Transparency In The Family Courts

Family Courts Reporting Pilot Extended

The recently reported case of Griffiths-v-Tickle – in which Melanie Bridgen, Partner in our Family Law team, acted for Kate Griffiths MP – highlights the importance of transparency in the Family Courts. 

The current system in the Family Courts in which a reporter can attend a hearing but not then report on what they see and hear is a common one and has been the case for a number of years. This is not satisfactory and the public, legal profession, and the judiciary are alive to this.

In fact, Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division, has recently commented that it is not a sustainable practice and “that there needs to be a major shift in culture and process to increase the transparency in a number of respects”.

Transparency in the Family Courts report

On 29 October 2021, Sir Andrew McFarlane published his ‘Transparency in the Family Courts’ report. The report, which follows an extensive review, focuses on improving public confidence in the Family Justice system, whilst, at the same time, maintaining the anonymity of the parties (families and children) who use it.

In summary, the report concluded that the media should be allowed to report on Family Court proceedings more fully and said that there needed to be “a major shift in culture” to increase transparency and public confidence in the system.

The report recommended reforms to the automatic statutory reporting restrictions on Court proceedings (as outlined in Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960), which essentially stops the reporting of most family cases without the permission of the presiding Judge.

The report also proposes that more Family Court judgments should be published, that there needs to be greater communication between Judges and the ‘compulsory’ collection of case data.

Sir Andrew McFarlane’s commented:

“In addition to a range of ancillary proposals, my main conclusion is that the time has come for accredited media representatives to be able, not only to attend hearings, but to report publicly on what they see and hear. Any reporting must, however, be subject to very clear rules to maintain the anonymity of children and families, and to keep confidential intimate details of their private lives.“

The process of implementing the changes outlined in the report is now in progress.

Andrew Griffiths loses appeal against the publication of Court judgment that found that he abused his ex-wife, Kate Griffiths MP

Since the report was published, there has been a landmark judgement, referenced at the start of this article, in which the Court of Appeal permitted for the press to publish findings made in family proceedings that while they were living together, former MP, Andrew Griffiths abused his wife, Kate Griffiths MP by raping her, subjecting her to physical and verbal abuse and controlling, coercive behaviour.

During the initial private Family Court hearing in Derby, Kate Griffiths MP made a series of allegations against her now ex-husband, Andrew Griffiths, and requested that Judge Elizabeth Williscroft make findings of fact.

The hearing took place over four days and Judge Williscroft made findings in favour of Kate Griffiths MP but chose not to make them public, to protect the child at the centre of the proceedings.

The Court of Appeal then ruled on 10 December 2021 that the findings should be published after it was argued by an independent journalist, the Press Association, Rights of Women, and the Association of Lawyers for Children that they were in the public interest. Kate Griffiths MP also supported the move and argued for the publication of the judgment but Andrew Griffiths was not in favour of it.

Kate Griffiths MP also agreed to be named in news reports, despite domestic abuse victims having a legal right to anonymity.

Following the Court of Appeal’s ruling, Melanie Bridgen said:

“The court has confirmed in its judgement that Kate Griffith’s ex-husband, Andrew Griffiths, subjected her to the vilest abuse, which included raping her whilst she was asleep, spitting in her face, subjecting her to physical and abuse, and coercively controlling her. Mr Griffiths used his position of power to cause the utmost physical and emotional distress to Ms Griffiths.”

“Throughout the hearing, Ms Griffiths has shown tremendous courage and, now the findings have been made public, highlighting how important it is for victims of domestic abuse to speak out against their abusers.

“My client is fighting to protect her child and will continue to do so. She welcomes the publication of the findings to raise awareness of domestic abuse and the impact it has on children and families. 

“…Being abused by a partner or family member is a frightening experience and the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Act has come as a relief to the millions of victims across the country whose circumstances will most likely have been worsened as a result of the pandemic and lockdown restrictions.”

Transparency Family CourtsHow Nelsons can help

Melanie Bridgen is a Partner in our expert Family Law team, who strives to empower and achieve the best outcome for her clients.

At Nelsons, we have a team of specialist solicitors in Derby, Leicester, and Nottingham who are experienced in advising on a wide range of Family Law matters.

If you have any family law-related queries, please contact us and we will be happy to discuss your circumstances in more detail and give you more information about the services that our family law solicitors can provide along with details of our hourly rates and fixed fee services.

Please contact Melanie or another member of the team on 0800 024 1976 or via our online form.

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