Transparency in the Family Court
Traditionally financial remedy proceedings have been conducted behind closed doors and this has sparked debate regarding transparency and public access. This blog now explores the new change to the court rules and the merits and drawbacks of opening financial remedy proceedings to the media, shedding light on the potential impact on individuals and the justice system.
The new transparency pilot scheme
The Family Remedies Court reporting pilot will open proceedings to the media. This is all with a view to improving transparency in the family court and therefore journalists and legal bloggers will be able to report on financial remedy cases.
This pilot will start on 29 January 2024 and will cover the Central Family Court in London, Birmingham and Leeds.
Also, as part of the pilot, the court lists (including the Royal Courts of Justice) shall name the parties and will state the proceedings involve financial remedies. These types of cases involve issues relating to parties divorcing, financial disclosure, valuation of their assets (including companies and pensions) and how the assets are to be divided. It also includes spousal and child maintenance issues.
However, financial dispute resolution hearings will not be included. This is a negotiation type hearing with a judge and the details will remain confidential.
This all follows Sir Andrew McFarlane’s ‘Transparency in the Family Court’ review, published in 2021, which is ‘committed to achieving better and purposeful transparency in the family court, to increase understanding and scrutiny of the system’.
The Case for Transparency
1. Accountability and Public Trust:
Opening financial remedy proceedings to the media can enhance accountability within the legal system. Transparency fosters public trust by allowing the public to observe how the courts handle complex financial matters, ensuring that decisions are made fairly and in the best interests of all parties involved.
2. Educating the Public:
Financial remedy cases often involve intricate legal and financial considerations. Allowing the media to report on these proceedings can serve as an educational tool for the public, offering insights into the complexities of divorce-related financial matters and dispelling myths or misconceptions.
3. Promoting Consistency and Precedent:
Public access to financial remedy proceedings can contribute to the development of legal precedent. By allowing the media to report on cases, the legal community and the public can gain a better understanding of how certain factors are considered in financial settlements, leading to more consistent and equitable decisions in the future.
4. Discouraging Unethical Behaviour:
The scrutiny of media coverage can act as a deterrent against unethical practices during financial remedy proceedings. Parties involved may be less inclined to engage in dishonest or manipulative behaviour if they know their actions will be subject to public scrutiny and potential reporting.
The Concerns and Drawbacks
1. Privacy and Sensitivity:
One of the primary concerns surrounding the openness of financial remedy proceedings is the protection of the privacy and sensitivity of the parties involved. Divorce is often an emotionally charged process, and exposing intimate financial details to the public eye may exacerbate the emotional toll on the parties and any children.
2. Potential for Sensationalism:
Media coverage can sometimes prioritise sensationalism over accuracy. Opening financial remedy proceedings to the media may lead to distorted or sensationalised representations of cases, potentially causing harm to the reputations of those involved.
3. Chilling Effect on Settlements:
The fear of public scrutiny may discourage individuals from pursuing financial remedy proceedings altogether, leading to an increased likelihood of settlements outside of the court system. While this might resolve some cases more amicably, it could also result in less favourable outcomes for vulnerable parties.
The question of whether financial remedy proceedings should be open to the media is a complex and nuanced one. Striking a balance between transparency and privacy is essential to ensure the integrity of the legal process while protecting the well-being of the individuals involved. As the legal landscape continues to evolve, careful consideration must be given to the potential benefits and drawbacks of opening these proceedings to public scrutiny, ultimately aiming to achieve a fair and just resolution for all parties.
In recent years, I have seen more and more parties involved in financial remedy proceedings opting for a private financial dispute resolution hearing. Essentially this means they depart from the court system and engage a private ‘judge’ (called a neutral evaluator) to help them reach a financial agreement. One of the main reasons for this is the delay in the family court and sometimes the pressure on the courts to hear cases. So not only do parties have to wait several months for a hearing, when they come to the family court there is often limited court time to hear their case and this can prevent a financial settlement.
When family remedy proceedings become more widely open to the media and reporting, I can foresee even more parties opting for the private financial dispute resolution negotiation type hearing but flowing from this will be an uptake on arbitration as an alternative way to resolve family law disputes. This will mean there will be no access for the media in those types of cases and it will be only for those parties that can afford to pay for it privately. My concern is that over time there will develop a two-tier family law system and I do not think that can be in the public’s overall interest.
For specialist advice on any family law related issue contact Maguire Family Law by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: