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Category Archives: transparency

Committal for harassment

 

In the matter of an application by Gloucestershire County Council for the committal to prison of Matthew John Newman

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/3136.html

 

This is a judgment given by the President. There are, I think, three interesting aspects to this judgment. Aside from him quoting the very famous remark about freedom of speech not extending to the freedom to shout “fire!” in a crowded theatre.   (which is my favourite joke in Rozencrantz and Guilderstern Are Dead)

 

 

  1. The penal notice should be on the face of the order

 

 

So far as material for present purposes, rule 37.9(1) of the Family Procedure Rules provides that:

 

“a judgment or order to do or not do an act may not be enforced … unless there is prominently displayed, on the front of the copy of the judgment or order … , a warning to the person required to do or not do the act in question that disobedience to the order would be a contempt of court punishable by imprisonment, a fine or sequestration of assets.”

 

Neither the order of 16 May 2014 nor the order of 16 July 2014 complied with this requirement. In the order of 16 May 2014 the penal notice appeared at the end of the order on the second page. Although the order of 16 July 2014 contained, prominently displayed, the statement on the front of the order that “A Penal Notice shall be attached to paragraphs 1 and 2 of the injunctive consent order”, the penal notice itself was set out, just before the text of the injunctions, on the third page of the order.

 

Paragraph 13.2 of PD37A provides that “The court may waive any procedural defect in the commencement or conduct of a committal application if satisfied that no injustice has been caused to the respondent by the defect.” I was satisfied that no injustice would be caused to Mr Newman by waiving these defects. In the one case, the penal notice was prominently displayed at the end of a short, two page, order which also contained a recital that Mr and Mrs Newman had “previously received legal advice as to the implications of breaching the terms of this Order.” In the other case, the father was present and consented to the grant of the injunctions. He cannot by that stage in the proceedings have been in any doubt as to the consequences of breach.

 

Although in this case I was prepared to waive these procedural defects, I cannot emphasise too strongly the need for meticulous compliance with all the requirements of Part 37 and PD37A. I might add, for the benefit of the doubters, that this surely serves only to demonstrate the need for the family justice system to adopt, as I have been proposing, the use of standard forms of order available to all in readily accessible and user-friendly templates.

 

I would have two brief points in relation to this – the first is that the President is making use of the term ‘user-friendly’ in relation to the standardised court orders which bears no relation to any accepted definition of the phrase that I have ever seen used. If ten people in the country (outside the MOJ or designers of the form) can be found who say that these forms are a pleasure to use, then I will cheerfully withdraw my remark. I don’t expect to be taken up on that.

 

The second is that the reason the penal notice doesn’t appear on page one of the order is PRECISELY because the template form doesn’t put it there.

 

Be warned people – if you are drafting an order with a penal notice, screw where the stupid form wants you to put the penal notice and put it on the front page. Everything else can be moved down.

 

  1. Harassment of social workers (although the Judge says that harassment of members of the family was worse)

I turn to ground (ii), the allegation that Mr Newman has been guilty of “harassing” employees of the local authority. The allegation is based on the contents of fourteen emails sent to various of the local authority’s employees (who I will refer to respectively as R, J, K, L and V) between 17 July 2014 and 18 August 2014 inclusive and a message sent on 18 August via facebook to the mother of another of these employees. I set out in the Table annexed to this judgment the dates and recipients of each of these email messages and, in full, the text of each message exactly as sent. The facebook message was sent on 9 August 2014 to the mother of another social worker, Kimberley H. The message read “This is what Kimberley does.” Attached to the message were newspaper articles about social workers who boast about removing children.

 

Mr Newman admits the authorship of each of these messages, and does not dispute that each of the emails was sent to one or more of the class of persons referred to in paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014. The only question is whether Mr Newman’s conduct amounted to “harassing” within the meaning of paragraph 5. Mr Jenkins submits that it did. Mr Newman says that what he did was neither intended to be nor did it in fact amount to harassing.

 

What the word “harassing” means in paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014 is a matter of construction, and therefore a matter of law. Whether, in the light of that meaning, what Mr Newman did amounted to harassing is a matter of fact and degree. I adopt the same approach as commended itself to the Court of Appeal in Vaughan v Vaughan [1973] 1 WLR 1159 when considering, also in the context of committal, the meaning of the word “molesting” when used in an injunction. All three judges had recourse to the dictionary.

 

“Harassing”, like “molesting”, is an ordinary English word and there is nothing in the order of 16 May 2014 to suggest that it was being used in any special sense, let alone as a term of art. It is to the dictionary that I accordingly turn. The Oxford English Dictionary provides, in addition to a number of more antique meanings, an apt definition of harass which, in my judgment, reflects what the word harassing means when used in this order:

 

“To subject (an individual or group) to unwarranted (and now esp. unlawful) physical or psychological intimidation, usually persistently over a period; to persecute. Also more generally: to beleaguer, pester.”

Whether emails constitute harassment will, of course, depend upon the circumstances, in particular the number and frequency of the emails, their content and tone, the persons to whom and more generally the context in which they are sent. Here we have fourteen emails sent in a little over four weeks. On one day (9 August 2014) there were three. Initially, R seems to be singled out; then the emails are sent to a wider group of people. There is a pervading tone of menace: the personalised attacks (“How do you sleep at night?”, “If you have kids ask yourself what would you do to keep them”); the threats (“I have everything ready to completely ruin everyone who stands against us”, “people’s names … spread all over the world along with their pictures”, “set things right before they go terribly wrong”, “Soon your tyranny will end”, “Soon all your names will be appearing on a newspaper”, “someone, someday will be held accountable”, “unless you wish to put your career on the line”, “Hope you are looking forward to an early retirement”, “The revolution is coming are you ready”); the threatening count down; and the repeated unwarranted demands that X is returned.

 

In my judgment this was quite plainly harassment, not just pestering but psychological intimidation. It was deliberate. It was intended to achieve, by the making of unwarranted demands accompanied by menaces, the return of X to his parents notwithstanding the orders of the court. It is a bad case.

 

The facebook message sent to Kimberley H’s mother is, from one point of view, even worse. What aggravates the contempt is not so much the actual message, which in comparison with some of the others is comparatively innocuous; it is the fact that it was sent to Kimberley H’s mother. For someone in Mr Newman’s position to extend his campaign to a member of his primary victim’s family, whether partner, child or, as here, parent, is despicable. It is deliberately putting pressure on his victim by attacking their nearest and dearest.

 

 

Accordingly, I am in no doubt at all, I find as a fact, and to the criminal standard of proof, that Mr Newman is in breach of paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014 as alleged by the local authority.

 

 

  1. The President goes back to Re J, and reminds us that whilst he was permissive, even welcoming of people publishing their stories (if not identifying the child) and even been critical of Local Authorities and professionals, there was still a line that people should not cross

 

 

In Re J (Reporting Restriction: Internet: Video) [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam) [2014] 1 FLR 523, a case that attracted much attention at the time, I articulated, not for the first time, two points which in my judgment are and must remain of fundamental, indeed constitutional, importance.

 

The first (para 36), was the recognition of “the importance in a free society of parents who feel aggrieved at their experiences of the family justice system being able to express their views publicly about what they conceive to be failings on the part of individual judges or failings in the judicial system.” I added that the same goes, of course, for criticism of local authorities and others.

 

The second (para 38), was the acknowledgement that the “fear of … criticism, however justified that fear may be, and however unjustified the criticism, is, however, not of itself a justification for prior restraint by injunction … even if the criticism is expressed in vigorous, trenchant or outspoken terms … or even in language which is crude, insulting and vulgar.” I added that a much more robust view must be taken today than previously of what ought rightly to be allowed to pass as permissible criticism, for “Society is more tolerant today of strong or even offensive language.” I summarised the point (para 80): “an injunction which cannot otherwise be justified is not to be granted because of the manner or style in which the material is being presented … nor to spare the blushes of those being attacked, however abusive and unjustified those attacks may be.”

 

I stand by every word of that. But there is a fundamental difference between ideas, views, opinions, comments or criticisms, however strongly or even offensively expressed, and harassment, intimidation, threats or menaces. The one is and must be jealously safeguarded; the other can legitimately be prevented.

