KEY DOCUMENTS :
Legal Bloggers Pilot
This page contains information about the legal bloggers pilot set out in Family Procedure Rules Practice Direction 36J, which runs from 1 October 2018 until 31 December 2021.
Under the pilot ‘duly authorised’ lawyers may attend private hearings on a similar basis to journalists. Rules regarding privacy and restrictions on reporting remain unchanged.
We explain a little about the scheme and how it came about here.
Download our Legal Blogging Pilot Leaflet. We’ve made this leaflet to help explain the scheme to those whose cases bloggers want to attend. Bloggers can print and take it with them to court, to hand out as required.
Read our FAQs below.
Can you attend my hearing?
We are often invited by some parties to attend their hearings. Often these requests will be from litigants who are unhappy about their case and how it has been handled, worried about how it might be handled, or who want the issues in their case to be brought to a wider audience. Our approach to these requests is as follows :
Please don’t send us court documents or lots of detail about your case in the hope we will attend court. There are strict rules about what you are allowed to share with us and we don’t want you to be criticised for sharing information that you shouldn’t have shared.
Please do send us :
- the case number, time, date, location, length and type of hearing (and whether the hearing is remote or in person)
- no more than a paragraph outlining what the case is about and why you think we should come
- the name of the judge if known (or if not the level of judge dealing with the case e.g. Magistrates (Lay Justices), District Judge (DJ), Circuit Judge (HHJ), Recorder, High Court Judge (J)).
- the contact details for the court
What you need to know:
- If a hearing is online or hybrid we will most likely attend remotely (i.e. by video link). We rely upon volunteers and it is not always feasible for them to travel long distances to attend court.
- Whilst we will not tell the court who has invited us to the hearing (which we treat as a confidential journalistic source), it is likely that in many cases it will be obvious to the court and the other parties who has told us about the case. Whilst we don’t think that anybody should have this held against them in the case this is not something we can advise you about, and you should speak to your own lawyer before contacting us if you are worried.
- Once you contact us we will make an independent decision about whether or not to attend the hearing. Whilst we will take into account any known objection to our attendance (including if someone has invited us but then changed their mind) we might still decide that we would like to attend.
- Whilst it is helpful to be pointed in the direction of hearings that might be interesting and worthwhile for us to attend, we have a limited number of legal bloggers on our team, who often have professional commitments during the day. Our bloggers generally blog on a voluntary (unpaid) basis. It is therefore unlikely that we would have the capacity to attend a specific hearing on request, particularly at short notice.
- We are an educational charity not a campaigning group. If we attended the hearing we might take a different view of your case than you do, and we might want to speak to various people involved with different views than your own. We generally try to report on a neutral basis without taking up a position for or against one or other ‘side’. We are independent of any party or the court. Editorial decisions about the contents of our reports are a matter for us alone and not for either party (or the court) to dictate (as long as we stick to the limits of permission to report, which is usually solely concerned with ensuring the parties / children are not identified).
- Because of automatic reporting restrictions we might not be able to report anything at all about your case even if we came to court. We generally make a request for permission to report the case anonymously at the end of the hearing. In our experience so far this is often granted and these requests don’t take long to sort out, but in a contentious case things might take longer.
- Where possible we will email the court/judge in advance of the hearing to indicate our intention to attend. When we do so the court may contact you to ask for your views, or the judge may check the position at the start of the hearing. We find it helpful to be able to see the case outline, skeleton arguments or position statements that have been prepared for the particular hearing we are attending in order to understand a bit more about what we are hearing and to ensure any report we do write is accurate, so we may also ask for permission to see those documents in advance. We are generally not allowed to see them without the judge’s permission, so again, you might be asked for your view about this. Generally if we are provided with these documents it is for information only and we must keep them confidential.
- Where we do attend a hearing we will try and cause as little disruption as possible so you can get on with focusing on the case.
- We do not generally conduct interviews with the parties outside of court as some journalists might.
Who can attend?
Duly authorised lawyers fall into three categories :
- Practising lawyers
- Non practising lawyers working for a Higher Education Institution
- Non practising lawyers working for a registered educational charity whose details have been placed on a list with the President’s office. The Transparency Project is such a charity.
How do I identify a hearing to attend?
Whilst most private hearings can be attended under this scheme, those which are ‘conciliation’ type hearings are not covered by the scheme (though that is not to say that a judge might not agree in an individual case to permit access. Cases marked as FHDRA (First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment), IRH (Issues Resolution Hearing), DRA (Dispute Resolution Appointment) or FDR (Financial Dispute Resolution) are ‘conciliation’ type hearings so you are unlikely to be able to attend these hearings under the scheme.
Generally cases with a C number are care (public law children), cases with a P number are private law children, cases with a F number are injunctions (Family Law Act) and D is financial remedy (divorce).
You will need to look at the list to see how long the hearing is listed for and whether it is worth attending (for example you might not want to dip in to day four of seven, but you might identify a one day final hearing that you are able to attend throughout).
