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Category Archives: transparency

Minnock judgments (part 2) and a different judicial approach

Well, firstly, I’m pleased that the child has been found. And I’m not going to speculate about the future outcome of the case.

 

But I thought that people who have been interested might like to see the next four judgments.

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/judgments/roger-williams-v-rebecca-minnock-and-ethan-freeman-williams-2-judgments/

 

They are the bottom four (beginning 12th June)

The 12th June judgment is unusual, in that it doesn’t read as a case where the Judge was being asked to decide an issue or make an order. Rather, he is helpfully setting out for those involved that if there is a commital application (where a person might get sent to prison) they are entitled to free legal advice and representation and what the magic words are. He then goes on, largely for the benefit of the Press and public to set out how the Courts make decisions about where a child lives, what factors come into account, the representation that the parents have had, and what factors the Court would take account of in the future, stressing that what the Court wants is to make sure that the child has a proper relationship with both parents. It is almost a judicial press release.  I’ve not seen that happen before, but I think in a case with so much media attention and public interest, it is actually a really sensible thing to have done and I hope that future Judges consider it.  If you wanted to understand what the legal background was to the case, it is all there.

The next judgment is describing that the child is safely returned, and explaining that the mother’s plan in the case was to use the Press to gain sympathy for her cause and to thwart the decision of the Court.  People may have their own view as to whether she was justified or not, but if you have a strong view, I’d recommend that you read that judgment to see if it remains the same. The really remarkable thing about this judgment is that at the end, the Judge allowed members of the Press to ask him questions directly and answered them.

I’ve never seen that happen in a family case before, but it seems to me a remarkably sensible approach. It must surely result in more responsible, balanced and nuanced reporting that the Press had the chance to ask questions directly of the Judge.  I applaud it.

The third (private hearing 15th June) sets out that the future decisions in the case need to be made without public spotlight, although a judgment will be published after the case is over, and allowing father to provide a short statement to the press.

 

And the fourth (and so far final) is a purge of contempt (by the partner of the maternal grandmother) for his part in the press campaign and more importantly in lying about the child’s whereabouts. For non-lawyers a purge of contempt is where a person who has been sent to prison for breaking court orders goes before the same Judge to express remorse and regret and ask for his sentence to be reduced or ended. In this case, the man was released from custody.

 

The Judge did ask, in his judgments, for the Press to refrain from speculation about where the child might live and whether mum would get to see him again and how that would work, and I’d therefore ask people to do the same in comments.

But what do people think about the Judge’s approach to openness in the case ? Very fast publication of the judgments, allowing the Press to come in, delivering a judgment that explained all of the balancing factors and principles, and allowing the Press to ask him questions? I think it is all very new, and the law is generally terrified of innovation, but we may come back to look on this case as a watershed in the family Courts not merely paying lip-service to the idea of transparency but really engaging in the process of explaining to the Press and public what is happening.  And balancing that with keeping really private things private.

 

Was an autobiography harmful to a child?

 

The Supreme Court have given their decision in James Rhodes v OPO 2015

https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2014-0251-judgment.pdf

 

This was a case in which James Rhodes, a concert pianist, author, and film-maker, wrote an autobiographical account of his life,  and where the mother of their child sought an injunction to prevent its publication. The Court of Appeal granted that injunction, based on an 1897 case called Wilkinson v  Downton. That case established a cause of action which was “intentionally causing physical or psychological harm”

Mr Rhodes took that case to the Supreme Court, and triumphed.

 

The Supreme Court posed the central question in this way:-

 

What, then, is the proper scope of the tort in the modern law? In particular, can it ever be used to prevent a person from publishing true information about himself?

 

When you read snippets from the book contained in the judgment, those snippets pull no punches. It describes the dreadful sexual abuse that the author sustained as a child, the harrowing impact that it had on him, the consequences throughout his life and how for the author, music provided an escape from that. The descriptions are brutal and shocking – but of course, so is what happened to this man as a child. The words hurt, but nothing like how the experience must have hurt.

One can also see that the mother of a young boy (who has Aspergers’ Syndrome, amongst other difficulties) would be worried about the boy coming across these accounts.  They are graphic accounts – they are so by intent – the author is wanting to convey just how monstrous what happened to him was, to reach out to other victims or potential victims, and possibly to reduce the chances of what happened to him happening to others. They are not easy to read – even for me – and I work within a field where I see accounts of abuse against children almost every week and would be expected to be somewhat more de-sensitised to it than the average adult. What James Rhodes has written is powerful and hard to read.  I commend him for it.

 

[This isn’t a terribly neutral summary, I am glad that he won this case – but nor do I think that the mother was a bad person for bringing the claim – I see entirely why she would not want her son to read this material whilst he is a child, and that in the modern era it is not as simple as just not having a copy in his home to read – the internet will have passages from it, indeed the judgment does, and other children who the son knows may come across it and make use of it]

 

As a matter of law then, what does the Supreme Court have to say about this tort?

Let’s look at the history first – as ever with old caselaw, the facts are quirky, and I’m sure that nobody involved ever imagined they’d be making legal history and newspaper headlines 120 years later.

 

Mr Wilkinson had been out at the races (I think that I can say without fear of defamation 120 years later that some degree of liquid refreshment may have played a part in the day’s events) and his friend Mr Downton decided that it would be an amusing practical joke to tell Mrs Wilkinson that Mr W had had an accident at the races, broken his leg and needed help.  Mrs W took it very badly and had weeks of nervous shock.