 

The freedom of speech of those who criticise public officials or those exercising public functions, their right to criticise, is fundamental to any democratic society governed by the rule of law. Public officials and those exercising public functions must, in the public interest, endure criticism, however strongly expressed, unfair and unjustified that criticism may be. But there is no reason why public officials and those exercising public functions should have to endure harassment, intimidation, threats or menaces.

 

There is freedom of speech, a right to speak. But this does not mean that the use of words is always protected, whatever the context and whatever the purpose. As Holmes J famously observed in Schenck v United States (1919) 249 US 47, 52:

 

“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic. It does not even protect a man from an injunction against uttering words that may have all the effect of force.”

 

Freedom of speech no more embraces the right to use words to harass, intimidate or threaten, than it does to permit the uttering of words of menace by a blackmailer or extortionist. Harassment by words is harassment and is no more entitled to protection than harassment by actions, gestures or other non-verbal means. On the contrary, it is the victim of harassment, whether the harassment is by words, actions or gestures, who is entitled to demand, and to whom this court will whenever necessary extend, the protection of the law.

 

I do not wish there to be any room for doubts or misunderstanding. The family courts – the Family Court and the Family Division – will always protect freedom of speech, for all the reasons I explained in Re J (Reporting Restriction: Internet: Video) [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam) [2014] 1 FLR 523. But the family courts cannot and will not tolerate harassment, intimidation, threats or menaces, whether targeted at parties to the proceedings before the court, at witnesses or at professionals – judges, lawyers, social workers or others – involved in the proceedings. For such behaviour, whatever else it may constitute, is, at root, an attack on the rule of law.

 

I emphasise, therefore, that Judge Wildblood was perfectly justified in granting the injunction in paragraph 5 of the order of 16 May 2014. Such orders can, should, and no doubt will, be made in future by the family courts when the circumstances warrant. I should add, moreover, that the protection of the law is not confined to the grant in appropriate circumstances of such injunctions. Harassment is both a criminal offence and an actionable civil wrong under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. And, quite apart from any order of the court, it is a very serious contempt of court to take reprisals after the event against someone who has given evidence in court.

 

I do not want anyone to be left in any doubt as to the very serious view that the court takes of such behaviour. In appropriate cases immediate custodial sentences may be appropriate. And deterrent sentences may be justified. The court must do what it can to protect the proper administration of justice and to ensure that those taking part in the court process can do so without fear.

 

 

 

The Court have not sentenced Mr Newman yet, and it is worth noting that one of the alleged breaches – that he put a mobile phone in his son’s bag was dismissed.

 

I deal first with ground (i), the alleged breach of paragraph 1 of the order of 16 May 2014. This, it will be recalled, forbad Mr Newman from “taking any steps to ascertain the whereabouts of [X] and/or foster placement, including using [his] mobile phone or laptop GPS positioning systems.”

 

The evidence in support of the allegation of breach was two-fold. First, there was evidence from one of the social workers who had supervised contact between Mr Newman and his son on 5 August 2014 that, following this contact, a mobile phone of unknown ownership was found in the bottom of X’s changing bag. Second, there was evidence that, when a key on the phone was touched, it began intermittently sounding what was described as a siren alarm tone and the front screen of the phone displayed the following text:

 

“! Help ! I lost my device! Can you please help me get it back? You can reach me at 000000 newman1985@hotmail.co.uk Blow me fucker, give me my son back”.

 

That is the extent of the factual evidence, though in his affidavit the local authority’s team manager says that “This action could be considered as an attempt to locate X or to intimidate his prospective adopters, carers or involved Children’s Services staff.” Be that as it may, the relevant allegation in relation to this incident is not of intimidation, only of breach of paragraph 1 of the order of 16 May 2014.

 

There was a clear prima face case that Mr Newman had deliberately placed the mobile phone in X’s changing bag, but despite hearing what Mr Jenkins had to say, I remained unpersuaded that there was even a prima facie case against Mr Newman that his actions had, within the meaning of paragraph 1 of the order of 16 May 2014, involved him “taking steps to ascertain the whereabouts of” either X or the foster placement. It was hardly to be imagined that the only people likely to pick up the phone – either a social worker or foster carer – would be so obliging as to contact Mr Newman and volunteer the information. And if the concern, as indeed the order itself would suggest, was that Mr Newman was using the phone itself in such a way (eg as a tracking device) as to reveal the relevant location, then that is not something, in my judgment, that could properly be inferred in the absence of evidence – and there was none – demonstrating how the phone could be used in that way. Absent such evidence there was, in my judgment, not even a prima facie case against Mr Newman.

 

Bad character evidence

 

There are all sorts of rules and guidance in criminal proceedings as to when you can, or can’t adduce or cross examine on ‘bad character’ evidence. We don’t have those rules and guidance in care proceedings (yet).

 

If you are a parent in care proceedings, every bit of your life is pored over. There will be a life history, assessments, questioning, examination of records relating to school, health visitor and sometimes your medical records. You will find yourself scrutinised – if you are foolish enough to have an open Facebook page, you might see that produced – you might end up with your text messages being obtained and released into the proceedings, maybe your emails too.

So in a sense, a lot of the proceedings can be (or at least seem to be) about bad character.

There’s a new development though, which is that judgments in care proceedings are being published. Those can (and generally should) contain the names of the social worker and Guardian.

 

Now, what happens if in one of those cases, the Judge says that Steve Pink (your social worker) has done a bad assessment, hasn’t been fair, didn’t keep proper records and fell short of the standards required of a social worker conducting an assessment. (Or the Guardian, the same principle works for both)

 

(Or if you want a real example, read the last blog post – I don’t want to pick on those professionals specificallly, but I can see that there are things in that judgment that they wouldn’t want to be cross examined on in other cases)

 

If the parent’s case is that the worker has done the same thing again with THEM, are they entitled to cross-examine the social worker or Guardian about those matters?  Is it material evidence that could undermine their credibility and bolster the parent’s case?

 

It would seem to be so. It probably feels uncomfortable and worrying for professionals that things they got wrong in one case could come back to bite them in another.  But think for a minute – if the judgment was about the father instead, it would be relied on and used in care proceedings. Is what’s sauce for the goose sauce for the gander?  Or is it on the parent who is ‘on trial?’

 

I will be interested to see when this issue arises, and how the Court’s deal with it. There’s a risk of article 6 unfairness if something material isn’t admitted   (I think it has to have relevance to the case – i.e the complaint the parent is making has similarities, not just being done to make a witness squirm  – there are some strictures against that in the Bar Council Code of Conduct   (g) must not make statements or ask questions which are merely scandalous or intended or calculated only to vilify insult or annoy either a witness or some other person     – I’ve seen plenty of people sail pretty close to that though)

 

Once the genie is out of the bottle though, it has implications – suddenly everyone has to search case law for any references to the social worker, Guardian or other professional witnesses to see if there’s any dirt there, the Court has to slog through an entire judgment on another case to ensure that the criticisms are not being cherry-picked out against a more positive overall view. And a Court might feel fettered in naming, or shaming a social worker if they know it might be brought up time and again. Also, it places even more pressure on social work evidence, particularly for the inexperienced ones who might have a blunder in one case dog them for the next year.

 

 

Hearing an appeal in private

 

 
The Court of Appeal were asked to rule, as a preliminary issue, whether the mother’s appeal should be heard in private

Re DE and AB 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCA/Civ/2014/1064.html

Even though a family Court hearing is held in private (or secret, depending on your standpoint), where only those directly involved – or the Press by application, can attend, if the case gets appealed, the appeal hearing is usually heard in public.

It always throws you a little when you are in the Court of Appeal, dealing with incredibly sensitive and delicate matters and there are thirty bored law students and two Roy Cropper types with  tartan thermos flasks sitting on benches behind you, but that’s the way of it. Anyone can walk into the Court of Appeal and watch a hearing.

In reality what they get to hear is two hours of this sort of thing

“I see at paragraph 14, subsection (v) of your document that you make reference to Lord Butter’s decision in Re K – can you take me to the relevant passage?”