Court lists are freely accessible the day before by registering with Courtserve web service.
Remote hearings : Courtserve listings often (but not always) now contain details of who to email in order to obtain a link to a hearing. We have found that it is difficult to get a response from a generic inbox between the time the listing goes up (usually the afternoon before the hearing) and the time the hearings starts, so you may need to be persistent and combine an email with a phonecall. If you have the name of the judge and can email them directly this may be more effective.
What will I need?
To be ‘duly authorised’ you will need to attend court with :
- picture identification
- completed FP301 ‘Notice of Attendance of duly authorised lawyer’ form (one for each hearing)
- written confirmation of attendance as a non practising lawyer under cover of an HEI or educational charity
If the hearing is remote you will need to send these documents to the court by email in advance.
A lawyer who attends under PD36J cannot have any other connection to the case and must confirm that they are attending for journalistic, public legal education or research purposes.
You might find it helpful to take our information leaflet with you to hand out to those involved in the cases you want to observe.
How will the scheme be evaluated?
The Transparency Project think it is important that the scheme is monitored. A consultation took place in 2020, but it was not widely publicised or responded to. We provided a detailed response to the consultation (see here). In November 2020 the Family Procedure Rule Committee agreed that in light of the consultation the pilot period should be extended (see minutes). Form FP301 does include an invitation to attendees to send any published blog to the FPR committee for evaluation purposes – this is entirely voluntary. If you want to submit your blog to the committee you should send the link to email@example.com).
We have devised a short questionnaire on Survey Monkey (link to the left). We are requesting that any lawyer who attends court under PD36J should complete this survey for each hearing attended – even if the lawyer was refused entry or did not ultimately write any blog post or article as a result of the attendance. This will enable us to build up a picture of what works and what doesn’t work, how much the scheme is being used, what unexpected issues are cropping up, and any regional variation. There is no obligation on you to complete this form, but the more people who complete it the more accurate the picture will be of how the scheme is or is not working. We are also preparing a survey for those involved in a hearing attended by a legal blogger to tell us their experiences (lawyer, parent, judge etc). The link will appear to the left when it is ready.
Please send us links to your blog posts under this scheme as we will be disseminating them as widely as possible as well as gathering as many links in one place as possible. We are happy to host guest posts for lawyers who do not have their own blog, subject to editorial and legal checks. See ‘Will you publish my blog’ below.
Will you publish my blog?
Keep in touch with how the pilot is going
You can read blog posts written under the pilot here.
Can I object to a legal blogger (or journalist) coming into my hearing?
Legal Blogging Pilot Posts
The chief executive of HMCTS, Susan Acland-Hood, has responded to an open letter from NGOs and academics raising concerns about the provision of open justice measures during the COVID-19 emergency period. In summary, the response confirms: that for public hearings...
News just in that the legal blogging pilot (PD36J) has been extended until the end of December. The pilot has been running since 2018 and allows legally qualified legal bloggers to attend private family hearings to aid transparency. Earlier this year the Family...
Legal blogging a remote family court hearing on the HMCTS platform of choice (CVP): Something of a collaboration in the end
I've just had another go at testing open justice in the family court through legal blogging. The aim remains to identify and work through any barriers created by the move to remote working in response to Covid. The pilot rights and open justice Legal bloggers...
Today I attended a Court of Appeal hearing as a member of the public. The Court of Appeal sits in public so if you're nearby in London, you can go in to see what's going on. Today's hearing was however held remotely because of the corona virus restrictions. We'd heard...
Inspired by Celia Kitzinger's efforts in the Court of Protection and MacDonald J's lecture last week, I'm hoping to attend some remote family court hearings under the legal blogging pilot in coming weeks to test the practical reality behind the theoretical right for...
The President of the Family Division's Transparency Review Panel put out a call for evidence in the early months of the year, before Covid-19 darkened our doors. Today the several-times-extended deadline for that call for evidence fell due. The Transparency Project...
This is a guest post by Celia Kitzinger, co-director of the Coma and Disorders of Consciousness Research Centre and Honorary Professor, Cardiff University School of Law and Politics. She tweets as @KitzingerCelia During the current public health emergency,...
On 8 April, I went to Stoke-on-Trent for the day. Of course, I didn’t physically go there, but I was able to ‘attend’ the Family Court there, by joining a series of five telephone hearings being handled over the course of a day by a District Judge. I attended using...
The Transparency Project recently assisted the FLBA tech working party to gather some information and feedback in light of the publication of the key judicial guidance on family justice during the pandemic - 'The Remote Family Court'. That document (now on version 2),...
Covid-19, the UK’s Coronavirus Bill and emergency ‘remote’ court hearings: what does it mean for open justice?
NB An updated version of this post now appears at Judith's own blog here. There will be an increasing use of ‘remote hearings’ in the courts in England and Wales in coming weeks and months, under existing law, and if extended provisions in the emergency Coronavirus...