Given the sensitive nature of family court cases, there have always been strict rules governing privacy and confidentiality. Hearings are private, and only people involved in the case can attend. However, whilst these rules remain firmly in place, there has also been a push for the Family Court to be more open about how it operates. In 2019, Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division, appointed a review panel to investigate transparency in the Family Courts. Following the publication of the review panel’s findings in 2021, the Family Division launched a reporting pilot enabling accredited journalists and legal bloggers to ‘report on what they see and hear in court’ for the first time. The pilot will initially deal with children cases only and excludes Financial Remedy cases (asking the court to look at how your marital assets should be divided upon divorce).

Under the principle of anonymity, the identity of those involved in the case must remain private. Sir Andrew McFarlane has argued, ‘Openness and confidentiality are not irreconcilable, and each is achievable.’ With the Family Courts providing greater insight into how they operate, what does this mean for the parties involved in cases?

A solicitor reviewing private and confidential Family Court documents

Can you discuss family court proceedings?

Family Court proceedings are private. You should not discuss confidential details about your case with anyone without court approval. In a recent case, a mother lost her application to take her children abroad after she shared private and confidential details on a Just Giving fundraising page. The court said her actions made it difficult to trust that she would not make ‘another serious error of judgement’ and breach a court order.

You are free to discuss your case with your legal team or other specialists appointed in your case. However, you should not discuss private and confidential details with anyone else (unless the court has allowed you to). You can still discuss your feelings about your case with family and friends, but you must be careful not to share confidential details.

Are Family Court documents confidential?

Family Court documents are confidential, and for good reason. The Family Court handles sensitive, personal disputes, and it is therefore essential that it protects the privacy of the families involved. Typically, court documents can only be accessed by those involved in a case, their legal teams, and other specialists authorised by the court. You should never share confidential documents unless the court has given you approval to do so. The unauthorised disclosure of documents can have serious consequences, including being charged with contempt of court.

How to avoid sharing confidential details or documents

If you are unsure whether details or documents are confidential, consult your legal representative. No one expects you to be an expert on the legal system, and navigating legal processes can be very challenging, but that is why solicitors and lawyers exist. Had the mother we mentioned earlier consulted her solicitor before creating a JustGiving page, she could have avoided losing her case.

Family court cases tend to be emotionally straining for the parties involved, tensions can run high, and it can be easy to make mistakes. Having an experienced solicitor by your side throughout this process can help you make the right decisions. At Scott Bailey, our specialist family law solicitors have decades of experience supporting clients through challenging personal disputes, helping them achieve the best possible outcome. Contact our family law team today for expert legal advice you can rely on.