The Children, Schools and Families Bill is currently in its second reading in Parliament.
The Bill is wide-ranging (with the principal aim of raising the country’s educational standards) but focuses also on the issue of transparency in the family courts, in order to increase public confidence in the court process.
It is proposed that accredited members of the press (a defined group within the Bill) will, subject to the authorisation of the court, be able to publish information relating to the proceedings, subject to certain conditions. The conditions include that the information does not identify any individual involved in the proceedings, referred to in the proceedings or sensitive personal information relating to the proceedings. The court must be satisfied that permitting the publication is:
- in the public interest;
- appropriate in order to avoid injustice to a person involved and, referred to or otherwise connected with the proceedings;
- necessary in the interest of the welfare of the child or vulnerable adult involved in the proceedings; and
- the parties have made an application and the judge has granted it in the circumstances.
The courts will prohibit or restrict publication where publication would prejudice the safety of any person; the welfare of a child or vulnerable adult or the interest of justice in the proceedings in question.
Whilst the courts are opening up, the overall message is that the power rests with the court to prohibit publication, under specified circumstances. Practitioners involved in family court proceedings must be aware of the possible ongoing disclosure with regard to information that they release and that there are routes within proceedings to ensure that the court is made aware of the practitioner’s views with regard to the child’s best interests, if information is disclosed.
The bill can be accessed here.
A Mills & Reeve briefing entitled Family courts opening up: family proceedings rules update for practitioners providing information to the family courts or professionals disclosing to inter-agency partners can be accessed here. You may also recall the article entitled Media access to family proceedings which appeared in the December 2009 edition of the health legal update which can be accessed here.