“My Lords, yes, in the bundle of precedents, that is at page B92, and it is the third paragraph from the top, beginning ‘it is well-established that’…”

And the prospects of anyone being able to make sense of, follow or enjoy that whole affair are pretty limited.
Anyway, the main dispute in Re DE was the claim by a mother that the father should make financial payment for a child – this is under Schedule 1 of the Children Act. This is usually (but not necessarily limited to) for cases where the parents weren’t married to each other and it is a way of getting one parent to make a financial contribution to the other, where the Child Support Agency can’t help (because the case is more about capital than income, or one parent is effectively a millionaire)
In the High Court, Mr Justice Bodey refused the mother’s application, and made an order restricting the reporting of the case – i.e that the parties and the child could not be named.
The father asked for the appeal to be heard in private, in large part as a result of this:-
The father applies for the proceedings to be heard in private on the basis that the mother, in a telephone call she made to the father on 2 July 2014, has threatened him with ‘maximum publicity’ by ensuring that as many journalists and members of the public as possible attend the permission hearing. The father contends that the publicity of the appeal process is being used to bring undue pressure on him and to defeat the administration of justice by publicising in open court matters and information that are currently restrained by injunction (the ‘prohibited information’). Indeed, during the 2 July telephone call the mother allegedly informed the father that the risk of the prohibited information coming to the attention of the public could be avoided if he made a payment of £250,000 to her and also guaranteed that he would meet certain financial requirements set by her. In layman’s terms, if that allegation were to be proved, the precipitating circumstance would not have been a negotiation, it would have been blackmail
[Nicely put, that last sentence]

Followers of the super-injunction scandal of a few years ago may remember that some of the super-injunctions were granted on the basis of an allegation of blackmail – i.e give me compensation/a cheque and we’ll leave the papers out of it. So, one has to be wary – just because father makes that assertion doesn’t mean that it is true, and likewise just because the mother denies it doesn’t mean that father made it up. Just don’t take it as being settled either way.

Of course, the loophole here, is that by appealing the decision of Mr Justice Bodey, the case goes into the Court of Appeal, and the Press and public can attend that hearing.

Father’s preliminary application, therefore, was that if the appeal was open to the press and public, then all the benefit to him of Bodey J’s judgment would be lost BEFORE the Court of Appeal decided whether he was right to have given the father that protection. The Press and public would already be in the court room, hearing all of the juicy details.
The Court of Appeal therefore had to weigh that point (in essence, there’s no point arguing about whether something should be secret if you tell everyone the secret before you have the argument) against the wider public interest of appeals being heard in public.

I heard the father’s preliminary application before coming to a decision whether to adjourn it as requested by the mother. I did not need to decide the truth or otherwise of the allegation that the father makes as the trigger to the application given the stance taken by the mother before me. The mother makes it clear that she wishes the detail of the prohibited information to be discussed in open court, indeed that is the purpose or one of the purposes of her appeal. I make it clear having listened to her at length that I came to the very firm conclusion and I find as a fact that although she asserts that the prohibited information must be discussed in public so that on behalf of the public she can ensure that ‘secret justice’ is subjected to scrutiny, her overriding intention is to extract revenge on the father, if needs be at the expense of the child.
Despite the entirely adverse view that I formed of the mother, it is necessary for me to record that an application to cause part of the appellate process to be heard in private should be a very rare application indeed. Given the inevitable and proper moves to transparency within the family courts it would be an entirely retrograde step that would potentially damage family justice were this court to be persuaded to sit in private on anything other than an exceptional basis. It was not necessary to decide to do so on the application made in this case because a more proportionate mechanism was available.
As I shall explain, the court was able to use its powers to prevent publication of the prohibited information while continuing to sit in public. Even if it had been necessary to sit in private I would have done so with representatives of the media being present and able to take notes, that subject only to undertakings or orders to protect the prohibited information, would have enabled them to exercise their proper role in the public interest in the administration of justice. The circumstance that permitted this solution to be easily applied to this case was that no member of the public save for a pupil member of the Bar chose to attend the hearing, let alone the allegedly threatened supporters who might have been intent on publication rather than scrutiny.

[The last bit is saying, in essence, that this might have been difficult had there been members of the Press and public there to throw out, but in reality, there was just one pupil barrister, who politely made their excuses and left]
But the Court of Appeal still had to follow the principles and precedents and come to the right decision in law. In case the issue comes up again, it is helpful that the case sets those principles out

Legal submissions on the law – power to sit in private
The father submitted that it was necessary to seek an order that the hearing take place in private on the basis that (a) publicity would defeat the object of the hearing; (b) a private hearing was necessary to protect the interests of the child; and (c) it was in any event necessary in the interests of justice.
A court hearing an appeal or an application for permission to appeal may sit in private if the court whose decision is being appealed had the power to sit in private during those proceedings. But the appellate court must give its decision in public “unless there are good and sufficient grounds” for giving it in private (in which case the court must state those grounds in public): see section 1 of the Domestic and Appellate Proceedings (Restriction of Publicity) Act 1968.
Though a case was heard in private, it does not follow that the Court of Appeal will sit in private, on the contrary. Hearings in family cases in the Court of Appeal are open to the public, save on very rare occasions where the court orders otherwise: see The Family Courts: Media Access & Reporting, published by the Judicial College and Society of Editors in July 2011.
It is axiomatic that the starting point for this court’s consideration of the preliminary application is that open justice is a fundamental principle. The general rule is that hearings are carried out in, and judgments and orders made, are public: see, for example article 6(1) ECHR, CPR 39.2 and Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417.
Exceptions to the principle of open justice were considered in the well-known case of Scott v Scott, in which the House of Lords emphasised in the strongest terms the importance of the general principle, but also recognised that there were circumstances in which it was necessary to depart from it. Viscount Haldane LC gave the example at p 437 of a court exercising its wardship jurisdiction: such a court was sitting primarily to guard the interests of the ward, and the attainment of that object might require that the public should be excluded. Lunacy proceedings were in a similar position. Another example given by the Lord Chancellor was litigation concerning a secret process, “where the effect of publicity would be to destroy the subject-matter”. The Earl of Halsbury observed at p 443 that “it would be the height of absurdity as well as of injustice to allow a trial at law to protect either to be made the instrument of destroying the very thing it was intended to protect”. Similar observations were made by Lord Atkinson at p 450 and by Lord Shaw of Dunfermline at pp 482-483. All of their Lordships stressed the need for a compelling justification for any departure from the principle of open justice. The Lord Chancellor said at pp 437-438:
“As the paramount object must always be to do justice, the general rule as to publicity, after all only the means to an end, must accordingly yield. But the burden lies on those seeking to displace its application in the particular case to make out that the ordinary rule must as of necessity be superseded by this paramount consideration.”
A similar approach was followed in later cases in the House of Lords. In particular, the issue was considered in detail in the cases of In re K (Infants) [1965] AC 201 and Attorney General v Leveller Magazine Ltd [1979] AC 440. In the former case, Lord Devlin noted at p 238 that the ordinary principles of a judicial inquiry included the rules that justice should be done openly, that it should be done only after a fair hearing, and that judgment should be given only upon evidence that is made known to all parties, and also rules of a less fundamental character, such as the rule against hearsay. He continued:
“But a principle of judicial inquiry, whether fundamental or not, is only a means to an end. If it can be shown in any particular class of case that the observance of a principle of this sort does not serve the ends of justice, it must be dismissed; otherwise it would become the master instead of the servant of justice. Obviously, the ordinary principles of judicial inquiry are requirements for all ordinary cases and it can only be in an extraordinary class of case that any one of them can be discarded. This is what was so clearly decided in Scott v Scott.”
After citing the dictum of Viscount Haldane, Lord Devlin continued at p 239:
“That test is not easy to pass. It is not enough to show that dispensation would be convenient. It must be shown that it is a matter of necessity in order to avoid the subordination of the ends of justice to the means.”
More recently the importance of the common law principle of open justice was emphasised by nine Justices of the Supreme Court in the case of Bank Mellat v Her Majesty’s Treasury [2013] UKSC 38; [2013] 3 WLR 179. Lord Neuberger, giving the judgment of the majority, described the principle as fundamental to the dispensation of justice in a modern, democratic society at [2]. He added that it had long been accepted that, in rare cases, a court had an inherent power to receive evidence and argument in a hearing from which the public and the press were excluded, but said that such a course might only be taken (i) if it was strictly necessary to have a private hearing in order to achieve justice between the parties, and (ii) if the degree of privacy was kept to an absolute minimum. He gave, as examples of such cases, litigation where children were involved, where threatened breaches of privacy were being alleged, and where commercially valuable secret information was in issue.
The grant of derogations is not a question of discretion. It is a matter of obligation and the court is under a duty to either grant the derogation or refuse it when it has applied the relevant test: AMM v HXW [2010] EWHC 2457 (QB) at [34].
The burden of establishing any derogation from the general principle lies on the person seeking it. It must be established by clear and cogent evidence: Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417 at 438 – 439, 463 and 477 and JIH v News Group Newspapers [2011] EWCA Civ 42 (JIH) at [21].
When considering the imposition of any derogation from open justice, the court must have regard to the respective and sometimes competing Convention rights of the parties as well as the general public interest in open justice and in the public reporting of court proceedings.

