Journalists will find it easier to challenge reporting restrictions in family courts under new guidance published by the president of the Family Division. The guidance follows a challenge brought by freelance journalist Louise Tickle against a reporting restrictions order in care proceedings concerning a young child. In February, Lord Justice McFarlane and Lady Justice King granted Tickle's appeal on grounds including that the judge had failed to carry out the 'necessary balancing exercise between Article 8 and Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights'.
Conducting such a balancing exercise is one of the stipulations in the new guidance, which is published in draft for consultation. Overall it sets out the steps the court should take if journalists or bloggers - who may attend family hearings under a transparency regime introduced in 2014 - apply to vary or lift reporting restrictions.
The guidance states that 'Courts should be astute to assist journalists and legal bloggers seeking to attend a hearing, or to relax reporting restrictions, and should provide them with relevant contact details of the court office, the judge’s clerk and the parties where requested, unless there is good reason not to do so.'
In hearings over the lifting of restrictions 'a journalist should not be at risk of a costs order unless he or she has engaged in reprehensible behaviour or has taken an unreasonable stance'.
Tickle welcomed the announcement and said: ’Journalists perform a vital function in scrutinising the state when it makes drastic and life-changing intrusions into families’ private lives: if adopted, this proposed guidance will allow the media to attempt to report the detail of family hearings in the public interest without having to battle with an opaque, confusing, time-sapping and prohibitively expensive process that has to date meant that few journalists ever set foot in a family court.’