| 18 Jan 2024

Julie Doughty, Lucy Reed KC and Paul Magrath are the authors of the 2nd edition of Transparency in the Family Courts: Publicity and Privacy in Practice.

This is included in our Family Law Online Service.

What first drew you to working in family law?

The three of us are trustees of The Transparency Project, although we come from different professional backgrounds in the law.

Julie Doughty has practised as a solicitor, worked for local authorities and for Cafcass, and in academia for 20 years. She currently teaches and researches in child law and media law.

Lucy Reed is a child law specialist barrister who has practised in the field of family law for more than 20 years, albeit initially by accident! She has been writing about family law for most of that time, for both professional and lay audiences, in particular litigants in person. She has always had an interest in access to justice, public legal education and transparency.

Paul Magrath trained as a barrister and has worked as a law reporter, publisher and legal commentator in both general and specialist publications, and has always had an interest in open justice and public legal education.

Tell us about the Transparency Project. How is it impacting family law in England and Wales?

The Transparency Project was set up in 2014 in response to the problem of family courts being widely perceived as ‘secret’ and public trust and understanding of family law and courts being patchy. We wanted to help improve public awareness of the way in which the courts work, because there was a serious lack of reliable information, and to explain particular cases that had been misreported or misunderstood. Unlike most other court proceedings, the principle of open justice is traditionally very restricted in family courts. We were established as an educational charity in 2015.  We have published a number of myth-busting guides for lay readers on topics such as common law marriage, domestic abuse, and the use of experts in court. 

We have not made a direct impact on the law in the sense of reforming primary legislation - that is not our function. We successfully applied for an amendment to the Family Procedure Rules to allow duly authorised lawyers (aka ‘legal bloggers’) to attend and report on court hearings in the same way as journalists are entitled to do, which has now been in effect for several years. Almost all legal bloggers attending and reporting on family court proceedings do so under the auspices of The Transparency Project.

What has been the biggest development in this area of the law since the 1st edition of Transparency in the Family Courts?

The rule change mentioned above came in subsequent to the first edition, but we would say that a bigger development was the President’s Transparency Review which was published in 2021 and to which we substantially contributed. Two of us are currently members of the Transparency Implementation Group (TIG) which is taking the proposals forward. The reform that has had the most impact so far is the Reporting Pilot, which is being rolled out to additional courts and to financial remedy work in early 2024. The Pilot for children cases will be operating in 19 busy courts from the end of January.

Another major development affecting legal practice rather than the law itself, has been the use of remote hearings and online processes, which was brought on by the Covid lockdowns, but already planned under the court modernisation programme. This has the potential to boost transparency, if and when properly resourced.

We hope that the second edition of our book will continue to provide lawyers, social workers, journalists, and members of the public with the tools they need to negotiate the tricky areas of law and practice relating to what can be published about family court cases. It will also illuminate the workings of the Reporting Pilot which is intended to greatly increase the likelihood of direct reports from family courts appearing in the mainstream media.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job?

Fitting our voluntary work for The Transparency Project around our day jobs and finding resources to enable us to maintain and expand our membership and activities.