 

It is also worth noting that unless the Court of Appeal make a specific order (which they have the power to do), then all of the restrictions on reporting and naming the parties which would apply in the Family Court do not apply.

Specifically

Section 12(1) a of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 will not apply to the present hearing if it is to be heard in public. As a consequence, any matters discussed in open court at the permission hearing can be freely reported.
Reporting is prima facie not restricted unless the Court of Appeal makes an order in the proceedings. In children cases, s. 97(2) Children Act 1989 does not apply in the Court of Appeal: see Pelling v Bruce Williams [2004] EWCA Civ 845; [2004] Fam 155; [2004] 2 FLR 823 at [53]).
This Court has observed that it is necessary to analyse whether, on a consideration of the competing rights in each case, anonymisation of proceedings and judgment is necessary: Pelling v Bruce-Williams at [49]. Reporting may be restricted under the inherent jurisdiction or the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 section 39, if applicable.

 

So the Court of Appeal had to decide whether to exercise that power in this case. They did, on the basis that given that the mother was seeking publicity in this case, and that there was an anonymised judgment giving lots of details about the case (but no names) out in the public domain, it would be simple if this appeal was using real names to link the two cases together and for a lot of sensitive and delicate information to be in the public domain.
the fact of the existence of the anonymised judgment of Bodey J significantly enhances the risk that if the parties are named prior to the outcome of the hearing or any permitted appeal, that the information restrained would in any event enter the public domain through jigsaw identification. This court finds itself in the position encountered by Bodey J, that is if during the hearing information currently subject to the injunction is discussed in open court and is rendered reportable, “it would effectively be to give the mother everything she seeks, something which [I] think she realised during the course of the hearing, and would undermine the balanced decision taken by DJ Waller not to permit disclosure to the Police and/or the FCA”.
Accordingly I shall order that the proceedings be held in public but subject to immediate and continuing publicity protections so as to prevent withheld and prohibited information from being disclosed into the public domain without the permission of the court. There shall be anonymisation of the reporting of the identities of the parties and the child and any information likely to lead to the identification of the child and the order made by Senior District Judge Waller shall be extended to cover this hearing.
At the conclusion of the permission hearing and after permission had been refused and further argument heard, I extended the orders made during the proceedings to protect any prohibited information inadvertently disclosed during the hearing. For the avoidance of doubt, the injunction made by SDJ Waller continues to have effect. The precise terms of the orders that I made are annexed to this judgment.

 

serious case review versus judicial review – a (cough) review

Who ‘owns’ a Serious Case Review, and what rights or  powers do the Courts have over its disclosure?

 

X (A child) 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2014/2522.html

 

I do complain about the President quite a bit, but the one thing you could never accuse him of is being work-shy. This is yet another very tricky judgment that he has taken on – whilst still having two insanely difficult judgments still to produce –  Q v Q (how to fund litigants whose article 6 rights would be breached by them being unrepresented) and the fallout judgment from Cheshire West (how are the Court of Protection going to deal with the HUGE volume of additional cases that arise from the Supreme Court’s decision on deprivation of liberty).

 

This one relates to a child, X, whose mother stabbed him when he was about ten years old. He is now thirteen. Those care proceedings ended with the making of a Care order, hotly contested by the father, who has been in one form of litigation or another about this perceived injustice over the last three years.

Outside of the Court case itself, the Local Safeguarding Children Board (LSCB) – which is a group of senior representatives from all the relevant agencies in each local authority area (police, schools, health, social services etc), held a Serious Case Review.  These Serious Case Reviews are intended to be a scrutiny of what happened in the case and specifically whether agencies made mistakes, could have predicted what would happen, could learn lessons for the future, might need to change some policies and perhaps even whether someone professional is badly at fault and to blame.

 

The general rule and principle these days are that these Serious Case Reviews are to be published, although with names of children and parents anonymised. This in part, emerged from the public disgust at Baby P and the desire that these exercises were available for all to see. There’s a debate for another day about whether that transparency is a good thing, or whether it inhibits the ability of each agency to properly lay out their shortcomings.

 

The father contributed to this exercise and saw the report, but didn’t have a copy of it, and it was not made public.

 

The LSCB rationale for that was this :-

 

  • The LSCB received the overview report and executive summary on 15 July 2011. The LSCB considered the issue of publication of the reports, taking account of the letter of 10 June 2010, decided that there were such compelling reasons in this case and concluded that any decision on publication should be underpinned by the impact it was likely to have in relation to X’s current and future well-being and that the basis for this decision should be informed by advice from the psychiatric practitioners involved in his care. After careful deliberation the LCSB concluded that the overview report should not be published; that it would consider whether to publish the executive summary following a psychiatric assessment of the potential impact on X of so doing; and that the local authority would make the overview report and executive summary available to the court as part of the current care proceedings in relation to X so that all parties might have access to the relevant background information and that this be communicated to X’s parents.

 

 

 

  • Following a further psychiatric assessment of the situation in relation to X, the independent chair of the LSCB, Mr D, wrote to OFSTED on 26 October 2011:

 

 

“The Board has now been advised by the psychiatrist treating X that it continues to be her considered opinion that the publication of any document relating to the Serious Case Review which would cause comment or discussion in the media or local community would be seriously detrimental to X’s recovery. She has advised that although X is making progress his recovery is likely to be protracted and he is about to begin a course of psychotherapy that is likely initially to be unsettling for him. It is her opinion therefore that the Executive Summary should not be published.”

 

Two competing factors are being balanced – the interests of transparency and open public debate versus the impact on the child.  That underpins most of the transparency debate (and given the President’s well-known views on transparency, the LSCB must have been slightly fearing the worst when the case was listed before the President. That might be why they shelled out for a QC to represent them…)

 

The father’s application was a free-standing one under the Children Act 1989, but on analysis, the President found that this could not be right in law, and that the proper legal mechanism (indeed the only one) would be a judicial review of whether the LSCB had behaved in an unreasonable way (specifically a way that no reasonable body in their position could have behaved) in making the decision not to publish this Serious Case Review

 

 

  • In the final analysis the father’s application turns on quite a narrow point.

 

 

 

  • The first thing to appreciate is that the LSCB is a public body, juridically distinct from and wholly independent of the local authority. It exercises public functions in accordance with the statutory scheme to which I have already referred. In accordance with that statutory scheme it is for the LSCB, not the local authority and not the court, to decide whether or not to publish the overview report and the executive summary: see Re X and Y (Executive Summary of Serious Case Review: Reporting Restrictions) [2012] EWCA Civ 1500, [2013] 2 FLR 628, paras 7, 58.

 

 

 

  • The second thing to appreciate is that this is, as Judge Wildblood correctly said, a free-standing application. It is not an application made in pending proceedings for disclosure of documents into those proceedings. It is not a case (as Re X and Y (Executive Summary of Serious Case Review: Reporting Restrictions) [2012] EWCA Civ 1500, [2013] 2 FLR 628, was) of an application for a reporting restriction order to restrain publication of a document. It is an application by the father for an order requiring the LSCB to disclose to him a document which the LSCB in exercise of its statutory functions has decided should not be disclosed to him except upon terms that he is not willing to accept. It is, in other words, an application challenging the LSCB’s decision, a matter therefore, as Judge Wildblood said, of administrative law.

 

 

 

  • Such a challenge, in circumstances such as this, can in my judgment be made only by means of an application for judicial review in accordance with CPR Part 54. It cannot be made in the Family Court, nor in the High Court except in accordance with CPR Part 54. On that short ground, and irrespective of the factual merits, this application is misconceived.

