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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/   ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

Transparency and Facebook

This is a County Court case, dealing with some of the transparency issues that I’ve been writing about recently, and highlights that there are going to be teething problems as the Courts move from very secret to fairly open. 

[If we were moving to 100% open where there were no restrictions at all, the lack of clarity about what is 'direct identification', what is 'indirect identification' and what is neither, wouldn't be such an issue, but at the moment, given that what the Courts are prohibiting is direct or indirect identification of the child and linking that to identification that that particular child had been the subject of Court proceedings, not being clear about what is meant by those terms is no longer helpful.]

 

Re B (A Child) 2014

 

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

 

 

The case involved an application by the Local Authority (Staffordshire) for a Reporting Restriction Order  – given that Staffordshire were the LA who lost so badly on this issue when they came before the President in Re J they must have been fairly nervous about making the application.

 

The child is 2 years old and on 23rd May 2013 the Family Proceedings Court made her the subject of care and placement orders.  There had been extensive assessments of the problems faced by these parents.  The mother and the father came to the courageous and wise decision that they would not oppose the local authority’s plan for their child to be placed for adoption.  The maternal grandmother had a different view and she made an application to the court for an order that she should care for the child.  The grandmother was also the subject of extensive assessment which concluded that the child should not be placed with her.

 

What happened after that final hearing was that the grandmother did not accept the outcome in the way that the parents had. She was against it, and not afraid to say so.

 

She appealed to the County Court, and lost, and appealed to the Court of Appeal and lost.

 

The grandmother is clearly very disappointed by this outcome and she has

complained that the outcome is unfair.  No one suggests that the grandmother

should be prevented from commenting on this saga or from criticising the local

authority or the court.  However, the local authority says that the grandmother

has gone beyond that.  They say that she has caused harm to the child by using

her name and her photograph.  Examples have been shown to me.  I have seen

the grandmother’s Facebook postings in the bundle at C13, C15 and C17.  There

is a further very relevant Facebook posting at the back of the local authority’s

written submissions, an entry which I am told is dated 13th December 2013 and

starts by an indication that it was posted 11 hours ago.  In addition the

grandmother has started an online petition bearing the name and photograph of

the child.  Details are in the bundle at C17.  The grandmother has contributed to

an internet radio station where there was a discussion forum to which the  

grandmother contributed the name of the child.  This is accessible from a link

which appears on page C19 of the bundle.

6.                  The local authority’s application for a reporting restriction order seeks

to prevent this identification of the child but otherwise does not seek to prevent

discussion, comment and criticism of the local authority and court processes.

So it is only anything that would directly or indirectly identify the child which would be prohibited.

 

That of course was easy in an age where the only people who could publish anything were newspapers – they would just be told “you can print the story but not the name” and would decide whether sans the name the story would have sufficient public interest to make it worth publishing. And the sanction for breaking that restriction would be fairly simple – it is easy to dish out a fine to a newspaper, who can pay the fine.

 

But we now live in a different age, one where anyone who wants to publish anything can do so. For example, this very blog that you are reading. Anybody who wants to can set up a blog and write about what they like. Or they can use their Facebook page, or Twitter, or join an internet chatroom or post comments on Mumsnet or other similar sites.

 

The considerations are different for a journalist or editor whose natural tendency is to comply with the Court’s wishes or orders, and that of an aggrieved person who is personally and fundamentally affected by the decision and has lost all faith in the Court.

 

The most natural place for most people these days, to express their views is on their Facebook page. The grandmother, of course, doesn’t have to give the surname of the child to have indirectly identified them if she writes about them on her Facebook page, because the Facebook page directly identifies HER, and her comments directly link the children to HER.