 

Wilkinson v Downton

31. Mr Downton secured a place for himself in legal history by a misconceived practical joke. He thought that it would be a cause of harmless amusement among the clientele of the Albion public house in Limehouse to tell the landlord’s wife, Mrs Wilkinson, a false tale that her husband had fractured his legs in an accident while on his way back from a race meeting and that he had sent a message to ask for her help to get him home. It cost her 1 shilling and 10 ½ pence to send her son and another helper on this fools’ errand, but a matter of far greater concern was the effect on her health. She suffered severe shock to her nervous system, which manifested itself in vomiting and weeks of physical suffering. Mrs Wilkinson had not shown any previous sign of predisposition to nervous shock. She and her husband sued Mr Downton, and the matter came to trial before Wright J and a jury.

32. Recovery of the transport costs incurred in response to Mr Wilkinson’s supposed request for help presented no legal difficulty. Such costs were recoverable as damages for deceit. The jury assessed damages for the illness caused to Mrs Wilkinson by her nervous shock (together with her husband’s claim for the resulting loss of her services) at £100, but the legal basis for making such an award was problematic.

33. Wright J rejected the argument that damages for deceit could include an award for Mrs Wilkinson’s suffering, because the essence of liability for deceit was that a maker of a false representation, intended to be acted upon, was liable to make good any loss naturally resulting from the representee acting on it, but the illness suffered by Mrs Wilkinson was not a consequence of her acting on what she was told. It was simply a consequence of the shock brought about by the news reported to her.

34. Wright J held, at pp 58-59, that a cause of action could be stated in law where a defendant has

“wilfully done an act calculated to cause physical harm to the plaintiff – that is to say, to infringe her legal right to personal safety, and has in fact thereby caused physical harm to her.”

He continued

“That proposition without more appears to me to state a good cause of action, there being no justification alleged for the act. This wilful injuria is in law malicious, although no malicious purpose to cause the harm which was caused nor any motive of spite is imputed to the defendant.”

35. This compact statement of law contained a number of key features. First, he identified the plaintiff’s protected interest as her “legal right to personal safety”. Secondly, he identified the defendant’s act as wilful. Thirdly, he described the act as “calculated” to cause physical harm to the plaintiff. Fourthly, he noted the absence of any alleged justification. Fifthly, he characterised the “wilful injuria” as “in law malicious” despite the absence of any purpose (ie desire) to cause the harm which was caused. Having stated the law in that way, Wright J then considered whether it covered Mrs Wilkinson’s claim. He held that it did. He said:

“One question is whether the defendant’s act was so plainly calculated to produce some effect of the kind which was produced that an intention to produce it ought to be imputed to the defendant, regard being had to the fact that the effect was produced on a person proved to be in an ordinary state of health and mind. I think that it was. It is difficult to imagine that such a statement, made suddenly and with apparent seriousness, could fail to produce grave effects under the circumstances upon any but an exceptionally indifferent person, and therefore an intention to produce such an effect must be imputed …”

 

The discussion of the Supreme Court into this tort and partic ularly on the key ingredient ‘maliciously’ is wide-ranging –  covering level-crossings, horses ram-raiding into pubs, pretending to unmask someone as a German spy, and imputations of inchastity.  I was saddened that the promising case name of Mayor of Bradford v Pickles 1895 did not hinge on a gherkhin-related dispute, but rather on water supply…

Of course, you will note that in Wilkinson v Downton, the story that caused the harm was false, made up, whereas the story being told by Mr Rhodes is true. We shall see if that makes a noticeable difference.

72. The order made by the Court of Appeal was novel in two respects. The material which the appellant was banned from publishing was not deceptive or intimidatory but autobiographical; and the ban was principally directed, not to the substance of the autobiographical material, but to the vivid form of language used to communicate it. The appeal therefore raises important questions about freedom of speech and about the nature and limits of liability under Wilkinson v Downton.

73. In Wilkinson v Downton Wright J recognised that wilful infringement of the right to personal safety was a tort. It has three elements: a conduct element, a mental element and a consequence element. The issues in this case relate to the first and second elements. It is common ground that the consequence required for liability is physical harm or recognised psychiatric illness. In Wainwright v Home Office Lord Hoffmann discussed and left open (with expressions of caution) the question whether intentional causation of severe distress might be actionable, but no one in this case has suggested that it is.

 

When writing a book, the author is not obliged to consider that any reader of the book might be caused damage by reading it – that would make it almost impossible to write anything. The Court of Appeal had held that it was applicable in this case to consider that in writing the book, the child was a relevant person to take account of – i.e that he was a specific person who could be said to be affected by it.

 

74. The conduct element requires words or conduct directed towards the claimant for which there is no justification or reasonable excuse, and the burden of proof is on the claimant. We are concerned in this case with the curtailment of freedom of speech, which gives rise to its own particular considerations. We agree with the approach of the Court of Appeal in regarding the tort as confined to those towards whom the relevant words or conduct were directed, but they may be a group. A person who shouts “fire” in a cinema, when there is no fire, is addressing himself to the audience. In the present case the Court of Appeal treated the publication of the book as conduct directed towards the claimant and considered that the question of justification had therefore to be judged vis-à-vis him. In this respect we consider that they erred.

 

 

 

75. The book is for a wide audience and the question of justification has to be considered accordingly, not in relation to the claimant in isolation. In point of fact, the father’s case is that although the book is dedicated to the claimant, he would not expect him to see it until he is much older. Arden LJ said that the father could not be heard to say that he did not intend the book to reach the child, since it was dedicated to him and some parts of it are addressed to him. We have only found one passage addressed to him, which is in the acknowledgments, but more fundamentally we do not understand why the appellant may not be heard to say that the book is not intended for his eyes at this stage of his life. Arden LJ also held that there could be no justification for the publication if it was likely to cause psychiatric harm to him. That approach excluded consideration of the wider question of justification based on the legitimate interest of the defendant in telling his story to the world at large in the way in which he wishes to tell it, and the corresponding interest of the public in hearing his story.