 

On that basis, the President looked at the father’s arguments

 

  • The father has set out, both in his written statements and in his oral submissions, the various reasons why he wants a copy of the overview report. He says it should be published in the interests of transparency and so that public officials can be made accountable. He says that he should be allowed to study it with more time and scope for careful analysis and understanding than if he is merely allowed to read it at the local authority’s offices. He believes it contains material errors which should be corrected; he wants to ‘set the record straight’. He believes it contains material that will enable him to reopen the care proceedings by way of a further appeal or a renewed application to discharge the care order (thus correcting what he believes to have been a miscarriage of justice) and which may assist him in bringing a civil claim. He says that as X’s father he should be allowed to have a copy.

 

 

 

  • Those are all very understandable reasons why the father should be seeking the relief he is, but none of them demonstrates any proper basis of challenge to the decisions of the LSCB, whether the original decision not to publish or the decision explained in Mr D’s letter of 19 September 2012. As Mr Tolson put it, and I can only agree, the father does not identify, still less demonstrate, any flaw in the LSCB’s decisions or decision-making process.

 

 

With that in mind, the father’s application for judicial review was refused – the only crumb of comfort being that one of the arguments deployed by the LSCB was crushed from a great height by the President

 

  • I have set out the reasons given at the time by the LSCB for its decision not to publish (see paragraphs 6-7 above) and for its later decision not to allow the father a copy (paragraph 10). Those reasons are clear and readily understandable. They disclose, in my judgment, no arguable error of law. They set out matters, including in particular the advice of X’s treating psychiatrist, which plainly entitled the LSCB to conclude, as it did, that there were indeed the “compelling reasons” which had to be demonstrated if there was not to be publication. The LSCB plainly applied its mind carefully to all the relevant material and to the key issue it had to decide. Its process cannot, in my judgment, be faulted. It is impossible to contend that its decisions were irrational. Nor is there any arguable basis for saying that it wrongly struck the balance as between the various competing demands it had to evaluate: the right of the public to know; the quite separate right of the father to demand not merely access to but also to be supplied with a copy; and, most important of all, though not of itself determinative, the compelling demands of X’s welfare.

 

 

 

  • Mr Tolson also submits that permission to apply for judicial review should be refused because the father’s claim lacks any practical substance, because he cannot demonstrate, so it is said, how any flaw in decision-making might materially affect him, nor can he demonstrate why he needs a copy of a document which he has been able to read on three occasions. With all respect to Mr Tolson I find this most unconvincing. I would not have been prepared to refuse permission on this ground. But this does not, of course, affect the ultimate outcome given my conclusions in relation to Mr Tolson’s first two arguments.

 

 

 

 

 

Rhubarb* and custody

 

(*Story contains no rhubarb, but was prepared in an environment where there is a risk that rhubarb, rhubarb pollen (?) or rhubarb dust may have inadvertently contaminated the contents )

 

 

A committal hearing in relation to a grandmother who was using electronic media, including Facebook to protest against the adoption of her granddaughter.

 

 

Staffordshire CC and Beech 2014

 

There are two judgments, one being the committal hearing itself, and the second being the sentencing

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B81.html

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/OJ/2014/B80.html

 

 

Probably the most important thing is said at the very end

 

I conclude the Judgment by making clear to Mrs. Beech that there is no objection to her criticising the court, criticising the judge, the Social Services Department or the family justice system. She has an entitlement to campaign about these matters. What the court will not tolerate is the use of the name of her grandchild or the photograph of her grandchild in connection with this campaign.

 

 

The Court did find that the grandmother had breached the orders preventing her from naming her grandchild and using photographs of her grandchild within the campaign. Part of that had been to ask a wide network on Facebook to circulate the photograph of her grandchild with a view to tracking her down in the adoptive placement and find out where she was.

 

Allegation number 1. Mrs. Beech has a group Facebook page entitled “Stop social services” which has about 7,000 members. This page was compiled before my Injunction Order was granted. The page has photographs of the child and a slogan including her name. The page contains the assertion that the child has been stolen by Staffordshire County Council Social Services. On 24th January 2014 the Injunction Order was served on Mrs. Beech. On that very day she posted additional words on her group Facebook page in terms which represent a flagrant breach of the court order. I read from the relevant posting which is exhibit 5 in my papers: “I have just had court papers handed me. I have been gagged until (the child’s name) is 18 years old. How can this be? They steal my granddaughter, then gag me. Fuck off. You have no chance. I am still fighting for her, you idiots. You cannot bully this nana. The truth hurts and no one will shut me up. I will go to war for my family, you idiots. Please spread the word”. These words were posted alongside photographs of the child and other words and slogans which had been posted long before the Injunction Order was granted. However, I find that by posting these additional words on 24th January 2014 alongside the photograph Mrs. Beech was republishing the old photograph and slogans and so her breach extends not only to the new words but to the old words and the old photograph.

 

Allegation number 2. On 28th January 2014 the B.B.C. website reported my Injunction Order in an article carefully drawn to avoid breaching the terms of the order itself. However, Mrs. Beech on her Facebook page posted a link to the B.B.C. report together with a short extract from it. She accompanied this posting with additional words of her own which constituted a flagrant breach of the Injunction Order. She posted “Just to let you know this is me, Amanda Jane Beech. It’s about my granddaughter (named). Staffordshire Social Services think they can bully me. The truth will be heard.”

 

Allegation number 3. On her Facebook page Mrs. Beech posted more words of flagrant breach, this time accompanied by a photograph. Mrs. Beech claims that the photograph could have been put up by someone else. She says that the photograph was already present on her Facebook page. She says that if another person clicked on the Facebook page to indicate they liked the contents the consequence would be that the photograph came up on this profile page automatically without any intervention on her part. The Facebook page does show that people had clicked the page to show that they liked it. Mrs. Beech raised the same point in relation to allegations 5, 9 and 11, saying in relation to these other allegations that the intervention of others explains the entire posting, not just the posting of the photograph, as she says it does for allegation 3. I have looked closely at these pages. No other name appears. On each occasion the posting appears under Mrs. Beech’s own name. With the exception of allegation number 5 each photograph follows a different form of words for which it is obvious to me that the grandmother, Mrs. Beech, is responsible.

 

She gave me rather inconsistent evidence about these allegations. She said that she did from time to time re-post material on the Facebook page in order to encourage her campaign. In this context she accepted that some of the postings might be her responsibility but some might be the responsibility of supporters. In the course of her evidence she said that the accompanying words appeared automatically from what she had already recorded herself on other parts of the page. However, on analysis the form of words is different for each of these postings, so I reject this explanation from Mrs. Beech. One of these allegations, allegation number 5, has no accompanying words and comprises just a photograph. However, this posting appears under Mrs. Beech’s name, just like the rest. I have heard her account. I am sure that she posted this and the other postings to encourage others to support her continuing campaign.

 

Allegation number 4. This allegation comprises clear words of breach which Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted on her Facebook page. There was no photograph with this posting.

 

Allegation number 5. I have dealt with allegation number 5 above.

 

Allegation number 6. This allegation comprises clear words of breach which Mrs. Beech accepts she posted on her Facebook page. Again, there is no photograph involved in this breach,

 

Allegation number 7 caused me a moment’s hesitation. This is Mrs. Beech’s Facebook group page. She accepts that she posted on this page a link to a YouTube recording. The new words do not constitute a breach of the terms of the injunction. However, these new words must be considered with the existing words to which they were linked so the effect is a re-publication of the words previously posted. Read together the words refer to the removal of Mrs. Beech’s grandchild into care which constitutes a breach of the injunction.

 

Allegation number 8. Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted the words and photograph which constitute this breach. She makes the point that the photograph was already on the web as part of an online petition that she started long before the Injunction Order was imposed. The local authority accept that the photograph is not new, but on this occasion by posting the link Mrs. Beech brought the old picture back onto her Facebook page again which constitutes a re-publication of the old picture in breach of the Injunction Order.

 

Allegation number 9. I have dealt with allegation 9 above when dealing with allegation number 3.

 

Allegation 10. Mrs. Beech accepts that she posted these words which clearly breached the terms of the Injunction Order. The reference to her partner, Mr. Rogers, is accepted by Mrs. Beech as a mistake. This was a publication to a closed group without a photograph.

 

Allegation number 11 has already been dealt with above when I was dealing with allegation number 3.