 

 

   The evidence presented to me leaves me in no doubt that the grandmother has embarked upon a campaign to undermine these rights enjoyed by the child.  The Facebook entry of 13th December 2013 attached to the written submissions can only be described as a call for others to help a search for the depicted child in her new adoptive placement.  The accompanying text and other text refer to the child as a stolen child but by that date the Court of Appeal had determined that the plan for adoption could not be challenged.  This kind of publication is very harmful at a number of levels.  It is harmful to the child in the present if the search established her whereabouts and led to disturbance and destabilisation.  It is harmful in the present even if the search does not succeed in that it exposes the prospective adopters to anxiety at a time when the child’s best interests would be served by them accepting her into their household from a standpoint of emotional stability.  It is very harmful to the child in the future in that these internet postings can remain so that when a little older and accessing the internet herself the child may encounter these destabilising messages and find her own wellbeing undermined.  Alternatively these postings might be accessed by friends of the child and form the basis of comment or even bullying.

11.              I remind myself that the courts of the land at the highest level have determined that placement for adoption is the only appropriate outcome for this child and an outcome which is inherently lawful.  In these circumstances it is clear that Article 8 and Article 10 are in conflict.  Both represent important rights.  However, as so often in these cases, a proportionate balanced reconciliation emerges.  The right to freedom of expression does not need the elements of personal identification which are so harmful.  The right to respect for family and private life does need a prohibition to be placed upon identification but does not need to prevent all comment and debate.  It is clear to me that the proportionate outcome is to allow discussion but to prevent identification

 

The Court balanced the article 8 right to private and family life for the child against the article 10 right to freedom of expression, and determined that it was right that the grandmother should be able to debate and discuss the case, including the facts of the case (and including within that scope her own view of the case, which might be at variance to the Court’s own conclusions) BUT that she should not be allowed to identify, directly or indirectly, the child.

 

 

There is one area in which I find the present case to differ from the President’s case of Re: J [2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam).  In that case the restraint of publication of photographs of a tiny baby was considered to be inappropriate.  The present case I find to be very different.  This child is significantly older and correspondingly easier to identify from photographs.  Indeed, the grandmother has used a photograph as part of her campaign to seek out the whereabouts of the prospective adoptive placement.  This is one of the most harmful aspects of the case and an element from which the child needs protection.  Carrying out the same balancing exercise as did the President I reach a different conclusion and find that the publication of photographs must be restrained alongside the publication of names.

 

 

 

I shall conclude with a note addressed to the grandmother. I am sorry that she has chosen not to attend court today. There may be points which she could raise which are relevant to my decision. I have done my best in her absence to anticipate them. However if there are other points I invite her to apply to the court. The worst thing she could do would be to act in breach of this order and only when steps are taken to enforce the order against her, to raise points which should have been raised today. The order does not prevent campaigning, discussion or debate. However as in many other cases, these must not include the use of the true names or photographs of the child as this would be harmful to her.

 

 

 

The judgment does leave me in some doubt, and sadly the precise terms of the Reporting Restriction Order are not set out to aid in interpretation, as to whether the grandmother can continue to post commentary or discussion about the case on her own Facebook page subject to NOT naming the child or including photographs, or whether doing that commentary or discussion under her own name indirectly identifies the child.

 

Likewise, if she posts an article about the case on a website, using her own name but not naming the child, is that okay? What if she puts up a photograph of the PARENTS but doesn’t name them? What if somewhere else in her Facebook page, there’s understandably a photograph of her grandchild?

 

As we get farther and farther along the transparency route, the vagueness about what would constitute indirect identification of the child in these sorts of cases becomes less and less satisfactory.

 

Lawyers need to be able to know where the boundaries are drawn to properly advise their clients how not to cross them.

 

People who are unhappy about outcomes of court proceedings need to know where the lines are that they should not cross in talking about the case

 

Newspapers and moderators of online discussion groups need to know where the lines are so that they don’t inadvertently cross them

 

Local Authorities need to know where the lines are so that they don’t end up warning or threatening legal action for things that they might wrongly think is a breach

 

Guardians need to know where the lines are so that children who are capable of understanding know what can and cannot be said about them in the press

 

And Courts need to know, so that these things can all be transparently expressed.

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