76. When those factors are taken into account, as they must be, the only proper conclusion is that there is every justification for the publication. A person who has suffered in the way that the appellant has suffered, and has struggled to cope with the consequences of his suffering in the way that he has struggled, has the right to tell the world about it. And there is a corresponding public interest in others being able to listen to his life story in all its searing detail. Of course vulnerable children need to be protected as far as reasonably practicable from exposure to material which would harm them, but the right way of doing so is not to expand Wilkinson v Downton to ban the publication of a work of general interest. But in pointing out the general interest attaching to this publication, we do not mean to suggest that there needs to be some identifiable general interest in the subject matter of a publication for it to be justified within the meaning of Wilkinson v Downton.

 

As the Supreme Court point out here – Mr Rhodes case triumphs on the wider public interest of telling his story, but that does not mean that the story HAS to have that wider public interest to defeat a Wilkinson v Downton claim.

Where a story is true, they say, the law gives the freedom of someone to tell the truth a great deal of protection.

 

77. Freedom to report the truth is a basic right to which the law gives a very high level of protection. (See, for example,Napier v Pressdram Ltd [2009] EWCA Civ 443, [2010] 1 WLR 934, para 42.) It is difficult to envisage any circumstances in which speech which is not deceptive, threatening or possibly abusive, could give rise to liability in tort for wilful infringement of another’s right to personal safety. The right to report the truth is justification in itself. That is not to say that the right of disclosure is absolute, for a person may owe a duty to treat information as private or confidential. But there is no general law prohibiting the publication of facts which will cause distress to another, even if that is the person’s intention. The question whether (and, if so, in what circumstances) liability under Wilkinson v Downton might arise from words which are not deceptive or threatening, but are abusive, has not so far arisen and does not arise for consideration in this case.

 

It MIGHT be that a set of circumstances exist in which words in a publication are true, and not threatening, but are abusive and would cause harm to the recipient, but it is quite difficult to think of what those circumstances might be. It may be some time before we see another Wilkinson v Downton claim.

 

Finally, the Supreme Court looked at the mental element of the tort (the intent)

 

83. First, where a recognised psychiatric illness is the product of severe mental or emotional distress, a) is it necessary that the defendant should have intended to cause illness or b) is it sufficient that he intended to cause severe distress which in fact results in recognisable illness? Option b) is close to the version stated by Salmond & Heuston which attracted Lord Woolf in Wainwright v Home Office.

 

They concluded that option b was correct, and declined to develop the law to include ‘recklessness’ within the mental element of the offence.

89. In the present case there is no basis for supposing that the appellant has an actual intention to cause psychiatric harm or severe mental or emotional distress to the claimant.

 

Also hooray for Lord Neuberger’s remarks on free speech.

96. It is true that the book contained material which some people might find offensive, in terms of what was described and how it was expressed, but “free speech includes not only the inoffensive but the irritating, the contentious, the eccentric, the heretical, the unwelcome and the provocative provided it does not tend to provoke violence” – see Redmond-Bate v Director of Public Prosecutions (1999) 7 BHRC 375, para 20, per Sedley LJ. As he memorably added, “[f]reedom only to speak inoffensively is not worth having”.

97. Quite apart from this, it would, I think, be an inappropriate restriction on freedom of expression, an unacceptable form of judicial censorship, if a court could restrain publication of a book written by a defendant, whose contents could otherwise be freely promulgated, only refer in general and unobjectionable terms to the claimant, and are neither intended nor expected by the defendant to harm the claimant, simply because the claimant might suffer psychological harm if he got to read it (or extracts from it).

 

 

An argument about publication of a judgment

 

Wigan Borough Council v Fisher and Others 2015

Again, Mr Justice Peter Jackson

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/34.html

I think this is the first reported authority on how to deal with transparency and publication of a judgment where one party objects, following the President’s transparency guidelines. The first and most important thing to say is that the High Court held this:-The question of whether a judgment should be published is an integral part of the proceedings from which it arises and I consider that where a party is legally aided, any work that is necessary to contribute to the court’s decision on publication should normally be covered by the party’s legal aid certificate.There were care proceedings about a little girl named A, who was in foster care but eventually went back to live with her mother. The central theme of those proceedings was the very tragic death of A’s sister Evie.

  • The proceedings arose because of the death of A’s sister Evie at the age of sixteen weeks on 21 February 2013. During her short life, she had sustained a number of serious injuries.
  • My fact-finding judgment was given on 6 December 2013 at the end of a hearing lasting eight days, during which each parent blamed the other for Evie’s injuries. My conclusion was that they had been caused by the father and that the mother should be exonerated. There was no appeal and the proceedings ended.
  • Mr Thomas was then prosecuted for causing grievous bodily harm to Evie. On 29 October 2014, he was acquitted by a jury at Liverpool Crown Court. The trial was reported in the press.
  • On the day of his acquittal, Mr Thomas gave an interview to a journalist in which he said “All I ever wanted to do … was to prove my innocence and now I have done that.” This interview, illustrated with a photograph of Mr Thomas holding a photograph of Evie, was published in the Wigan Observer and in the Daily Mail.
  • On 9 December 2014, a Coroner’s inquest reached an open conclusion, formerly known as an open verdict

 

The issue of whether the fact-finding judgment should be published was therefore an important and live one. Firstly, the name and face of the father was known to the media, as was Evie. Secondly, there was public interest in what had happened to Evie. Thirdly, the combination of the care proceedings (which remained confidential), a criminal trial (which was in the newspapers) and an inquest (which had been reported) might lead people to erroneously conclude that if the father had not hurt Evie then mother must have done.  Equally, however, father who had put himself in the public domain after having been found Not Guilty in a jury trial would obviously not want a finding of fact judgment which held that he was responsible for Evie’s death coming into the public domain.

