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Friend of Tortoise Exclusive

Reporting family courts: what’s the state of play?

Reporting family courts: what’s the state of play?

This event is exclusive to Friends of Tortoise

This is a digital-only ThinkIn.

An event by Tortoise Media and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. 

Last October, the country’s top family judge said that family courts, which operate in private – effectively in secret – should be more open to media scrutiny. In his recommendations, Sir Andrew McFarlane emphasised that there must be “a period of accelerated change.”

A year on, and a pilot project is about to begin that could revolutionise reporting on the family justice system. The President has announced that three pilot court areas should begin operating under the new reporting rules from November.

In family courts up and down the land, the stakes could not be higher – family judges exercise some of the most draconian powers the state can wield, including the removal of newborns from their mothers, sanctioning the deprivation of children’s liberty, extinguishing the legal relationship between a child and its parents, and forcing – or prohibiting – a child spending time with their non-resident parent.

In a reversal of the normal open justice principle, these life-changing decisions are currently made out of public view and without any independent accountability. 

Hundreds of thousands of people each year are affected by cases that go through the family courts. Wide-ranging calls for greater scrutiny have become ever more compelling as the number of children in state care has soared to over 80,000, and the dangers of domestic abuse to child and adult victims are increasingly understood.

Join our panel and audience of journalists, editors and lawyers who have battled to shine a line on the inner workings of the family courts, to discuss what next for greater transparency – how will the reporting pilot work and does it go far enough?

editor and invited experts

Liz Moseley

Angela Frazer-Wicks
Trustee, Family Rights Group

Basia Cummings
Editor, Tortoise Studios

Emily Wilson
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism

Hannah Summers
Freelance family court reporter, The Guardian/Observer

Louise Tickle
Freelance journalist specialising in reporting on family courts

Pia Sarma
Editorial Legal Director, Times Newspapers Limited