 

Overall then, all 11 allegations made by the local authority have been proved so that I am sure of the truth of the allegation and the fact that it infringes the terms of the injunction

 

 

It then adjourned, to give the grandmother the chance to reflect on this, and to get legal advice before the sentencing hearing.

 

At that sentencing hearing the grandmother accepted that she would comply with the injunction, take down those postings and not put up things of that sort in the future.

 

As a result, the Judge gave her a suspended sentence of 56 days, meaning that Ms Beech would not go to prison for her breaches unless she were to breach the order again (in which case the sentence of 56 days would take effect)

 

 

It does raise difficult questions, which I raised in part at the original report of the injunction. If a person campaigns on Facebook without naming their granddaughter, the step to indirect identification is a very short one. It is likely that within the rest of the grandmother’s facebook page are pictures and names of her family, and one could deduce fairly swiftly by the appearance of say “Rebecca” on those photos up until a year ago and then no more photos that it is “Rebecca” who was the child who was removed.

 

The provisions about directly identifying and indirectly identifying a child make decent sense for mainstream press – a newspaper reporting about a child and calling them “Child X” doesn’t identify the child.

 

Moreover, newspapers have editors, and lawyers. They can pause and consider whether they might be in breach of the law by any element of their story.

 

But we are now in a world where anyone with a mobile telephone can become their own publisher, and put things on the internet for all to see. It’s a whole new ball-game, and the law hasn’t quite caught up yet.

 

 

Ms Beech putting on Facebook “My granddaughter, who I can’t name, was stolen by social services” doesn’t directly identify the child, but it must be arguable that it indirectly identifies the child, because you can see that that the author of the post (who is named) is related to the child in question, and probably find on that page other photographs of the child. In a situation like that, proving whether someone made that indirect identification deliberately or by accident or lack of thought is very difficult, especially to the criminal standard of proof required.

 

 

 

 

[The original injunction judgment is here

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCC/Fam/2014/B1.html

 

and my post at the time about it is here

 

http://suesspiciousminds.com/2014/01/24/transparency-and-facebook/   ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reporting restriction orders – a pragmatic suggestion

London Borough of Waltham Forest and AD 2014

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/1985.html

 

This was an application by Waltham Forest for a Reporting Restriction Order to prevent the Press from naming a 3 year old child who had been present when her father murdered her mother. There’s evidently a criminal trial coming up, and there’s a substantial human interest story in the tragic circumstances of this little girl. The Press were always going to run the story – the issue for Waltham Forest was whether the Press should run that story WITHOUT identifying the child.

 

 

  • Miss Howard, in her submissions, also refers to the expert reports provided by Dr. Jones, a consultant psychiatrist and Dr. Graham, a psychologist, in the public law care proceedings. They have both examined and assessed EI. They, understandably, set out the dreadful emotional and psychological impact that witnessing the death of her mother will have on EI, compounded by this tragic loss of her mother and, if her father is convicted, the loss of her father for a considerable period of time. Their assessments are deeply troubling to read as to the future that EI now faces. Everybody will undoubtedly have the greatest possible sympathy for the terrible position that EI finds herself in now and will undoubtedly do for the rest of her life. I note that neither of those experts have been asked to give an opinion on what potential further damage, if any, publicity about EI and her mother and father would have upon her.

 

 

 

 

  • In the submissions on behalf of the local authority it is asserted that if EI is identified as being the child involved in this case, it will have an adverse impact on her. It is asserted that it would thwart the therapeutic process that she is engaged in now and will continue to be involved with for some time to come. It is asserted that although the reporting of the father’s trial may be of short duration – a matter of a few days or a week – anything which appears on the internet will be there for the rest of EI’s life and that were she, when she is older, to come across her name in association with her mother’s death and her father’s trial, it may have an adverse impact upon her. It is further asserted that if, in her daily life – when she starts school, for example – friends or others were to search her name on the internet, they would raise her family history with her and that would undo the benefits of the therapy that she has received and will receive. Accordingly, it is submitted that it is necessary for the court to grant a reporting restriction order in narrow terms that would prevent the publication of EI’s name.

 

The Press Association took a slightly different view

 

 

  • Mr. Dodd makes the submission that the matter has already been the subject of press reporting. However, he makes the powerful point that the evidence of harm to EI, if she is named, is speculative. He also makes the strong submission that the question is not, “Why should the press name EI?” but rather, “Why may the press not name EI?” He further submits that the issue of the use of EI’s name in connection with the reporting of the father’s criminal trial and the death of the mother is a matter to be left to the decisions of individual editors. He also makes the powerful point that just because some elements of the press or broadcast media, or others, may misuse the naming of EI is not a justification or a reason for injuncting the whole of the press.

 

 

 

 

  • Lord Rodger of Earlsferry observed in Re Guardian News & Media Ltd. & Ors. at paragraph 72,

 

 

 

“Of course, allowing the press to identify M and the other appellants would not be risk-free. It is conceivable that some of the press coverage might be outrageously hostile to M and the other appellants – even though nothing particularly significant appears to have been published when Mr al-Ghabra’s identity was revealed. But the possibility of some sectors of the press abusing their freedom to report cannot, of itself, be a sufficient reason for curtailing that freedom for all members of the press … The possibility of abuse is therefore simply one factor to be taken into account when considering whether an anonymity order is a proportionate restriction on press freedom in this situation”.

 

 

  • In considering the competing Articles – Article 10 and Article 8 – and in considering the merits of the application made by the local authority one of course has the greatest possible sympathy for EI. She very sadly will have to live with the tragic events of 31 July, 2013 for the rest of her life. The decision I have to make, however, is whether there is sufficient evidence of harm to EI if she is named, which when balanced against the freedom of expression under Article 10 of the press & broadcast media, it is an absolute necessity for me to make the reporting restrictions order sought. Mr. Dodd tells me, and I accept, that some newspaper editors have already made the decision that they will not name EI in any reporting of the father’s criminal trial.

 

They put the question very powerfully, and in the correct way in law – the question is not “Why should the Press name EL?” but “why should the Press not name EL?”

 

The Judge was not persuaded that the article 8 right to privacy for the child outweighed the article 10 right to free expression and declined to make the Reporting Restriction Order.

 

  • I accept that EI faces, emotionally and psychologically, a very difficult future. I accept that there is a possibility that if she is named in either the press or the broadcast media – in particular, on the internet – that at some future date she may come across that and it may cause her some distress or other people with whom she is associated may come across it and mention it to her. That, I accept, may cause her some distress.

 

 

 

 

  • However, I am not satisfied that there is clear or cogent evidence that that risk would either thwart the therapy that she is receiving or would undoubtedly undo the benefits she may derive from her therapy. I consider the potential risks of further harm to EI, if she is named in connection with the reporting of her father’s trial, to be speculative and speculation. Even if I am wrong about that, the risks of further additional harm to EI do not overcome the high hurdle that is required for the granting of a reporting restrictions order. If one was solely concerned with the welfare best interests of EI it may well be that the court would want to take the course of least harm to EI and, accordingly, would make an order. That is not the position the court is in. The court is having to balance the Article 8 rights of EI with the Article 10 rights of the press and broadcast media. I am not satisfied that the naming of EI and the risks of that to her are so clear or compelling that it justifies placing a restriction upon the press and broadcast media in the manner in which they report the father’s trial. It is submitted on behalf of the local authority that this case is very different from other reported cases because the child was present when her mother was killed. I accept that is an extremely unusual feature. But, I also have to accept that that feature is one which will be, I have no doubt, of considerable interest to the press and broadcast media and to their readers, viewers and listeners.

 

The more important issue is the Judge’s pragmatic suggestion for Local Authorities in this sort of situation in future (no doubt with an eye to the costs to the public purse and the time pressures on the Courts)

 

Mr Dodd (for the Press Association) submits that applications for reporting restriction orders by local authorities are increasingly being made at considerable cost in time and money. I endorse his submissions that local authorities, in particular, ought to give very careful thought to alternative means of achieving the aim that they seek when they apply for a reporting restriction order – namely, local authorities should, in future, consider writing to editors of the press and broadcast media, inviting them, for example, not to name a particular child or children in connection with a particular story and setting out clearly, within that letter or e-mail, the reasons in support of such a request. That, alternatively, could be done by sending a letter or an e-mail to what is now the Press Complaints Commission, which will be replaced by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, who may then be requested to transmit the letter or e-mail more widely to the press and broadcast media. In my judgment, that is a course which local authorities should first consider and should first make before launching applications for reporting restriction orders.