 

  • To avoid the risk of prejudice to the criminal proceedings, I had deferred a decision on the publication of the fact-finding judgment. In November 2014, when those proceedings had ended, the parties referred the matter back to me. They initially suggested that an anonymised version of the judgment could be published, edited in such a way as to protect A’s identity.
  • I did not consider that this was realistic. The criminal trial and the Coroner’s inquest had taken place in public and substantial information about the family and the surrounding events had appeared in the press. This information was to all intents and purposes the same as that considered in greater detail in the family proceedings, except that this court’s conclusions were not reported. It would therefore be impossible for an anonymised fact-finding judgment to be published without it immediately being linked with this family. I therefore asked the parties for further written submissions by 13 January on the following possibilities:

 

(a) That the judgment should not be published at all.(b) That it should be published in an un-anonymised form.

(c)  That it should be published in an un-anonymised form, accompanied by a reporting restriction order preventing the identification of A (in which case an application would have to be made and the media notified in accordance with the Practice Direction).

(d) That it should be published in an anonymised form with workable accompanying directions that could be understood by the media. 

 

The Judge discussed the transparency guidance and the purpose of it

 

  • A salient purpose of the guidance is to promote understanding of and confidence in the proceedings of the Family Court. But beneficial though that goal is, it is not an end in itself. Rather, it is part of a necessary process to ensure that the rights of individuals and the public, referred to above, are properly balanced. That cannot happen if confidentiality in the proceedings of the Family Court, a public body, is allowed to trump all other considerations. A balance has to be struck in each case, using the guidance as a valuable aid. There will still be cases where, notwithstanding the guidance, publication is not permitted, and other cases where the judge will authorise wider publication than that contemplated by the guidance.
  • The guidance has had a marked effect. In 2014, its first year, over 300 judgments at High Court level were posted on the Bailii website, together with 160 judgments by other judges. These numbers are a very substantial increase on previous levels of publication, particularly in relation to judgments in local family courts. As a result, there is a very considerable body of material available to anyone who wants to better understand the way in which our proceedings are conducted.

 

 

I will set out the parties respective positions – the LA wanted the judgment to be published, as did mother. The father opposed publication. The Guardian supported publication but sought safeguards.

 

  • The local authority supports the publication of the judgment in an un-anonymised form, except that the surviving children A and B should not be named. It submits that there is good reason to publish the judgment and no compelling reason to the contrary:
  • The fact that an infant has been seriously injured and has died in unusual circumstances is shocking and rightly becomes a matter of public concern. Questions are asked – Why? Who? How? Could the death have been prevented? If so, is someone to blame?
  • The mass of publicly available information is noted. It includes Evie’s name, details of her injuries and death, the names of both parents, their locations, ages and photographs. Any privacy and confidentiality has long since been breached. The only remaining confidentiality attaches to A, who has not been publicly identified.
  • Conclusions have now been reached in the criminal court, the Coroner’s court and the Family Court about the events surrounding Evie’s death. The outcome of two of the three is now known, but not the third.
  • Neither A nor her mother are likely to be unduly affected or destabilised by further publicity.
  • Knowledge that the mother has been exonerated could assist her and A.
  • A’s identity is not likely to become more widely known. There is no evidence that the press has done other than respect her privacy, and a reporting restriction order is not necessary.
  • Publication would show the rigour with which the Family Court investigates the death of and injuries to a child and how it arrives at its conclusions.
  • Where, as here, there is criticism to be made of professionals, it is in the public interest to know of this in the hope that lessons will be learned.
  • Anonymisation of the judgment would be utterly pointless, except insofar as the surviving children’s names are concerned. It would lead to confusion and questions as to why the Family Court was seeking to withhold information that is already public knowledge.
  • The mother supports publication of the judgment and does not seek any other protection beyond that suggested by the local authority, namely the withholding of the children’s names. She contends that there is a clear public interest in publication for these reasons:
  • The information already in the public domain is very extensive, as demonstrated by a collection of press clippings from the Internet.
  • She has been placed in a difficult position by the father’s acquittal and the publicity he subsequently sought. Given that Evie was undoubtedly assaulted, the result has been to cast suspicion on her. She has been approached by the media to tell her side of the story, but has refused. Following the Coroner’s proceedings, the Daily Mail report posed the question in the title to its coverage: “Father with battered baby daughter’s handprint tattooed over his heart was cleared of beating her. So how did Evie die?” The article goes on to state that the father sought to blame the mother during his criminal trial.
  • The Family Court proceedings are the missing piece from a jigsaw of information. The other processes have been reported. The mother feels strongly that somewhere within the public domain there should be an accurate report of what happened to Evie. In time it will be of value to A that the truth is known. She also feels that the publication of the judgment would help to bring matters to a close for the family.
  • The father opposes publication, for these reasons:
  • The guidance states that the names of family members will not normally be used. The metaphorical opening of the doors to the Family Court is aimed at exposing the family justice system, not the families who pass through it, to the light of publicity.
  • Identification of the perpetrators of crime is the purpose of the criminal courts, not the Family Court.
  • The reasons for care proceedings to be conducted in private continue to be sound. The care with which the courts protect the rights to privacy, even of those who are found guilty in the criminal courts, is shown in a number of authorities, to which detailed reference is made. A careful balancing exercise must always be conducted.
  • Any attempt to publish the judgment in an anonymous form is doomed to fail, as the family would inevitably be identified. Since an anonymised judgment cannot be published, there should be no publication at all.
  • Identification of the family would breach its right to respect for private and family life and would be fundamentally wrong. Naming the father would be an unwarranted interference with his rights. Publication may destabilise A’s placement with her mother.
  • Just because the father involved himself in media coverage is not a reason to stir matters up again. Republication can be as harmful as publication.
  • There is no wider public interest, such as may exist in cases of failures by statutory agencies.
  • The Children’s Guardian does not argue that there are compelling reasons for publication not to occur. She notes that
  • There has already been a great deal of publicity but that A has not been named, though reference has been made to “another child”.
  • Her primary concern is that the mother and A may be exposed to unwelcome scrutiny and distress as a result of publication that reveals the disparity between the outcomes in the criminal and the family proceedings.
  • She supports as many safeguards as possible being implemented to reduce interest in this matter. She would oppose publication that identifies A or further identifies Ms Fisher, or refers to the inherited condition Treacher Collins syndrome. Any reference to the Wigan area and the local authority should be removed , and the names of solicitors deleted.

