This is a roundup with a difference – it’s a review of all things transparency in 2019. There’s a lot of ground to cover!
In the new year we’re hoping to bring back our regular Family Court Reporting Watch Roundup, where we correct, clarify and comment on media reports of family court cases, explain and comment on published family court judgments and highlight other transparency news.
January began with us pondering what to do about the mainstream media’s poor coverage of a case involving proven allegations of rape as being really all about whether or not text messages signed with an X were flirtatious (trivialising sexual violence much guys?). We highlighted the fact that many of the reports we’d seen were tweaks of Press Association copy, with headlines of varying degrees of wrongness, and noted that some were not even covered by a regulator. Based on previous experience of IPSO, we decided not to waste our time pressing complaints in respect of coverage this case, as the worst examples of inaccurate or misleading headlines in this instance weren’t published by IPSO regulated publications. Read A mixed picture on complaints.
We published our Common Law Marriage guidance note.
January saw the first news reports about missing Ollie Sheridan, and the Family Court’s attempts to secure his safe return home, in a case that was to become notorious when the High Court Judge dealing with the case issued a plea via twitter for Ollie’s mum Ellie to come back, and when Ellie used social media to tell her story publicly. It was many months later that Ollie and his mum safely returned and proceedings reverted to private. Whilst we attended various hearings under the legal blogging pilot, there was little that could (yet) be reported.
We published two legal blogging pilot posts this month, one on Sheridan, one from a day spent at Cardiff.
In our February column for Family Law Annie set our her thoughts as a parent on the the President’s Guidance on Anonymisation, which had been published just before Xmas.
Journalist Louise Tickle used her Family Law column – I call humbug! to challenge some of the contradictions in the views of some family lawyers concerning transparency.
Meanwhile, Louise Tickle’s appeal against a reporting restriction order imposed when she and other journalists had asked for permission to report a case of public interest was heard, and succeeded. It led directly to the publication of draft guidance to help those dealing with such applications in future. You can read about the appeal here in Tickle’s Triumph.
Alice took up the humbug theme in the March column, with a riposte to Louise, giving an alternative perspective : Humbug – back at ya!
The draft guidance arising from Louise’s appeal was published for consultation.
We announced the fantastic news that Clifford Bellamy would be our first patron.
Jo Edwards, former Resolution Chair, made an appearance, righting some wrongs about no-fault divorce.
Malvika Jaganmohan wrote her first post, about the Experts Witnesses Symposium. Malvika has since joined the core TP team.
A good month :
- The President announced a ‘Transparency Review’ (but then radio silence until…December)…
- Clifford Bellamy set out his thoughts on Transparency – Where Next? in our monthly column
- We published an (anonymised) blog post under the legal blogging pilot where, with the consent of the parties reporting restrictions had been lifted : Legal blogging by consent. Thus demonstrsting that it can be done!
- At the eleventh hour the Legal Blogging Pilot was extended until next June.
Around this month the calls for an inquiry into the Family Courts and their handling of domestic abuse gathered pace. See Chair, Lucy Reed writing in The Times about that here : We must shed light on family court crisis.
Subsequently an inquiry was announced, although not in the format many had originally sought. Described as a ‘spotlight review’, this was announced as a piece of work that would take 3 months, but perhaps inevitably will take longer.
May saw several posts from new writers :
- ‘Judge agrees learning disabled man can make his own choice about marriage and should be told about his finances’ (Abigail Bond)
- ‘The Habberfields and the have-not-a-fields’ (Charlotte John)
- ‘Adele: Privacy, litigation and arbitration’ (Alex Chandler)
- ‘The troubling case of Justyna’ (Valerie Elliot Smith)
We recruited a number of new writers to our team. Yay!
This month, in light of the currency of the issues around domestic abuse, new writer Sophie Smith Holland began what was to become a series of posts looking at how courts deal with domestic abuse, based upon judgments published on BAILII. Read the snapshot series here.
Judith Townend wrote about the lost voices in the process of the digitalisation of courts.
Summer hols, not much else to report…
Byline Festival. What fun.
We wrote in our column for this month that we’d published over 400 posts under the Family Court Reporting Watch banner.
We challenged the sometimes misleading reporting of family court matters, taking up a piece published by the the Daily Express under their ‘Crusade’ banner. We first wrote about the piece in The Danger of Crusades, and having had no joy by complaining to the newspaper, took the matter to IPSO, where it is ongoing….More in the roundup for 2020 no doubt.
We published a legal blogging leaflet to help the newly extended pilot run smoothly.
Emma Nottingham spent five days at the Royal Courts of Justice reporting on the Tafida Raqeeb case as a legal blogger. Read about Emma’s experience here.
We had to say adieu to our dynamic duo of coordinators Alice and Annie when our funding ran out – but not goodbye. Alice continues to keep our reporting watch going, and Annie has found work elsewhere.
New rules and a practice direction were published to clarify the position concerning appeals from the Family Court to the Family Division, which are (broadly) to be held in public (see post from David Burrows here). This was something we raised as long ago as Oct 2016 so we’re pleased to see it finally resolved.
October also saw another example of the ease and speed with which a distortion contained in a headline can propagate internationally, even when swiftly corrected by the original publication.
After some nudging from us the FPR committee finally published their minutes for the last year in a splurge.
The finalised version of the reporting restrictions guidance arising from the Tickle appeal was published. See here.
The President of the Family Division gave a speech apparently suggesting some sort of research project to assess the accuracy of media reports of family courts – see The President’s New Clothes.
And, in good news the Transparency Project won the Pro Bono Innovation award for its legal blogging pilot work!
Fittingly, we also published a raft of legal blogging pilot posts this month too, again involving the consensual lifting of reporting restrictions (but with appropriate anonymisation). See The Four Corners of Legal Blogging and linked posts.
David Burrows has published his own roundup of 2019 from a transparency perspective here : Open justice: family law developments in 2019. David’s post focuses on the court rules and published judgments this year that has highlighted or clarified transparency issues, many of which we wrote about at the time.
The President of the Family Division has published a Christmas ‘View’, in which he sets out his views on the state of family courts (not good) and plans for the transparency review announced in May, including details of the panel and a timetable for the gathering of evidence and reporting. See our post here.
What’s in store for 2020?
- We’ll be responding in due course to the President’s Transparency Review (call for evidence expected in the new year);
- We’ll be organising some exciting new events;
- We hope to further expand our pool of occasional contributors and regular writers to ensure we can sustain and develop our Family Court Reporting Watch work;
- We are aiming to revive our Family Court Reporting Watch roundup, probably on a fortnightly basis;
- We will continue to responsibly test out the potential of the legal blogging pilot to improve transparency and public understanding of family courts and family law;
- We will continue to deliver talks and workshops to professional audiences about transparency and legal blogging, and will be happy to run legal blogging workshops on request.
- We will be working up some new ideas for projects… watch this space…
We’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to the work of the Transparency Project this year. We couldn’t do it without you! And if you like what we do or have some constructive feedback to offer – send us an email or tweet us. We’d love to hear from you in 2020 as we carry on trying to find ways to MAKE FAMILY JUSTICE CLEARER.
Seen something to go in the next Roundup or that you’d like us to write about? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
We have a small favour to ask!
The Transparency Project is a registered charity in England & Wales run largely by volunteers who also have full-time jobs. We’re working hard to secure extra funding so that we can keep making family justice clearer for all who use the court and work within it. We’d be really grateful if you were able to help us by making a small one-off (or regular!) donation through our Just Giving page. You can find our page, and further information here.
Thanks for reading!