 

 

“The pages of the most extravagant French novel…”

 

 

Rapisarda v Colladon 2014 – new areas of transparency, journalism and Monarchs trying to protect public morals – it has it all.

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2014/1406.html

This is a very quirky case, decided by the President. It arises from divorce and ancillary relief proceedings. In particular, it arises from an application by the Queen’s Proctor, to dismiss a large number of divorce petitions, and to set aside a number of decree absolutes and decree nisis.

(Who the heck is the Queen’s Proctor, you may be asking – well, he or she, is the person who is authorised to intervene in litigation on behalf of the Queen, i.e when there’s some heavy issue at stake. For divorce, that all flows from s8 of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973)

This case is described by the President in his opening paragraph as being

what can only be described as a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale

Vexingly, for me, the judgment doesn’t give chapter and verse on what on earth was going on here.

The issue that the judgment is principally concerned with, is whether the Press could report what the Court was uncovering. At the moment, they are prevented from reporting details from divorce cases (not, as you might imagine to protect the confidentiality of the individuals but to protect public decency)

That allows the President to do two of his favourite things – (a) to test where the boundaries of transparency are and whether they could be expanded; and (b) to give a history lesson as to how the current framework came to be.

For a law geek like me, (b) is really rather absorbing, and I have to say that few people have ever been as skilled as the President in doing that sort of exercise.

So, what prevents the Press reporting about what happens in divorce or ancillary relief proceedings? * (As to whether any of this applies to ancillary relief proceedings, having analysed it very carefully, the best we can do is “It might”)

It is the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 (from now on in this piece “The 1926 Act”

3. Section 1 of the 1926 Act is headed “Restriction on publication of reports of judicial proceedings”. As amended, it provides as follows:
“(1) It shall not be lawful to print or publish, or cause or procure to be printed or published –
(a) in relation to any judicial proceedings any indecent matter or indecent medical, surgical or physiological details being matter or details the publication of which would be calculated to injure public morals;
(b) in relation to any judicial proceedings for dissolution of marriage, for nullity of marriage, or for judicial separation, or for the dissolution or annulment of a civil partnership or for the separation of civil partners, any particulars other than the following, that is to say:
(i) the names, addresses and occupations of the parties and witnesses;
(ii) a concise statement of the charges, defences and countercharges in support of which evidence has been given;
(iii) submissions on any point of law arising in the course of the proceedings, and the decision of the court thereon;
(iv) the summing-up of the judge and the finding of the jury (if any) and the judgment of the court and observations made by the judge in giving judgment.
Provided that nothing in this part of this subsection shall be held to permit the publication of anything contrary to the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection.
(2) If any person acts in contravention of the provisions of this Act, he shall in respect of each offence be liable, on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding four months, or to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale, or to both such imprisonment and fine:
Provided that no person, other than a proprietor, editor, master printer or publisher, shall be liable to be convicted under this Act.
(3) No prosecution for an offence under this Act shall be commenced in England and Wales by any person without the sanction of the Attorney-General.
(4) Nothing in this section shall apply to the printing of any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings, or to the printing or publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court; or to the printing or publishing of any matter in any separate volume or part of any bone fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in courts of law, or in any publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.”
So, in normal language –

1. the Press can’t report anything arising from Court proceedings which might injure public morals (I’m not convinced that is routinely adhered to, thinking of the many sexual abuse celebrity crime reporting, or the level of detail that was published arising from evidence in murder trials – the murder of Lee Rigby springs to mind, and the Press have hardly been sparing in the Oscar Pistorius details)

2. The Press can’t report anything arising from the evidence given in divorce proceedings or PROBABLY ancillary relief proceedings (they can report things in broad summary, but not chapter and verse). And if they do, they can be prosecuted.

3. That does not stop the reporting of bona fide LAW REPORTS
The President explains how the 1926 Act developed. In effect, at around the same time as the law banned Obscene Publications the Press started publishing fairly routinely the juicy and salacious details from divorce cases to titillate and/or shock their audience.

8. Kate Summerscale, in her recent retelling in Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady (Bloomsbury, 2012) of the remarkable case of Robinson v Robinson and Lane (1859) 1 Sw & Tr 362, notes (at page 187) what one can only think of as the delicious irony that in the summer session of 1857 “Lord Palmerston’s government had pushed through the Matrimonial Causes Act, which established the Divorce Court, and the Obscene Publications Act, which made the sale of obscene material a statutory offence.” Both, she opines, had identified sexual behaviour as a cause of social disorder. But, she continues:
“A year on … they seemed to have come into conflict: police officers were seizing and destroying dirty stories under the Obscenity Act, while barristers and reporters were disseminating them under the Divorce Act. ‘The great law which regulates supply and demand seems to prevail in matters of public decency as well as in other things of commerce,’ noted the Saturday Review in 1859.” – The author, she suggests, was James Fitzjames Stephen, later Stephen J – “‘Block up one channel, and the stream will force another outlet; and so it is that the current dammed up in Holywell Street flings itself out in the Divorce Court.'”
9. Deborah Cohen, Family Secrets: Living with Shame from the Victorians to the Present Day (Viking, 2013), comments (at page 45), that:
“Born at the same moment, the Divorce Court and the mass-circulation press were made for each other. The Divorce Court got the publicity to humiliate moral reprobates. The newspapers got the fodder they needed to power a gigantic leap into the mass market.”
This state of affairs even led Queen Victoria to become involved, and she caused this letter to be written

“to ask the Lord Chancellor whether no steps can be taken to prevent the present publicity of the proceedings before the new Divorce Court. These cases, which must necessarily increase when the new law becomes more and more known, fill almost daily a large portion of the newspapers, and are of so scandalous a character that it makes it almost impossible for a paper to be trusted in the hands of a young lady or boy. None of the worst French novels from which careful parents would try to protect their children can be as bad as what is daily brought and laid upon the breakfast-table of every educated family in England, and its effect must be most pernicious to the public morals of the country.”

Obviously the comparison between lurid French novels and the details of divorce reports in the English newspapers was a popular one, because the metaphor was still going in 1922, when King George V caused this correspondence to be written

12. Despite all this, as Cretney records, every attempt to remedy matters by legislation failed until the notorious Russell divorce case (see Russell v Russell [1924] P 1, [1924] AC 687, and, for the eventual denouement, The Ampthill Peerage [1977] AC 547) was opened before Sir Henry Duke P and a jury on 8 July 1922. On the fourth day of the hearing, the King’s Private Secretary, Lord Stamfordham, wrote to the Lord Chancellor, Lord Birkenhead:
“… the King is disgusted at the publication of the gross, scandalous details of the Russell divorce case. His Majesty doubts whether there is any similar instance of so repulsive an exposure of those intimate relations between man and woman which hitherto through the recognition of the unwritten code of decency indeed of civilisation have been regarded as sacred and out of range of public eye or ear. The pages of the most extravagant French novel would hesitate to describe what has now been placed at the disposal of every boy or girl reader of the daily newspapers.”
So for all of our modern obsession that Prince Charles has been exercising influence behind the scenes and pulling strings, it is nothing new.
The King wasn’t done there, and had another try later on

14. The final catalyst seems to have been the newspaper reporting in March 1925 of Dennistoun v Dennistoun (1925) 69 Sol Jo 476. King George V returned to the point, Lord Stamfordham writing to the Lord Chancellor, now Lord Cave, in striking terms:
“The King feels sure that you will share his feelings of disgust and shame at the daily published discreditable and nauseating evidence in the Dennistoun case. His Majesty asks you whether it would not have been possible to prevent the case coming into Court, either by a refusal of the Judge to try it, or by the joint insistence of the respective Counsels to come to an arrangement, especially when, apparently, the question at issue was one of minor importance.
The King deplores the disastrous and far reaching effects throughout all classes and on all ranks of the Army of the wholesale press advertisement of this disgraceful story.”
And so the 1926 Act came about, to protect those delicate flowers that were serving in the British Army, and the vulnerable working classes from having to read such filth (the upper class could of course, afford to buy the most extravagant French novels, and get their filth that way)

 

 

[I began pondering just how juicy Dennistoun v Dennistoun was, the case that changed the law and remains law ninety years on, and which got a King so disgusted and ashamed that he wrote letters complaining about it. So I had a look  – the salacious details from the trial are all here

http://alminacarnarvon.wordpress.com/2012/04/01/lady-almina-scandal-the-dustbin-case-dennistoun-v-dennistoun/

 

after two pages, the strongest I found was that the wife had been having an affair, her paramour nicknamed Tiger, and he called her “Brown Mouse”   –  it rather pales in comparison to what we know Prince Charles said to Camilla when they were both married to other people]
The major decision about the 1926 Act, prior to this case was Moynihan v Moynihan 1997, which coincidentally, also dealt with an application by the Queen’s Proctor to set aside a decree of divorce obtained by fraud. Sir Stephen Brown P heard the case and considered that section 1 was mandatory and did not give the Court a discretion to waive it in certain cases.