 

Note that the Local Authority was in favour of publication even though professionals were criticised in the judgment.

 

The Judge decided that the judgment would be published, and will appear in 28 days (thus allowing the parties time to prepare themselves, and for any appeal).  I think that it must be right that where a father has gone to the Press and insinuated that mother was responsible for the death of a child, that the judgment showing why she was fully exonerated from blame ought to be out there. I suspect it won’t get the same exposure in the Mail as the previous story, I hope to be proven wrong.

 

Determination

 

  • Having given due consideration to all of these matters, I am in no doubt that the fact-finding judgment should be published and that the only restriction that is necessary is that the actual names of the children referred to as A and B (another child associated with the family) are not to be revealed. The rubric attached to the judgment is sufficient to achieve this restriction. There is no need for a reporting restriction order. The media can be relied upon not to identify young children gratuitously in circumstances of this kind.
  • I find that the relevant considerations point very much in the same direction.
  • The first consideration is that it is generally in the public interest for accurate information to be made available in such a serious case. The need is particularly pressing when the information now in the public domain is incomplete and distorted.
  • The second consideration is that the mother supports publication and it is only fair that she should be able to rely on the judgment to show that she was not responsible for Evie’s injuries. Non-publication would be an injustice to her.
  • The third consideration is that publication is unlikely to destabilise A and her mother. On the contrary, it is likely to improve their situation in the long run. It is clearly in A’s interests to grow up on a true footing, knowing that her mother was not responsible for her sister’s death and that her relationship with her father is as it is because of what he did. Any short-term disturbance that might possibly arise from publicity is greatly outweighed by the long-term benefits of the truth being known.
  • The final consideration is that the rights of the father carry little weight in the overall balancing exercise, given his conduct and his attempts to misrepresent the position to the mother’s detriment. If his submissions were correct, the law would be a screen to hide the truth. There is instead a public interest in the findings about the father being made known. The fact that they have been reached according to the civil standard in the Family Court as opposed to the criminal standard in the Crown Court makes no difference in this case. to prevent the truth being seen.
  • These conclusions are, as it happens, in keeping with the guidance. Paragraphs 16 (public interest) and 17 (serious fact-finding) are both engaged. Insofar as the naming of the family members departs from the normal approach, this is warranted under both limbs of paragraph 9 (party’s wish to refer to exoneration and public interest in identification of a person against who findings have been made).
  • I agree with the local authority that it would be futile to seek to remove identifying information in an effort to dissociate the Family Court’s conclusions from information already on the public record. The court should not stultify itself and any attempt to publish anonymously could only lead to bewilderment about what could and could not be reported. The Guardian’s submissions were made before the mother’s position was known, but were they to remain unchanged, I would prefer the positions of the local authority and the mother.
  • I do not agree with the father’s analysis of the purpose of the guidance. As I have explained, it is not narrowly concerned with the image of the Family Court but with the wider goal of achieving a proper balancing of all the rights that arise in these cases.
  • The fact-finding judgment, and this judgment, will be placed on the Bailii website 28 days from now, to allow time for all interested parties to prepare themselves and for any rights of appeal to be exercised.

 

 

Poppi Worthington

 

There has been a lot of media interest and frustration about the death of Poppi Worthington.  She died in December 2012 and was just thirteen months old. A finding of fact hearing took place in care proceedings and judgment was given on that in March 2014.  Despite media interest and applications, the contents of that judgment are still not known other than to those directly involved in the case.

A reporting restriction order remains in place, that prevents the contents of that hearing being shared in the media or published. [As ever with reporting restriction orders, they apply to me and to my commentators, so if the information is leaked elsewhere on the net, please do not link to it]

We do know that an inquest took place, with an open verdict and the Coroner releasing Poppi’s name into the real world and was recorded as describing her death as ‘unusual and strange’

The Press were interested in the suggestions that either the finding of fact hearing in the care proceedings might be a miscarriage of justice (based on the Coroner’s verdict being open, rather than concluding that Poppi was unlawfully killed)  OR that the finding of fact hearing was critical of the Local Authority and social workers and that this was being hushed up.

[See for example, the Daily Mail piece here http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2810262/How-council-tried-baby-s-death-secret-protect-social-workers.html   ]

Either of those things are possible, it is really hard to prove or disprove them until we see the judgment itself.

For a long time, the decision to hold back the contents of the judgment despite media interest, was on the basis that there might be a pending criminal trial.

The police decided on 16th March 2015 not to charge the father with any criminal offences. The Press obviously thought that this would mean that the judgment would be released and they could tell Poppi’s story.

However, as a result of enquiries that had been made in the police investigation, including fresh medical experts, the father considered that there was scope to challenge the decision of the fact finding hearing and the decision to make Care Orders on Poppi’s siblings.  [I don’t think it is rocket science to infer that the final outcome of the finding of fact hearing was that father had done something to Poppi that led to her death, which he disputes]

 

The issues then for Mr Justice Peter Jackson to resolve were :

1. Should this be an application to the Court of Appeal on fresh evidence OR an application for re-hearing made to the High Court who had originally heard the case?

