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Reporter shares experience of being among first to cover family court

Conor Gogarty 2A regional journalist has shared his “optimism” about the future of family court coverage after making use of new relaxed restrictions for the first time.

Wales Online senior reporter Conor Gogarty has opened up about his experience of reporting from Cardiff Family Court as part of a 12-month pilot scheme that gives journalists working in the Welsh capital, as well as Carlisle and Leeds, far greater access to hearings and documents related to cases.

Conor, pictured, was still hit with some barriers before attending court – including being told that “reporters are required to know which case it is they wish to sit in on” when asking in advance for a list of cases scheduled for a particular day.

He was also told he could not report on four out of six cases upon arrival because they were private law cases.

In a first-person piece about his experience for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Conor revealed the process “started to run more smoothly” on the day he attended, adding a story about the first case he covered had been read more than 160,000 times, which he described as “far beyond my expectations”.

He wrote: “In the second case – another custody battle – the family had no objection to the transparency order and, if anything, seemed glad of it.

“For about half an hour, a father with learning difficulties became increasingly distressed as he struggled to understand the questions he was asked. It was then suggested that the questions be put in writing, meaning a delay – but I intend to keep following the case.

“From clerks to lawyers to judges, everyone I interacted with was helpful and courteous. The lack of information available before a day in family court, though, may prove an obstacle to wider coverage.

“In an era of stretched newsrooms, I suspect few will devote resources if they have to almost randomly select the cases they cover, which seems inevitable unless they are tipped off by someone involved in a case.

“I’m grateful to have editors who allowed me to go in with little idea of what to expect.

“The response to the story suggests real interest in the family courts, and scrutiny can only be healthy for a system in which decisions have life-changing implications for so many.”

As long as family members involved remain anonymised in their coverage, reporters in the cities identified for the pilot scheme are entitled to see and quote from a variety of documents related to the cases and report what they see in a private family court hearing.

They are also be entitled to name the local authority involved and quote family members who want to go on the record about their case.

Following the 12-month trial period, it is hoped the pilot will be extended to other courts across the country.