“The family courts are not ‘secret courts’”
The above is a quote from Mostyn J in the case of Leicester City Council v Chahatbar .
By virtue of rule 27.10 of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 family proceedings are held in private. The purpose is to protect the interests of a child and a family’s financial affairs. Despite family proceedings being held in private, ‘news gathering and reporting organisations’ are permitted to attend court (except the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing and adoption proceedings). In fact the media has been permitted to attend since 2009 when it was encouraged for there to be more openness in the family courts. The court retains the power to prevent the media attending but it is important to advise our family clients that the presumption in the first instance is that they canattend their hearing. However, this does not mean the proceedings become public and a media representative is still subject to reporting restrictions (especially in children act proceedings). When the court decides on whether a case can be reported, a judge undertakes a balancing exercise between an individual’s convention right of privacy versus the concept of open justice and freedom of expression.
Documents disclosed within family proceedings are confidential so no-one can simply take copies of your court file without leave of the court, for example a media representative, and similarly all documents filed must not be disclosed by any party in the proceedings to third parties without permission of the court first. I advise my clients that any documents disclosed within the divorce and children Act proceedings cannot be shown to a third party without permission first. This includes showing an extract of a party’s form E to your accountant for an opinion or an expert’s report to a professional colleague or a friend. If in doubt, always discuss with your solicitor first because if you do disclose a confidential document to a third party, then you could face criticism from the court and the other party.