How to report family court hearings

A reporting pilot introduced to increase the transparency of family courts in England and Wales has been extended to a further 16 locations beyond the first three areas. If you’re a journalist interested in covering cases inside or outside the pilot areas, here’s some key information that could help.


Journalists wanting to report on cases will need to apply for a transparency order. You can find a template by scrolling to the bottom on this page.

The rule on the media’s entitlement to attend family courts, and the rules on excluding a journalist can be found in Practice Direction 27B.

Can I attend family court?

To exercise your entitlement to attend a family court hearing you must hold an in-date press card from one of the UK Press Card Authority-designated issuing organisations. Be prepared to email a photo of it to the court, or to show it on demand.

Sometimes, one or more parties to a case will object to a journalist being in court. But it is rare for exclusion to be ordered. Anyone who objects must put forward more than a preference, however strong, for a journalist to be removed. There must be some form of evidence advanced as to why one or more of the grounds for exclusion is met.

The rule is as follows: a journalist can be excluded from a family court hearing only if it is necessary (this is a high test):

  • in the interests of any child concerned in, or connected with, the proceedings.

  • for the safety or protection of a party, a witness in the proceedings, or a person connected with such a party or witness.

  • for the orderly conduct of the proceedings.

Or, alternatively, journalists can be excluded if justice would otherwise be impeded or prejudiced by their presence.

A judge must also consider whether excluding a journalist for part of a hearing, rather than the whole hearing, is sufficient.

Finding out about a case in advance

What if a judge or lawyer asks who told you about this case?

Recent case law makes it clear that this is not a question that journalists should be asked.

Look at point 46 in this case, an appeal by a journalist allowed by Mrs Justice Lieven, who said: “It will rarely, but not never, be appropriate for the court to inquire as to why the journalist is seeking to report, or how s/he became aware of the hearing. In general, as Mr Barnes submits, this will be a matter for the journalist who would not be expected to reveal a ‘source’. However, if the judge becomes concerned that one party is seeking to use reporting as a litigation strategy, particularly in the context of issues around coercive control, the judge may wish to inquire into the background to the application to report. This can only be considered on a case specific basis.”

If you are asked this question, the appropriate answer is: “I am entitled to be here unless excluded. With respect, I should not be asked such questions and decline to answer them. I am well aware of the limitations on what I can report and, at the right time, will if necessary, make an application to report anything for which I need permission.”


Within the pilot, you are entitled to be supplied with, and to quote from, several documents: essentially, position statements and skeleton arguments.

Outside the pilot, you will have to ask. Do this at the start of the hearing.

It is normal to be supplied with these documents, but you are not entitled to quote from them in your reporting without permission of the judge. So, you will have to ask.

What can I report?

In a pilot court, once a transparency order is made, you have the right to report what you have observed in court, quote from the skeleton arguments and quote any parties who have agreed to be interviewed.

If you are not in a pilot court, you must ask the judge for permission to report anything that has been seen or done in the hearing. You also must ask permission to interview and quote parties if you wish to do so, and for permission to quote from documents you may have been supplied with.

How to apply:

Let the court know at the start of the hearing that you are likely to want to apply to report. At the end, stand up and make your application orally.

The law to quote is Re S, which deals with the balancing of Article 8 privacy and Article 10 freedom of expression. The court must bring an “intense focus” to this before deciding. Remind the court that the welfare of the child is a primary consideration in this balancing exercise, but not the “paramount” one, and any risk to the child needs to be weighed against the presumption in favour of open justice, and the public interest in reporting.

If you want to interview and quote a party outside court, and especially if they have indicated they wish to talk to you, then refer to “the right to tell your story” as set out in the Court of Appeal judgment on Griffiths: you could point the judge to point 70:

“The judge’s approach to the mother’s right to tell her story was firmly grounded in principle and authority. Lieven J may, if anything, have slightly undervalued this aspect of the case … the statutory provisions do not prevent disclosure of the underlying facts; they prohibit identification of a child as involved in Children Act proceedings, and what went on in court.”

Preserving parties’ anonymity is vital

Within the pilot, you are entitled to identify the local authority and director of children’s services (not individual social workers), but not the family members or the court-appointed guardian. There are other restrictions within the transparency order that will help to anonymise the family. The judge can vary these, if you or one of the parties argues for the transparency order to be less, or more restrictive.

Outside the pilot, it is regarded as normal to ask to identify the local authority, but sometimes a council will ask the judge to restrict its name being published. Councils are state authorities with enormous powers over people’s lives, so it will usually be strongly in the public interest to be allowed to publish the name.

Before you ask to report, think about how you are going to anonymise family members. This goes beyond not reporting their names. Does any information need to be restricted to help prevent jigsaw identification? Is anything not editorially essential? If there are details that are particularly identifying that are not editorially essential, let the court know you are happy not to report them.

Note down whatever is agreed – or ordered – and ask the judge if one of the lawyers can draw up an order that you would like to see in draft form. Explain that you cannot report until the order is made, therefore, ask for the order to be worded so that it “takes effect without the seal of the court” once the judge has agreed to it.

Make sure the lawyers have your email address and phone number for follow-up.

You should then receive the draft transparency order. When in court, ask that one of the lawyers is charged with sending it to you. Check it through very carefully. If it contains, or omits, anything you believed the judge ordered in the court, inform the lawyers for the parties as soon as possible.

Visit TBIJ’s family justice hub for more information