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Family cases to be livestreamed in Court of Appeal

By Monidipa Fouzder  >>

Court of Appeal family cases are to be livestreamed for the first time this year as the government and senior judiciary seek to ‘bring the public gallery into the 21st century’. A statutory instrument was laid in parliament yesterday to allow a pilot.

The decision was taken following the success of a pilot livestreaming other Court of Appeal civil cases, which began in 2018. Cases broadcast under that pilot include the Heathrow 3rd runway appeals and a privacy dispute involving the Tate Modern.

The first family case will be broadcast on the judiciary’s website this year. The case has yet to be decided.

Cases with reporting restrictions will not be broadcast. Parties for cases selected for the pilot will be written ahead of the live stream and they will be given the chance to object. Anonymity can be awarded to protect a party or witness. The court will retain discretion not to live-stream a case.

The cases will be broadcast with a 90-second delay, so the judge or court clerk can halt proceedings if required. The camera will be focused on the judge’s bench. The back of lawyers’ heads might appear on screen, but never any parties or witnesses.

The lord chancellor, Robert Buckland, said: ‘Every day family court judges do outstanding work making difficult decisions in highly emotive cases, often involving children. By working with the judiciary on innovative pilots such as this we are making the system as transparent as possible, with the right safeguards in place.’

Sir Terence Etherton, master of the rolls, and Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division, 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 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.’

The senior judges said many significant cases come from the family jurisdiction, which have looked at issues such as Islamic faith marriage, access to fertility records, and transgender identity.

One solicitor sounded a note of caution. Neil Russell, a partner at London firm Seddons, said: ‘While justice should be open so that it can be seen to be done, there is a risk that focusing the lens of publicity on the cases in the Court of Appeal may be going too far when transcripts of the judgements are already available. [Livestreaming] could discourage litigants, which would be counter-productive for justice. However, as Supreme Court cases are already livestreamed, there does not seem to be a valid reason not to extend this to the Court of Appeal as well, but this should not set a precedent for extending to the lower courts.’

The latest decision represents another milestone in the quest to make the justice system more transparent. The government has already announced that television crews will be allowed into Crown courts to broadcast judges’ sentencing remarks.

(Courtesy: Law Gazette Society)