It was reported in the media last week that a former Conservative minister has been found by a Court to have raped and physically abused his wife. However, this was not a criminal trial. It was a case heard in private before the Family Court, deciding matters relating to a child. The Family Court judge concluded Andrew Griffiths pressurised Kate Griffiths, MP for Burton-upon-Trent, into engaging in sexual activity and that Mr Griffiths, a former MP for the Staffordshire town, used “coercive and controlling behaviour”. The Press Association and Tortoise Media sought to be able to publish the findings on the basis they were in the public interest, which was supported by Ms Griffiths who agreed for her name to be published. The Court of Appeal agreed that the findings should be permitted to be published.
It is a commonly held misconception that Family Court proceedings are always private proceedings however, the current position is that a journalist may attend any hearing in the Family Court (upon seeking the permission of the Judge) but may not always report what they observe. This is an issue that has been subject to much consideration in recent years and in October 2021 the President of the Family Division published a comprehensive review into transparency in the Family Courts. The focus of the review was on how to achieve the goals of enhancing public confidence in the Family Justice system, whilst at the same time maintaining the anonymity of those families and children who turn to it for protection. The review concludes that it is possible to achieve both goals, and therefore it is likely that we will see changes to the law and procedure in this area in the not-too-distant future, and as a consequence, may see more reporting of what happens in the Family Court.
This is not something that needs to cause significant alarm for most clients as the press are only likely to attend cases involving high profile individuals or cases with particularly interesting or relevant facts. However, it is something to bear in mind and it may be a factor that weighs in favour of trying alternate dispute resolution procedures (which are private) rather than resorting to court proceedings.
If you require advice on a family law matter, please contact our family team.
We offer a free initial 30 minute appointment at either of our offices in Holt or Fakenham.
Please email [email protected] or telephone 01328 863131 to arrange an appointment.