24. To return to Moynihan v Moynihan, Sir Stephen continued as follows:
“The point is made by counsel for the Attorney-General that this is a statute which is mandatory in effect; it does contain a criminal sanction and therefore must be construed restrictively. No point arises, as I have already said, as to the merits of any reporting of details likely to be made public in the course of the evidence. It is merely a question as to how that will be achieved.
The matter is of importance because the representatives of the press and the media are entitled to be clear as to what their duties are and what restrictions apply to them, and I have a great deal of sympathy with their position. For that reason the question has been raised at the outset of these proceedings. However, it seems to me that the court simply cannot construe the statute in a way which is contrary to the language of the statute itself. I have to rule that the Judicial Proceedings (Regulation of Reports) Act 1926 does apply to these proceedings. The Attorney-General has through counsel indicated that he would not be very anxious to institute criminal proceedings if by some oversight there was a breach of the strict letter of the law. That is not a matter which is before me, but it seems to me that until or unless Parliament were to intervene the Act does apply in this instance.”
25. Sir Stephen concluded with these words, which I read out in the present case to the journalists present in court:
“However, having said that, it is quite plain that there would appear to be ample scope in the context of the subparagraphs of subpara (b) for clear and full details of the proceedings to be given, though not necessarily a line-by-line account of what a particular witness says at any particular time.”

26. Sir Stephen seems to have been unenthusiastic about the application of the 1926 Act to the proceedings before him but concluded that section 1(1)(b) did apply. With equal lack of enthusiasm I am driven to agree. The logic of the analysis propounded in turn by the Law Commission Report, by the LCD Review and, finally, by Sir Stephen is, in my judgment, irrefutable.
That would seem to be problematic  in authorising the reporting of a case where transparency would be in the wider public interest, such as here. If there has been fraud on an industrial scale about obtaining divorces, then the Press ought to be allowed to tell us about it. But there’s no judicial discretion to relax s1(1) (b) of the 1926 Act.

But our President wouldn’t be the President if he didn’t have a sharp mind, and if there’s someone who is going to find a way on transparency, it is going to be him.

Firstly, he suggests that Parliament need to look long and hard about the 1926 Act – in our modern era, we are hardly short of titillation and scandal and we really don’t need to be mollycoddled and protected from things that might shock us from divorce proceedings. And particularly when the hearing itself is in Open Court, it seems a nonsense to prohibit the Press reporting the case. The days when one needed to go to either the tabloids or Soho if you wanted a fix of smut are long gone.
27. Though driven to this conclusion by the words Parliament chose to use in 1926, and reiterated in 1973, I find it almost impossible to believe that this is an outcome intended by Parliament. No doubt it is some imperfection on my part, but I do not begin to understand how the protection of public morality and public decency, or indeed any other public interest, is facilitated by subjecting the reporting of proceedings in open court of the kind that Sir Stephen Brown P was hearing in Moynihan v Moynihan and that I am hearing in the present case to the restraint imposed by section 1(1)(b) of the 1926 Act. On the contrary, this restraint would seem to fly in the face of the “fundamental, constitutional rule” (Scarman LJ’s phrase in In re F (orse A) (A Minor) (Publication of Information) [1977] Fam 58, 93) previously articulated in Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417.
28. This is not, I venture to suggest, the only reason why Parliament might wish to consider with an appropriate degree of urgency whether the retention of the 1926 Act on the statute book is justified

But even in the absence of that, a way has been found. We can publish, we will publish, we must publish…

36. Pending any review of the 1926 Act by Parliament are there any legitimate means of avoiding the impact of section 1(1)(b)? The answer is clear: only as allowed by one or other of the express provisions of section 1(4).
37. For convenience I set out section 1(4) again, but inserting additional lettering and creating subparagraphs for ease of reference:
“Nothing in this section shall apply
(A) to the printing of any pleading, transcript of evidence or other document for use in connection with any judicial proceedings or the communication thereof to persons concerned in the proceedings, or
(B) to the printing or publishing of any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court; or
(C) to the printing or publishing of any matter
(i) in any separate volume or part of any bone fide series of law reports which does not form part of any other publication and consists solely of reports of proceedings in courts of law, or
(ii) in any publication of a technical character bona fide intended for circulation among members of the legal or medical professions.”
In the context of the present proceedings it is quite clear that neither (A) nor (C) can avail the media generally. But what of (B)?
38. This is not something which Sir Stephen Brown P considered in Moynihan v Moynihan. As I have already noted, he made no reference at all to section 1(4). Indeed, so far as I am aware, there has never been any consideration of the point.
39. The language of (B) is quite general. It excludes from the ambit of the 1926 Act the printing or publishing of “any notice or report in pursuance of the directions of the court”. Although I agree with Sir Stephen that section 1(1) is mandatory and confers no discretion, section 1(1)(b)(iv) plainly leaves the judge free to include in or exclude from his judgment whatever material he thinks fit. In that sense the judge has a discretion – and, in my judgment, a discretion which is fettered only by the dictates of the judicial conscience. As the Law Commission Report put it (para 17):
“The prohibition on publishing the evidence in divorce and similar cases, though it protects the public from being titillated by morning and evening accounts of the salacious details brought out in evidence, does not prevent it from learning those details in due course if the judge thinks it necessary or desirable to review the evidence in full in his judgment or summing up.”

40. So too, limb (B) of section 1(4) confers a similarly unfettered discretion enabling the judge to give “directions” in relation to any “notice or report”. The word “directions” is quite general; it is neither defined nor circumscribed. In my judgment it embraces any direction of the court, whether a direction that something is to be published or a direction that something may be published. Likewise, the other words are quite general; they are neither defined nor circumscribed. Although the word “report” will no doubt include such things as a medical or other expert report to the court, whose publication the judge then authorises, I see nothing in the 1926 Act to limit it to such documents. In my judgment, the word “report” is apt to include a report of the proceedings.
It follows, that limb (B) of section 1(4) recognises a discretion in the judge to make a direction authorising the publication by the media of a report of the whole of the proceedings, as opposed to the concise statement, allowed by section 1(1)(b)(ii), of the charges, defences and countercharges in support of which evidence has been given
So, having devised a judicial discretion, with some creative thought, to allow a Judge to authorise the publication by the media of a report of the whole of the proceedings, is the President going to exercise this discretion in this case? (If you think that the answer is “No”, then I would like to talk to you about a bridge you might be interested in buying)

42. Should I exercise that discretion? In the circumstances of the present case there can, as it seems to me, be only one answer. Publication by the media of a report of the proceedings before me does not, given the nature of the proceedings, engage the mischief at which the 1926 Act is directed. On the contrary there is, in my judgment, every reason why the media should be free to report the proceedings – proceedings which, to repeat, were conducted in open court and related to what, as I have said, was a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale.
43. I shall, therefore, make a direction that there be liberty to the media and others to publish whatever report of the proceedings which took place before me on 9 and 10 April 2014 they may think fit. I make clear that this direction is, and is to be treated as, a direction within the meaning of limb (B) of section 1(4) of the 1926 Act.

44. On the assumption that the 1926 Act perhaps applies to ancillary relief (financial remedy) proceedings, judges may in future wish to consider whether to exercise discretion in such cases under section 1(4).
We should, therefore, get chapter and verse on this whole story from the Press soon. I am a bit miffed that they get to know, in breach of a ninety year old act, whereas I, as a member of the legal profession who could legitimately get to know all the details by way of a published law report am in the dark, but such is life.

 

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