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  1. Media Law
April 27, 2009

Disappointing first day for reporting family courts

By PA Mediapoint

You can come into court, but you cannot report anything without the judge’s say-so.

That was the general message sent out to journalists at the High Court in London today – the first day that media representatives were allowed to attend Family Division hearings.

In other words, there was not much to report, since most of the cases before the various family courts concerned the welfare of children and were therefore subject to existing laws banning publicity unless the court gives specific permission.

In one court, Mr Justice Ryder made clear in a helpful exchange with a reporter that he had no objection to the media commenting on how the new system was operating on its first day, but that the individual facts of the cases he was dealing with were not reportable.

In another court, at a hearing concerning media coverage of a case involving children, none of the parties objected to the presence of reporters. Media interests were represented by lawyers at the hearing.

But it was made clear that an existing reporting ban prevented any coverage of the proceedings, at least for the time being.

The question of whether, pending a substantive change in the law, judges will allow reporting of their judgments at the conclusion of such hearings remains to be seen – as does the issue of how they will deal with media requests to report hearings not directly involving children.

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Reporters noted today that the lists of cases pinned up outside each family courtroom no longer gave the names of the parties involved, presumably to protect the identity of people who might be entitled to anonymity – or perhaps to avoid media selection of celebrity divorces.

There was some consolation for the press: Mr Justice Ryder, on being told that a reporter had mislaid her media accreditation card, allowed her into court anyway.

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