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Update: Family Division’s Transparency Review

|Family Court|News

The final publication of the Family Division’s Transparency Review is now expected to be in Summer 2021.

In May 2019, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, announced he would undertake a review of the current arrangements for media/public access and reporting in the Family Courts (known as the Transparency Review).

Courts have continued to operate despite the challenges of the pandemic, but there have been unavoidable delays to the timetable Sir Andrew had envisaged when he launched the Review.

A panel helping the President has recently been extended to include a senior family division judge. The panel’s aim is to gather full and candid information for the Review.

The panel members are:

  • Mrs Justice Nathalie Lieven (family division High Court judge)
  • Dr Eia Asen (consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist)
  • Anthony Douglas CBE (former chief executive of CAFCASS)
  • Clare Dyer (former Legal Editor of The Guardian)
  • Nicola Shaw CBE (Executive Director of National Grid)

The President is grateful to all those who contributed to the Transparency Review call for evidence. In all, more than 100 submissions were received from individuals and agencies drawn from across the world of family justice. The President and panel have now been able to meet remotely to review all submissions and consider who to hear oral evidence from.

Three oral evidence sessions are being held.

Session 1

The first was held on Tuesday 2 February 2021. It included four participants, and was conducted remotely and according to witness preference (including reasonable adjustments).

The panel heard from:

Session 2

On 8 March 2021, the panel members held the second of three oral evidence sessions. It included four participants and was conducted remotely and according to witness preference (including reasonable adjustments). The panel heard from:

Louise Tickle: Award-winning journalist who specialises in reporting on the family justice system. She has also written extensively on domestic abuse. Her reporting on family courts was shortlisted for The Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2016, and in the same year she won the Bar Council’s Legal Reporting Award for a Guardian investigation focusing on the effects of legal aid cuts to family law cases.

The Media News Group. Representatives were as follows:

  • John Battle of the Media Lawyers Association
    Employed barrister who has worked in major news organisations for 30 years. He is the Head of Legal and Compliance at ITN and chair of the Media Lawyers Association which lobbies on media law issues and represents in-house lawyers working in the news media.
  • Sian Harrison of the Press Association
    Law Service Editor of the Press Association and recently appointed co-author of McNae’s Essential Law for Journalists. She has been a journalist since 2006 and has worked as a court reporter at the Royal Courts of Justice since May 2010
  • Sayra Tekin of the News Media Association
    An experienced litigator formerly at the BBC, Sayra is a multi-specialist solicitor-advocate who has also been proactive at lobbying courts and regulators on issues which threaten press freedom.

Lucy Reed of The Transparency Project: A barrister specialising in children work and Chair of The Transparency Project (an educational charity whose aims are to ‘make family justice clearer’). Lucy writes and speaks extensively about family law and transparency and is a well-known legal blogger.

Dr Julia Brophy and Dr Marisol Smith: Julia Brophy is an independent senior researcher in family justice issues.  She has been a principal investigator on Children Act research since its inception. She has directed major studies with awards from The Department of Health, The Ministry of Justice, the Family Justice Council, The Office of the Children’s Commissioner (England), CISWA-UK, the ALC and The Nuffield Foundation. Dr Marisol Smith is a researcher with extensive experience in civil justice, advice and legal services. Her research work has focussed on access to justice and the response of individuals to legal issues and the design of legal services.

Session 3

The next oral session will take place on Monday 17 May. Invitations will be sent out shortly.

These sessions will involve a range of respondents, and the logistics including formal invitations and methodology for each participant group are being finalised. In each case, provisions will be made to make the content of the sessions available either at the time or later if there are sensitivities or preferences defined by the respondent.

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