Live streaming of family hearings at the Court of Appeal

16th March ‘20

On 12th March 2020 a decision was made in Parliament to live stream family hearings at the Court of Appeal under a joint initiative by the judiciary and government to improve the transparency in the justice system. The initial live streaming pilot began at the Court of Appeal for civil cases in 2018.

Sir Terence Etherton, The Master of the Rolls, and Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division said: “Being open about what happens in court is critical for public confidence and understanding of the work which the judiciary undertakes. For centuries our court rooms have been open to the public. Livestreaming brings the public gallery into the 21st century and we are delighted that we can make the difficult and important work of the Court of Appeal Civil Division open to the broadest possible audience. Many of our most significant cases come from the family jurisdiction. It is only right that cases of such wide public importance are made open to the public. Recent examples of cases looking at issues such as Islamic faith marriage, access to fertility records, or transgender identity are of interest to the public and it is important for the public to see how the court approaches these issues.”

The legal proceedings will be broadcast on the official judiciary website, as well as on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, the ministry said in a statement, adding that the first hearing is expected later in the year. Due to the sensitive nature of the cases only suitable cases for broadcast will be selected for broadcast based on public interest. There will also be a 90 second time delay and Judges/Court clerks will have the power to stop any live streams. The parties involved in the proceedings will not be shown on the cameras and only facing the Judge’s bench and the Bar.

Family hearings in the Magistrates/County Court

There are no proposed changes to family hearings heard in the Magistrates or County Court and they will continue to be heard in private and only those involved can attend hearings.

The importance of transparency

Sir Andrew McFarlane is undertaking a review of transparency in the family courts to regulate the access by journalists and the public and the reporting of, information concerning proceedings in the Family Court (‘the Transparency Review’). The deadline for any person or agency who wishes to submit evidence, advice or other material for consideration within the Transparency Review has been extended to Thursday 30th April 2020.

I believe that it is important to strike a balance between protecting privacy and promoting openness. I represented a father in public law family proceedings and successfully appealed a finding of fact made against my client. If we had not appealed the matter before Court of Appeal (Lady Justice King, Lord Justice Lindblom and Lord Justice Peter Jackson) it would not have been reported and a retrial would not have been granted.

The basis of the appeal raised a question of principle about the proper approach to the identification of a perpetrator in circumstances where children have suffered significant harm as a result of alleged ill-treatment. The matter was discussed by many legal professionals as the Court of Appeal provided a guidance on the correct approach in fact-finding cases where the identity of the perpetrator of significant harm to a child was uncertain: nobody could be placed into the pool of possible perpetrators unless there was a real possibility that they had caused the harm.

Case reference:  B (Children: Uncertain Perpetrator) [2019] EWCA Civ 575

For the full judgment visit here

If you would like advice on this article or on separation, or children generally, please contact Naheed Taj, Head of Family on 020 3988 2032 or email [email protected] 

This post is intended to be a brief note for clients and other interested parties. The information is believed to be correct at the date of publication but should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional advice. Please speak to a member of our team.

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