Louise Tickle

is creating Reporting on the family justice system




per month


It is not easy to ask for money.

It is especially not easy to ask for money to campaign for open justice when many of the people who want more scrutiny of the family courts system may not have much money themselves.

But – I am asking for money, because otherwise, as a freelance journalist, I can’t afford to keep trying to hold the state to account for how it exercises its powers in the family courts. And from the many messages I’ve received, I know that lots of people want to me to do more of this, not less.

The recent shocking ruling by Judge Robin Tolson, who told a woman alleging domestic abuse that because she hadn’t resisted sex, she hadn’t been raped, has been the final straw for me. The family justice system, which operates in private for many good reasons, has hidden such appalling attitudes among judges for far too long. As a result, some parents and children in private family law proceedings may have been terribly harmed when they should have been protected. The occasional glimpse we are given into care proceedings via rare published judgments shows that here too, human rights breaches have damaged children’s, birth families’ and adoptive families’ lives in ways that many will not recover from.

It all drives me to the conclusion that what goes on in our family justice system needs not just to be witnessed, as journalists already may, but to be reported. There needs to be more independent scrutiny. The state needs to be held to account. And trying to do this lawfully in a system where publishing any detail of what goes on in a family court is a criminal contempt – punishable by a fine or jail – takes an absolutely enormous amount of time.

I need to be able go to court more often, make more frequent applications to see documents, and make my arguments to publish the details of what goes on in family hearings - to really interrogate the system.

The first case I want to report on is that of fellow journalist Melanie Newman, who is trying to find out more about a flawed adoption which was applied for and approved in a Portsmouth family court. When the mother appealed against the adoption placement order, the Court of Appeal said that the judge had made the order based on “the slimmest of evidence”. The little girl went back to her mother. Melanie is now applying to be able to see the documents relied on by Southampton City Council in applying for the child to be adopted. The mother agrees that she should see them. The local authority and child’s Guardian don’t want her even to be able to read them. QCs have been appointed. There will be a contested hearing in London in March, and I have already informed Mrs Justice Roberts who is hearing the case that I intend to come to court. I’ve also applied to see everyone’s skeleton arguments, and I will apply to be able to report what’s in them, as well as what goes on in court that day.

Given the failings in that case, and the immensely high stakes for that mother and that child, I believe Melanie should be able to at least see the evidence which was placed before the original judge, so she can do what the best journalists do – investigate the primary source material to find out what went wrong.

And I want you to know what happens in her hearing as she tries to do just that: I want you to know the arguments for and against, I want you to know what gets decided by the judge – and why.

What will you get?
Because of the law that says I’m not allowed to publish any of the details of what goes on in family courts, I can’t guarantee to be able to tell you want happens in the courtroom through my writing - though I will try very hard.

What I can do – and would love to do – is take you with me on the journey as I wrestle with the difficulties of reporting on a closed family justice system that is now having to engage with increasingly vociferous calls for transparency. This will give the inside track on the job of a journalist as she endeavours to do public interest reporting on state powers that are protected by statute from outside scrutiny.

After thinking hard about how to manage this, I’ve decided to make my blog about the project open to all, as I feel it’s vital that as many people as possible are able to access information about the family justice system. Doing it this way also means the blog is shareable, and will have greater reach and therefore, hopefully, influence.

For those who feel able to contribute to the crowdfunder I will create special updates that will be emailed out on a periodic basis, giving you a dedicated insight into particular experiences I’m dealing with.

How often will I blog?
When something I think is interesting going on. There won’t be anything regular about what I post - you’re far more likely to see flurries of activity, because that, I’ve discovered, is how this family law reporting cookie crumbles.

What will the money pay for?
My travel expenses to cases where I can’t get any other funding for the journey.
My time, at the rate of £250 per day (as a freelancer, I’m responsible for my own insurances, holiday and sick pay, so while this rate may appear high to some, it is actually the at lowest end of what a freelance journalist would charge for, say, charity copywriting. It is very substantially less than many other self-employed professionals currently charge when contracted to do work as an expert in the family justice or child protection system).

How will I account for contributors’ money?
I will keep a spreadsheet showing money in and money out, and will report annually (at least), as well as providing occasional updates if I think it would be helpful to show what a period of activity has cost.

If you’d like to support my Open Family Court Reporting initiative, you can make either a one off payment, or a regular donation. I promise that every single penny will be hugely appreciated.

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