I’ve fought for years to report what really goes on in family courts. At last, journalists can | UK

Every day, the emails arrive. Over the nine years I’ve reported on family courts, desperate missives from families embroiled in court proceedings have landed in my inbox telling me that the judge is biased, the “guardian” representing their child is corrupt, social workers have lied, pulverising cross-examinations by barristers have traumatised them, poor advice from solicitors has damaged their case, and the family justice system’s delays and decisions have destroyed their family and harmed their child.

I must have read thousands. And some of them are true.

Until a year ago, however, each time I’d attended family court, the presumption, enshrined in law, had been that I was banned from reporting what I saw going on.

Reporters couldn’t describe the dismissive tone in which a judge spoke to a woman trying to prove domestic abuse, or how a social worker had repeatedly breached court orders leading to harmful delay, or how a mother who had just given birth pleaded over Microsoft Teams to keep her baby while milk soaked her T-shirt as she sat in a hospital side room. In short, journalists weren’t able to report what they saw going wrong, or indeed what was going right. Not that is, without applying to the judge. And then you were in a world of pain, involving seemingly endless time, effort, cost, delay and risk.

We are now 12 months into the brave new pilot scheme where journalists can attend hearings in some cities in England and Wales on the basis that they can publish what happens, rather than breaking the law if they do.

The truth is that family cases are typically complex, multi-day hearings, stretching out over months. Occasionally you can publish something useful after a day in court, but several days is more typical. The longest case I’ve followed lasted three years. This is not a trip to the local magistrates court to write 600 words for the next day’s paper.

When someone is criminally prosecuted, we rightly demand that a justice system that can deprive someone of their liberty is open to scrutiny, and is accountable. The possible consequences of a family court case – sometimes losing your children for ever – are seen by many as a fate far worse than imprisonment. So the public interest in journalists reporting on family justice – and investigating when things go wrong – is compelling and immense. Editors need to give journalists the time to report on these cases, which typically involve poverty, homelessness, violence, abuse and addiction afflicting often the most vulnerable people in society.

Source: I’ve fought for years to report what really goes on in family courts. At last, journalists can

One thought on “I’ve fought for years to report what really goes on in family courts. At last, journalists can | UK”

  1. Such a scandalous state of affairs. Abused women themselves (not just journalists) are subject to gag orders – injunctions against publication of their side of the story – in cases where the abusive husband is sufficiently well-heeled to command the services of (e.g.) a crack family-law Sydney barrister.

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