2. If the latter, should the application for re-hearing be granted?

3. Should the original judgment be published prior to the conclusion of that appeal/re-hearing?

And that is what he dealt with in the case of Cumbria County Council v M and F (Application for rehearing) 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2015/35.html

 

 

  1. At the original hearing, the main medical evidence came from three pathologists. Dr Alison Armour, Dr Stephanie Bitetti and Dr Stephen Leadbeatter and from Dr Victoria Evans, a paediatrician. Their opinions coincided in some respects and diverged in others. I substantially accepted the evidence of Dr Armour.
  2. As a result of the fact-finding judgment, the police commissioned further medical enquiries. Opinions have now been given by Dr Nathaniel Cary (pathologist) and Dr Liina Kiho (histopathologist). Their views diverge in a number of respects from those of Dr Armour. An opinion has also been obtained from Dr Victoria Aziz, who is described as a forensic examiner.
  3. In their submissions, the parties have analysed the extent to which the more recent pathology evidence differs from that which was given that the original hearing, with reference to five particular post-mortem appearances.
  4. On behalf of the father and the Guardian, it is argued that the additional medical evidence raises issues of sufficient importance to warrant a rehearing. On behalf of the local authority and the mother, it is said that the issues are ones of nuance and interpretation that do not amount to a reason for reopening the matter. It is also said that the process by which the new evidence was gathered may have had shortcomings.
  5. In my view, the further evidence contains matters of mixed fact and opinion that deserve further consideration. In particular, it contains an alternative unifying hypothesis for the post-mortem appearances. That hypothesis was not overlooked at the earlier hearing, but it did not receive the degree of attention that is now being paid to it. Arguments about any consequences arising from the process by which the further opinions were obtained cannot be resolved without significant further inquiry, and a decision on the father’s application should not in my view be postponed for that to occur.
  6. The circumstances in which the court will reopen established findings of fact are rare. There is a public and private interest in litigation being final. The impact of a renewal of the litigation on the family members can be significant, as is undoubtedly the case here. Further proceedings are also expensive, in this case to the public, and consume court time that is needed for other cases.
  7. There are two ways in which an application for a further hearing can be made. The first is by way of an application to appeal out of time on the basis of fresh evidence. The second is by way of an application to the trial court for a rehearing. In this case, the latter course has been selected. It is argued on behalf of the mother that the former course would have been better. However, it is acknowledged that the appeal route would be likely to lengthen the overall process in circumstances where the earliest resolution is in the interests of the children. In the overall circumstances, and bearing in mind that this court has had an ongoing involvement since the conclusion of the care proceedings because of issues of publicity, I find that the father’s application is appropriately made here.

 

So, in these circumstances, an application for re-hearing was better than an application to appeal. What about the merits of the application itself?

  1. His choice of venue will have been influenced by the way in which the tests that apply in each court have been articulated. An application to appeal out of time engages the well-known test in Ladd v Marshall 1954 1 WLR 1489. The new evidence must be such that it would probably have an important influence on the result of the case, though it need not be decisive, and it must be apparently credible, though it need not be incontrovertible. An application to the first instance court for a rehearing engages the guidance contained in paragraph 33 of the decision of the President in Re ZZ (Children) 2014 EWFC 9 where he endorsed the words of Mrs Justice Hale in an earlier decision: “Above all, the court is bound to want to consider whether there is any reason to think that a rehearing of the issue will result in any different finding from that in the earlier trial. By this I mean something more than the mere fact that different judges might on occasions reach different conclusions on the same evidence … The court will want to know … whether there is any new evidence or information casting doubt on the accuracy of the original findings.” To this, the President added that “one does not get beyond the first stage unless there is some real reason to believe that the earlier findings require revisiting. Mere speculation and hope are not enough. There must be solid grounds for challenge. But for my own part I would be disinclined to set the test any higher.”
  2. There may be cases in which the formulations of the tests on appeal and at first instance might make a difference to the outcome, but I do not consider that this is one of them. The court’s overriding objective is to deal with cases justly, having regard to welfare issues involved, and that is my goal.
  3. The considerations that persuade me that justice requires that a further hearing should take place are these:

    (i) The finding of fact addressed in the more recent evidence is of central importance for the family. It is of a kind that determines the children’s future and is of great significance to the parents.(ii) It will be important for the children to have an accurate understanding of what happened to their sister. The more recent evidence has the effect of raising doubt about the existing conclusion. The children’s welfare requires that the matter is resolved.

    (iii) The more recent evidence, like the previous medical evidence, comes from a reputable source; further, it was commissioned in response to concerns expressed by this court about the earlier police enquiry.

    (iv) While the outcome of a further hearing cannot be foreseen, it is possible that a review of the overall medical evidence may lead to a different conclusion. It may, or it may not. What can be said is that there is a serious issue to determine in the light of the further opinions.

  4. As to the scope of the further hearing, oral evidence is likely to be limited to medical testimony. I am unlikely to admit other oral evidence, unless a particular matter needs clarification. Transcripts and notes of evidence from the earlier proceedings will be gathered. A meeting of the doctors should be held in order to establish points of agreement and disagreement. The parties will present a draft directions order, having made further enquiries.
  5. At an earlier stage, the father submitted that any rehearing should take place before a different judge. That submission was not in the end pursued, in my view correctly. There are considerable advantages in judicial continuity in a case of this complexity.
  6. The outcome is that the further hearing will take place in the autumn.

 

So there will be a re-hearing in the autumn. But we are not yet into May – what happens between now and then?

 

As to the publication of the original judgment, I remain on view that this is not appropriate at this point in time, for the reasons given on 30 March. However, I have expressed a provisional view that it should be published at or around the time that the rehearing begins, rather than it being withheld until that hearing ends. There is a proper public interest in the course that these proceedings, and the other procedures surrounding Poppi’s death, have taken. The media will be able to describe matters more effectively if the original findings can be described at the point when they come under review. I have also raised the possibility of the further hearing taking place in public. I will hear from the parties and the media about these issues at the next directions hearing.

 

So the judgment will not be published until the autumn. It MIGHT be published before the re-hearing finishes, and even possibly at around the time that it begins.

