At the end of January 2023, a new reporting pilot will launch in three courts (Leeds, Cardiff and Carlisle). It will effectively reverse the presumption against the reporting of children cases, and will enable journalists and legal bloggers who attend hearings in those courts to publish accounts of what they have seen, read and heard.
The pilot is not just about the mainstream print and broadcast media. Alongside journalists will be ‘legal bloggers’.
A legal blogger is not just a person who blogs about the law. The FPR 2010 now specifically recognises legal bloggers (the FPR uses the term: ‘duly authorised lawyer’) as a qualified lawyer who is not involved in the case, but who attends a hearing for journalistic, research or public legal educational reasons. These lawyers have been allowed to attend hearings just like journalists since 2018 (initially via a pilot, latterly via FPR r. 27.11). Just like journalists, they have only been able to report on the cases they observe if they make an application to the court for permission to report, which is usually a daunting prospect. In the pilot courts, that barrier will now be removed, making the idea of attending court as an observer with a view to reporting much less daunting.
When a lawyer observes a court hearing, they bring with them their experience and expertise. This enables them to explain and contextualise what takes place during a court hearing or what is written in a court document in quite a different way to a journalist.
The Transparency Project is an educational charity whose aims are to make family justice clearer. Several members of the Transparency Project team have experience of legal blogging and are members of the President of the Family Division’s Transparency Implementation Group, which developed the pilots. We think it is really important that the unique insights of legal professionals can be deployed to produce well-informed, detailed and accessible accounts of private court hearings, to complement the (usually) shorter and more selective accounts that the mainstream media are able to offer.
Mrs Justice Lieven, who chairs the Pilot sub-group on the President’s Transparency Implementation Group, endorses this training, and says: “We really want the Transparency Pilot to be a success, and as many reporters and bloggers to get involved as possible. But the law and practice is complicated, so I would urge everyone to attend as many training sessions as possible. Members of the Transparency Project have been closely involved in developing the Pilot and are in an excellent position to deliver training on it.”
A great opportunity
The pilot offers a great opportunity for academic or practising lawyers who want to contribute to enhancing transparency of family courts. However, there are only a few legal bloggers observing family court hearings at the moment, and we understand well the many barriers and disincentives that discourage more people from taking part. We know the pilot comes at a time when everyone is already overworked and exhausted, but it’s now or never – it is crucial that the pilot is used to produce high-quality, balanced and informative information for the public to access so that we can show what is possible and gain momentum for the legal blogging movement.
Quite apart from the altruistic reasons why you might want to consider legal blogging, it is also a great opportunity for you to broaden your experience, writing skills and enhance your profile (as well as develop your understanding of the law and rules around privacy in the Family Court). The Transparency Project will continue to support new legal bloggers and writers and will publish their reports (subject to our usual legal and quality checks). You might also wish to publish your reports on your chambers/firm website or offer them for publication in other outlets, including the mainstream media (where usually very stringent word limits apply). You can give as much or as little time to this as fits in with your other commitments.
We would like to invite any qualified lawyer to attend a training and information event. This event will be specifically aimed at lawyers who are considering becoming legal bloggers, whether through the pilot or more generally. Our current legal bloggers will tell you all about how the pilot works, and give you our insights into what works well when attending court in this unique role; how you can navigate the rules and practicalities of this interesting and important work, and what we look for in a good legal blog.
You don’t need to be based in Leeds, Carlisle or Cardiff to participate. Whilst lawyers based within a reasonable proximity of those courts may find it more practical to take part, it may be possible in some cases to join and observe remotely.
We often hear complaints about the inaccurate or sensationalised reports produced by the mainstream media (or the things that they don’t cover). If you want to help redress that balance by making your own contribution to the information in the public domain, please consider legal blogging.
Join our training event on 2 February 2023 to find out more. Read our dedicated legal blogging page to see what our legal blogging output to date looks like.
The event will be hosted on Zoom at 5.30pm on 2 February 2022.
 Pursuant to FPR PD27B pa 4A.1:
‘‘lawyer’ means a person who –
(a) holds a qualifying law degree as deﬁned by the Bar Standards Board or Solicitors Regulation Authority;
(b) holds or has completed –
(i) the Common Professional Examination (CPE);
(ii) an approved Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) course or the Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE);
(iii) a postgraduate legal qualiﬁcation; or
(iv) the CILEx Level 6 Diploma in Law and Practice or the CILEx Graduate Fast Track Diploma.’
Because pupils and trainee lawyers do not hold practising certificates they are only eligible as ‘duly authorised lawyers’ if they attend on behalf of a registered educational charity, such as The Transparency Project (FPR PD 27B pa 4A1). Please contact us if you are a pupil or trainee lawyer and would like to attend hearings via this route.