TBIJ hires UK’s first full-time family court reporter

A groundbreaking reporting project designed to expose the inner workings of the once-secretive family justice system has hired the UK’s first full-time family court reporter.

Hannah Summers will lead the Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s (TBIJ) Family Court Files, an investigative series exploring how allegations of domestic and sexual abuse are handled by the family justice system.

The not-for-profit news organisation launched the series to coincide with a transparency pilot that has allowed journalists to report on the life-changing decisions made in courts in England and Wales since January last year.

Summers has reported on allegations of “parental alienation” being used to silence claims of abuse and revealed that a woman raped by her ex-partner had to repeatedly give evidence in court due to an error by a judge. Earlier this month, the father was stripped of his parental responsibility.

She will work full-time on the project, which has been extended for a further two years.

Her work has been aided by the transparency pilot, which is enabling reporting on family court cases in unprecedented detail. While journalists could already report details of cases with permission from the judge, the pilot creates the presumption that a transparency order allowing publication of details will be issued.

Transparency orders give reporters improved access to documents they can quote from and allow parents and others involved in cases to speak to the media without being held in contempt of court.

The transparency pilot, which was initially limited to Cardiff, Carlisle and Leeds, was expanded to a further 16 locations in January. Speaking at the time, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, urged more journalists to attend family courts to see the “vital and challenging” work that is done there.

Alongside launching the Family Court Files, TBIJ has helped train reporters to cover cases heard in family courts. There are plans to develop and expand the training being offered, which has been coordinated by journalist Louise Tickle. TBIJ will also be working with editors across England and Wales to help facilitate increased reporting of cases in the extended pilot areas.