The reference to the judgment on 30th March is this one – which was considering the position given that the police had dropped their case against father, but father was wanting to challenge the findings in the family Court.

From that judgment

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/918.html

 

  1. On the question of publication of the judgment, there is division between the parties:

    (i) The media, on whose behalf Ms Caoilfhionn Gallagher has presented written submissions, supplemented today by Mr Murphy, argues for publication. It says that the matter is of the highest public interest, both as to the circumstances of the death and as to any agency failures. There is a risk that an information vacuum will be filled with inaccurate speculation. Moreover, continued non-publication would be likely to reignite concerns about “secret courts” and lack of transparency in the family justice system.(ii) The local authority argues that the judgment should be published now that a charging decision has been taken. Even if the findings are reopened, there is a public interest in being informed about the process as it occurs.

    (iii) The mother supports publication, particularly as non-publication heightens speculation in an unhelpful way.

    (iv) The father opposes publication at this point. On his behalf, Mr Rowley QC argues that the evidence gathered during the father’s criminal investigation forms a credible basis for querying the court’s findings. He submits that it would be wrong, taking into account the father’s rights, to publish the judgment ahead of a decision about whether the findings will or will not be reviewed.

    (v) On behalf of the children, the Children’s Guardian opposes publication of the judgment at this time. The children, whose future plans remain at a sensitive stage, would have to face a heavy bout of publicity now with the possibility of further, conflicting publicity at a later stage.

  2. The Practice Guidance issued by the President of the Family Division on 16 January 2014 and entitled “Transparency in the Family Courts: Publication of Judgments” [2014] 1 FLR 733 advises that fact-finding judgments in serious cases should be published unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary. Quite apart from that guidance, this should in my view be the starting point in a case of this kind. The public interest that the media contends for is very significant indeed. As I have said elsewhere, I am aware of the value of the media being able to describe events in real time as they unfold. The risk of speculation replacing information is also a relevant consideration.
  3. I have nevertheless concluded that it would not be right for the fact-finding judgment to be published now. The court retains control over the question of publication and must give due weight to the public interest, the interests of justice and the interests of the individual parties, not least those of the children concerned. It would be wrong in my view to place in the public domain a judgment that would be likely to receive considerable publicity immediately before taking a decision on the question of whether that judgment should be reviewed. To do so would be unfair to the father and contrary to the welfare of the children.
  4. I well understand the desire of the media to carry out its role as fully as possible, and the frustration that is felt at the course of events in this case, in particular where one obstacle to publication is removed only to be replaced by another. However, I am clear that a proper balancing of the rights of all concerned leads to the conclusion that the judgment cannot be published yet. In saying this, I repeat my intention that it shall be published when it can be.

 

Given the Daily Mail story linked to earlier, it is worth noting that at the hearing on 30th March, the Local Authority (i.e Social Services) were of the same view as the Press, that the original judgment should be released and published.  I can also see however, that if you were the father, hoping to get that decision overturned that you wouldn’t want the Press reporting all the details of how a Court found that you did something dreadful to your child BEFORE you get a chance to persuade the Court that they had got this wrong. I can also see that for the Guardian, representing the children, it would not be ideal to see in the papers terrible headlines about your father and your sibling, and then possibly to have a different version of events and fresh stories AFTER the re-hearing.  But also, I can see that this all feels very unsatisfactory – the Press have a story here which is a genuine public interest. Maybe there were failings from professionals from which others could learn, maybe not. Maybe a family has been broken up as a result of a mistake in the family courts, maybe not.  The Press legitimately want to report the story and they aren’t able to do so.

Not an easy situation.

I also note that there is to be a Serious Case Review (which is the internal investigation where a child dies and there might be lessons to be learned). Those generally have to be published, so I wonder if the report might be timed to come in after the autumn re-hearing; as otherwise the Press could legitimately report on the conclusions and substance of that report.

Reporting restriction orders and anonymisation

 

This Court of Protection case raised, and answered, an important question that was causing people doubts, in relation to Reporting Restriction Orders. It has broader implications than just Court of Protection cases.

A Healthcare NHS Trust and P 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2015/15.html

 

A Reporting Restriction Order is just as you might guess, an Order of the Court saying that the Press can’t report some details on a particular case.  When the Court decides whether to make one, it is balancing up the article 8 right to privacy of the people involved (particularly if they are vulnerable people who can’t consent for themselves) AGAINST the article 10 right to freedom of expression (the concept that the Press ought to be free to report stories of public interest, or that are just interesting to the public)

What you might not know, if you haven’t made an application of this type, is that when faced with a story that you don’t want the Press to run, the procedure to obtain an RRO is to contact the Press and tell them all that there’s a really juicy story that you don’t want them to run.

 

That is so that the argument about article 8 v article 10 can be run with the Press being present and represented.  It does mean that you need to think carefully about whether stamping out a small fire (a newspaper wanting to run a story) by applying for an RRO might mean you accidentally starting a forest fire (by shouting “Fire, fire” to the rest of the media)

 

It is also worth noting that the transparency guidelines are that any application for an RRO, whether granted or not, should have an anonymised judgment published  – so RROs in practice are really going to be about ensuring that the NAMES of the people involved do not become published.

So, when the Press are told about the application for an RRO, should the real NAMES of the people involved be used, or should they be anonymised?

  1. It is submitted by the Press Association that pre-notification anonymisation appears to becoming a practice amongst claimant lawyers, who appear to be under the erroneous misapprehension that not only would they be committing a contempt but that by identifying the parties to a claim to the media means that the media will or may publish the material before the Court has had the opportunity to consider and possibly prohibit publication. It also suggests that the assumption is being made that the applicant’s right to privacy under Article 8 of the ECHR outweighs the media and public’s rights under Article 10. That approach by lawyers representing applicants seeking reporting restrictions or injunctions in refusing to identify the parties involved in a case involves restricting the media’s rights even before the Court has had an opportunity to consider the matter. That, it is said, leaves the media unable to take advice or make sensible and informed decisions as to what approach, if any, to take in a particular case.
  2. When the Press Association raised the question of identification of the parties with the applicant’s solicitors in this case, the response apparently was that the solicitors would be committing a contempt of court by disclosing the information; the argument put forward today by Mr Sachdeva QC is altogether different.
  3. The short issue of course is whether there is an obligation subject to paragraph 15-17 of the Practice Direction 13A to disclose information.

