In a desperately awful week for news generally, here are my choices for the top family law stories:
Court of Appeal family cases to be live-streamed
Family hearings at the Court of Appeal are to be live-streamed, under a joint initiative by the judiciary and government to boost transparency in the justice system. The initiative follows the success of a pilot to live-stream civil cases launched in 2018. The move will mean that family cases could be broadcast online to increase public understanding – with the first hearing expected later this year (although this may, of course, be delayed by present circumstances). Safeguarding measures will be in place including a delay to the live-stream, giving judges the ability to halt the broadcasting immediately if necessary. Sir Terence Etherton, The Master of the Rolls, and Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division said:
“We are delighted that the Government has taken forward our initiative of live-streaming the court of appeal civil division.
“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.
“Many of our most significant cases come from the family jurisdiction. It is only right that cases of such wide public importance are made open to the public. Recent examples of cases looking at issues such as Islamic faith marriage, access to fertility records, or transgender identity are of interest to the public and it is important for the public to see how the court approaches these issues.
“We are of course mindful that in some cases, full public access would not be appropriate, we will ensure that those involved in such cases remain protected.”
Anonymity can also be awarded due to heightened sensitivity of family cases, be that for the protection of a party or a witness, and the court retains the discretion not to live-stream a hearing at all. Parties will be informed prior to the hearing whether it has been selected for the pilot and given the chance to raise any objections. Nominated cases will be live-streamed on the judiciary website, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
The latest figures for public law (including care) applications and private law demand, for December 2019, have been published by Cafcass. In that month the service received a total of 1,422 new public law applications (involving 2,305 children), just 4 applications more than in the same month the previous year. Cafcass received 16,637 new public law cases between April 2019 and February 2020 featuring 26,830 children; this represents a decrease of 0.8% (141 public law cases) and a decrease of 2.8% (760 children) on the 16,778 new public law cases received and the 27,590 children on those cases between April and February 2019. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,930 new private law cases (involving 4,991 children) in February 2020, almost 8 per cent (or 298 cases) higher than the same month the previous year. Cafcass received 42,347 new private law cases from April 2019 to February 2020, which is 2,575 cases (6.5%) more than the same period in 2018. These cases involved 63,600 children, which is 2,889 (4.8%) more children than April 2019 to February 2020.
I suspect that the coronavirus will seriously reduce the figures, for both public and private law matters, in the coming months. I wonder how many children’s lives will be adversely affected by that. Which brings me to my last story…
Obviously, this is a fast-moving subject, but here are a couple of developments this week that affect family law. Click on the links for details.
HM Courts & Tribunals Service and the Ministry of Justice have issued advice and guidance for all court and tribunal users during the coronavirus outbreak. You can find the guidance here. It will be updated when new advice is available.
Mr Justice Mostyn, National lead judge of the Financial Remedies Courts (‘FRCs’), has recommended a set of measures for the FRCs to follow during the emergency, which you can find here.
The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has also issued guidance for the Family Court, which can be found here.
Expect a lot more news to come on this subject.
For what it’s worth, I will be setting out some thoughts upon the effect of the virus upon family law in the coming days.
Have a good weekend, and stay safe.
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