The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane has said that journalists may be asked to pay court costs if their reporting of a case amounts to an “unreasonable stance,” in the latest guidelines on family court reporting.

The guidance does not clarify what might constitute unreasonable reporting.

However, McFarlane also told courts that they should support journalists wishing to report on family law cases.

The guidelines offer a summary of the law around reporting family law cases and explain that permission to attend a family court hearing does not give the attending journalist an automatic right to report on the case. The guidance goes on to outline how journalists can apply for permission to lift the reporting restrictions.

In the guidance, McFarlane says, “Courts should be astute to assist reporters seeking to attend a hearing, or to relax reporting restrictions, and should provide them with relevant contact details of the court office, the judge’s clerk and the parties where requested.”

If the court and the parties to a case cannot agree on whether to allow a journalist to report on a case, the journalist will then have the right to make oral submissions in court. Attending advocates will be required to assist the reporter with the relevant law and procedure that needs to be followed.

Courts deciding on an application to report will still have to carry out the balancing exercise between privacy and transparency, prioritising the best interests of children involved in these cases.

On the point of costs, McFarlane said, ” In seeking to vary/lift reporting restrictions, the standard approach as to costs in children cases will apply and a reporter, media organisation or their 6 lawyers should not be at risk of a costs order unless he or she has engaged in reprehensible behaviour or has taken an unreasonable stance.”

You can read the guidance here.