This development is a joint initiative of the judiciary and government.
Unless the plans are postponed for covid-19-related reasons - which seems unlikely given that
The Court of Appeal (Recording and Broadcasting) (Amendment) Order 2020 was passed into law on 19 June this year – a pilot will see selected family law proceedings in the Court of Appeal broadcast on the judiciary website and on social media (YouTube, Facebook and Twitter).
The pilot includes important safeguarding measures to maintain privacy and to protect vulnerable individuals – of which there are many in family proceedings. Anonymity is available where there is “heightened sensitivity” to protect a party or a witness.
It will be for the appeal judges to select cases which should be live-streamed. Cases that have reporting restrictions will not be selected. The selection choice will be based on public interest grounds. Once selected, the parties involved will be informed but they will have opportunity to object.
During the proceedings themselves, the camera will not be focused on any of the parties – rather, it will be focused on the judge’s bench and the bar. A 90-second time delay, as well as a stop feature, will pre-empt any issues or breaches of reporting restrictions that arise.
Will it prove a success? There’s little reason to doubt it will be successful, though it will undoubtedly present its challenges, both for lawyers and the parties themselves. Increasing transparency is important, a fact readily recognised by President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, who said:
“Being open about what happens in court is critical for public confidence and understanding of the work which the judiciary undertakes. For centuries our court rooms have been open to the public. Live-streaming 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.”
If success is to be measured in terms of increasing public confidence, the move should prove advantageous. High profile family rulings attract their critics, particularly where the subject matter is particularly controversial, so enabling the public and journalists to access proceedings is to be welcomed. It will expose the system to public scrutiny and educate the public and the press as to how family justice works in practice.
But lawyers are concerned that this is new legal territory bringing additional challenges around issues such as privacy and confidentiality; the potential for intimidation of vulnerable parties; US-style sensationalism; and prompt a possible shift (conscious or unconscious) in the behaviour of the parties and others involved in proceedings.
Family lawyers involved in appeals in the appeal court will soon have an additional issue on which to advise their clients. But, on balance, the move is to be welcomed.
Written by Nicola Laver, a non-practicing solicitor and a qualified journalist. She is also editor of Solicitors Journal.