 

If there is an obligation to provide the real names of those involved as part of the application process, then there’s no issue of contempt of Court in complying with that obligation. And this is the issue that the Court had to decide.

On the one hand, the argument is that giving out the real names might be a contempt of Court and might breach privacy and might pose a risk of the names accidentally leaking out. On the other, if you tell the Press that they aren’t allowed to write about person X, but you don’t tell them who person X is, how can they really know whether they might have already been approached by X about the story, or even whether they would want to run the story.

  1. The questions therefore seem to be as follows. On the one hand the arguments in favour of revealing the parties’ identity to the Press before such an order is made include Practice Direction 13A requiring that the application notice (COP 9) be served with the media notification. The COP 9 has the parties’ names on it as of course does the witness statement (COP24). It is in accordance with open justice to allow the media fully to consider whether to object. It is pragmatic, otherwise the media would have to attend every case to learn the parties’ identity. Arguably no harm is done by notification because the media cannot report the parties’ identity despite no RRO being yet in place without being in contempt and the media will learn the parties’ names once the RRO is made in any event.
  2. Against the proposition is the assertion that the Practice Direction (which is a practice direction, not a Rule of Court) does not require the draft order to be served on the media (as noted by Baker J in Re M). However, he was considering the issue in relation to the identities of a considerable number of people who would be covered by the anonymity order. More directly than that it is simply unnecessary for the media to know the identity of P before forming an opinion on the terms of the RRO being sought, the issues being the centre of interest. Relevance is also placed on the absence of prohibitive order prior to hearing, a breach of which it is said is not clearly a breach of confidence or contempt of court.

Mr Justice Newton marshals the law and principles very well here, and it would be a good source for any RRO research in future cases.

To skip to the conclusion – the Judge was satisfied that the Press having the real names on the application form would not result in those names being published before the Court considered the RRO and that there were a number of safeguards to ensure that would be the case, even if there were to be one maverick or rogue player:-

  1. I am therefore completely satisfied that a number of factors come together preventing the media from revealing the parties’ names, because

    1. It would be a statutory contempt.

    2. It would be a contempt of common law.

    3. It would be in breach of the express contractual arrangements between any subscriber and the Press Association (with a powerful deterrent effect).

    4. It would be a breach of confidence.

  2. In the interests of transparency, the whole thrust of the law from the Practice Direction onwards dictates that in order to form a proper view the Press should see all the information including names. I therefore order the disclosure of the identity of P and the family to the Injunctions Alert Service so that the Press may respond if they wish to do so.

 

 

The statutory contempt of court bit is interesting, particularly in relation to publication of information whilst the proceedings have not been concluded.

  1. Section 1 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 provides:

    “In this Act “the strict liability rule” means the rule of law whereby conduct may be treated as a contempt of court as tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so.”

    Section 2 of the Act sets out the scope of strict liability. The following must be established to the criminal standard:

    a) publication addressed to the public at large, as any sections of the public;

    b) publication which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be severely impeded or prejudiced;

    c) publication occurs at a time when the proceedings are active.

    So there is a double test, there has to be a risk that the proceedings in question will be affected at all and if affected, the effect will be serious.

  2. Anything that has a deleterious impact on the conduct or outcome of proceedings is prejudicial to the course of justice (I have had regard to the definitions in Arlidge, Eady and Smith on Contempt (citing Re Lonhro 1990 2 AC 154 and AG v Times Newspapers Times 12/2/83).

 

What about common law contempt?

  1. In the unlikely event that statutory contempt is not established common law contempt (under section 6(c) of the Act) could clearly be established. The actus reus and mens rea both have to be established. Lord Bingham in A-G v Newspapers Publishing plc [1997] 1 WLR 926 at 936B-D set out the actus reus to be established:

    “We do not accept that any conduct by a third party inconsistent with an order of the court is enough to constitute the actus reus of contempt. Where it is sought to impose indirect liability on a third party, the justification for doing so lies in that party’s interference with the administration of justice. It is not our view necessary to show that the administration of justice in the relevant proceedings has been wholly frustrated or rendered utterly futile. But it is, we think, necessary to show some significant and adverse effect on the administration of justice. Recognising that the restraints upon freedom of expression should be no wider than are truly necessary in a democratic society, we do not accept that conduct by a third party which is inconsistent with a court order in only a trivial or technical way should expose a party to conviction for contempt.”

  2. At 936H-937A, Lord Bingham set out what had to be established in respect of the necessary mens rea:

    “To show contempt, the [A-G] must establish, to the criminal standard of proof, that: ‘the conduct complained of is specifically intended to impede or prejudice the administration of justice. Such intent need not be expressly avowed or admitted, but can be inferred from all the circumstances, including the foreseeability of the consequences of the conduct. Nor need it be the sole intention of the contemnor. An intent is to be distinguished from motive or desire …’

  3. The publication of material contained in an application for reporting restrictions prior to the hearing to determine those restrictions is likely to amount to a contempt of court at common law. It is likely to have a significant and adverse effect on the administration of justice by thwarting the very purpose of the application, thereby making the application for reporting restrictions redundant. Intent to impede or prejudice the administration of justice is likely to be inferred from the context that the publisher will be aware of the context of how the information was received, the purpose for which it was received and the likely restrictions sought in the application.

 

 

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.

 

 

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