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Nicola Laver

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Live-streaming family cases doesn't go far enough

Live-streaming  family cases doesn't go far enough


Family proceedings in the Court of Appeal will be live-streamed online from this summer with the aim of boosting transparency in the justice system, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced.

The MOJ said live-streaming family appeal court cases, which are usually divorce and care proceedings, will increase public understanding and confidence in family justice.

However, this has prompted concerns that viewers will not get a fair picture of the way the family courts work in practice, despite what government said was a "successful pilot”.

Live-streaming, under a joint initiative by the judiciary and government, will take place via YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and the website.

Not all proceedings will be streamed and the court will have the discretion not to live-stream a hearing at all.

Cases with reporting restrictions will be excluded.

The MoJ said safeguarding measures will be in place, including a 90-second delay in live-streaming so that judges can halt broadcasting immediately if necessary.

Under the plans, the judiciary will select suitable cases for broadcast based on public interest.

If a case is selected, the parties will be notified in writing in advance and given the opportunity to object.

Announcing the move, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland said: 'Every day family court judges do outstanding work making difficult decisions in highly emotive cases, often involving children.

“By working with the judiciary on innovative pilots such as this we are making the system as transparent as possible, with the right safeguards in place.”

But David Hodson, founding partner at International Family Law Group, said that under the plans viewers “will not get a proper appreciation of the way in which family cases are conducted, even at contentious final hearings".

He acknowledged that matters do sometimes have to be introduced progressively, but said “it is a pity that it could not at least be extended to appeal hearings in the High Court”.

He added: “Most of the work of the family courts is first instance. The problem in presenting only appeal hearings is that they are a very different creature.

“Of course, appeal hearings have no oral examination and cross-examination.

“But the arguments by counsel at first instance deal with the whole range of issues to help a judge make a decision and therefore give a far better understanding of how the family courts carry out their decision-making – which is where the demands for openness and transparency lie.”

He said viewers will not get “a proper appreciation of the way in which family cases are conducted, even at contentious final hearings”.

“They will also need to go on a crash course in family law to understand some of the complex issues being dealt with”, Hodson added.

In a joint statement, President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane and Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton said: “Being open about what happens in court is critical for public confidence and understanding of the work which the judiciary undertakes.

“For centuries our courtrooms have been open to the public.

“Livestreaming brings the public gallery into the 21st century and we are delighted that we can make the difficult and important work of the Court of Appeal Civil Division open to the broadest possible audience.”