Family court battles will be shown online

Appeal hearings in high-profile divorce and childcare cases are to be streamed live online as part of a move by the government to make the process more transparent.

Jonathan Ames
March 16, 2020, The Times

Ministers have put a statutory instrument before MPs that would allow such cases in the Court of Appeal to be posted live on the internet as part of a pilot scheme.

It means that, starting later this year, the public will be able to view cases involving wealthy and famous families via the court’s streaming service.

This month Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court, ruled in a “fact finding” hearing that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum had abducted two of his daughters. If the sheikh, who is the ruler of Dubai, wants to take any part of that ruling to the Court of Appeal, the hearing would be eligible for public viewing under the new rules.

The Ministry of Justice announced that the move was designed to increase public understanding of court processes in a delicate area. Ministers said that “safeguarding measures” would be taken, such as a delay to the live stream, giving judges the ability to halt the feed immediately if necessary.

It was announced in January that the sentencing remarks made by crown court judges in serious high-profile cases in England and Wales would be televised. Robert Buckland, QC, the justice secretary, said: “This builds on our recent action to improve public understanding of our justice system.”

Some lawyers expressed concern. “The livestreaming of cases in the Court of Appeal could discourage litigants, which would be counterproductive for justice,” Neil Russell, of the law firm Seddons, said.

The ministry said that anonymity could still be granted in some cases to protect individual parties or witnesses.