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Judge allows publication of article about children in care

A judge has permitted the reporting of a child care case by a freelance journalist.

The case in question involves a mother whose severe mental health problems did, at times, make it unsafe for her to care for her children. The mother has had a number of children taken into care in the past, but is now able and well.

The mother speaks publicly about her experiences on and offline, and, with her full support, the journalist applied to the court for permission to incorporate her story into an in-depth article about the care system.

While the journalist hoped to avoid any constraints placed on her writing, the Local Authority sought a reporting restriction order (RRO). As such, she has agreed to prepare her article in line with a number of concessions, which include anonymisation and forbidding the disclosure of any material that might lead to the identification of the parties involved.

The court has now approved an order allowing the journalist to report the case, with the agreement of the Local Authority, believing that it balances the public interest and the privacy of those involved.

Prior to 2009, all family law cases were held in private. However, in April that year, a number of changes were introduced, including allowing the press (but not the public) to attend family law hearings. Individuals do, however, retain the right to apply to prevent press attendance. What’s more, the court can rule that the press cannot attend when satisfied that this is necessary (for example where it is in the interests of a child involved, or where justice may be threatened). The presence of the press is to ensure that cases are conducted fairly and to educate the public in a general way. It is not intended to breach the privacy of the parties involved.

Earlier this year, with the family court under attack for a continued lack of transparency, new guidance was published by the President of the Family Division and the Court of Protection, Sir James Munby. This guidance was created to bring about greater transparency in the way in which the courts operate, so as to improve public understanding, and increase confidence in the family justice system.

While the starting point of the guidance is to grant permission for all judgements to be published, unless there are compelling reasons why they should not be, the court does still have to balance this with the right to privacy.

While all parties have come to a satisfactory resolution in this case, the journalist did make a number of critical observations about the Local Authority’s speed in dealing with the negotiations, causing her to expend time and money that could have been put to better use. While the judge did not go as far to criticise the Local Authority for failure to adopt a more collaborative approach, he did highlight that applications like these can be both time consuming and troublesome for everyone involved. As such, he recommended that in such cases: “there should be sensible and responsible dialogue as soon as possible, with a view to finding an early modus vivendi.”

He went on to add that: “With the application of give-and-take, a measure of common-sense, and the engagement of the Children’s Guardian, it should be possible in most cases to come up with a formula based on decided authority which steers a path between (a) the need for greater transparency in the public interest, and (b) the need to respect the privacy and sensitivities of those whose lives are involved.”

At Linder Myers, our family law solicitors provide expert legal advice for individuals, couples, and families with children, in both same-sex and heterosexual relationships. If you’d like to discuss any of the above, or any other issues relating to family law, please contact us today.

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