 of the 43 family courts.

This means that journalists who attend such trials will, for the first time, be allowed to speak to the families involved in the cases, quote from court documents, and describe what happens in the court itself.

On the decision to extend the pilot scheme, Impress CEO Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana said:

Headshot of Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, Head of Regulation at Impress

“We are delighted to see this pilot scheme extended. Transparency from public bodies such as the courts is essential to open justice, so allowing more journalists into the family courts marks an important step forward.

“The responsibility is now with the journalists to ensure they do not undermine this privilege by upholding the highest of standards when reporting on these serious and sensitive cases. Impress will remain on hand to offer advice and guidance to any publishers with concerns.”

What happens next?

Journalists will now be able to apply for Transparency Orders in Liverpool, Manchester, West Yorkshire, Hull, the Midlands, Dorset, Truro, Luton, Guildford, Milton Keynes and all of London’s family courts.

As in the initial pilot scheme in Carlisle, Cardiff and Leeds, reporting will initially be limited to “public law cases”, where judges will decide whether or not children should be taken into care.

However, that reporting scope will later be extended to cases in which parents are separating and, eventually, in magistrate’s courts for family cases.

How to maintain standards

Impress provides robust and detailed guidance when it comes to court reporting as part of its progressive Standards Code. Applying those same standards to reporting from family courts will stand all reporters in good stead.

Clause 6 of the Code requires journalists to avoid publishing material that could prejudice a trial and to avoid doing anything that obstructs an investigation. This could include publishing confidential information or interfering with evidence.

In these family courts, members of the relevant families and individual social workers will remain anonymous. As such, publishers must take care not to name anyone involved, nor reveal details that could lead to jigsaw identification of any kind.

Full information on the reporting pilot can be found here.

FULL IMPRESS GUIDANCE

About Impress 

Impress is a champion for news that can be trusted. We are here to make sure news providers can publish with integrity; and the public can engage in an ever-changing media landscape with confidence. We set the highest regulatory standards for news, offer education to help people make informed choices and provide resolution when disputes arise. 

Media enquiries

Louie Chandler: louie@impressorg.com / 02033076778