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Reporting Restriction Order – Swansea

 

The decision in Swansea v XZ and Another 2014

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2014/212.html

It is rather strange, in this week where all judgments by Circuit Judges or above relating to children are to be published online following the President’s guidance, to also see a Reporting Restriction Order case; although the order makes a great deal of sense in the particular circumstances of the case.

In this one, a mother from the Swansea area faced criminal charges relating to the murder of one child and the wounding of another. The mother pleaded guilty to the criminal charges in November 2013.  The alleged offences happened in 2006 and 2007, although the criminal charges were brought many years later.

This was touched on by the Court here

On 27th September 2011, the police finally applied for disclosure of the case papers. I note that this was already nearly three years after the finding of fact hearing before Wood J. The case came before Charles J on 1st November 2011. Even at that stage, he said that there was, as far as he could see, “no reasonable justification” for the delay in applying which appeared to be “inexcusable.”

Between 2007 and the present day, care proceedings took place on the second child and subsequent children those proceedings seem to have taken place over many years, with what seems like several different sets of proceedings,  finally ending in 2013 with the family court deciding that all of the surviving children could live with their parents.  [The precise chain of where they had all been living in the interim is not easy to follow, but it seems that it had mostly been with either both parents, or the father alone]

I should make it clear that the Mother’s care of the children that were staying with her has, since the institution of the proceedings, been, at all times, exemplary. The children very much wanted to be with their Mother and it was in their best interests to be with her provided she was mentally well and it was safe for them. By 11th March 2013, it was clear that, despite the criminal charges, her mental health had not deteriorated. I therefore directed that those children should return to live with her on 19th March.

 

The Local Authority applied in this case for a Reporting Restriction Order to prevent the mother’s name being published – in the usual course of events, there would be nothing to prevent the Press publishing the outcome of the criminal trial (which is certainly newsworthy) and naming the mother – even though that would indirectly identify the children. Hence, the Local Authority applied for the order. (It was not intended to keep the care proceedings secret, but prevent the children from being identified as being the children of a woman who killed a baby)

 

    1. The Local Authority case is that permitting the media to report the identity of the Mother will cause very significant harm to the children. First, it is said that, for reasons I cannot explain fully in this public judgment, anyone in the locality reading a media report naming her would instantly know which family it was.

 

 

    1. It is then said that there are a number of features of this case that could well result in real danger and harm to these children. In particular, it is argued that this case involves a significant number of features that have, rightly or wrongly, caused great contention of late in this country. These stem from the family background details and that very serious harm was done to two babies; and the Mother has cared for those children notwithstanding what has happened.

 

 

    1. It is said that, as a result, the family would be at high risk of being targeted within their community by threats and reprisals if they were identified. It is argued that reprisals might be both physical against them and against their homes. There would be a real risk of serious bullying at school. I am told that the effect on the children is potentially devastating.

 

 

  1. Significant evidence has been put before me as to the risk that the children will suffer significant harm
    1. The evidence that has been placed before me comes into exactly this category. It is from a very experienced social worker, Carol Jones, who is well aware of local conditions. I also have evidence from the Guardian (albeit that she has only relatively recently been appointed in this case) and from the consultant psychiatrist, Dr D.

 

 

    1. Carol Jones says that, for reasons explained in her evidence, the family are easily identifiable. She is concerned that the community may, wrongly, feel that the family has been treated differently because of their background. She tells me that something similar happened to another family in the locality where there was a conviction for child murder. She adds that, if there is no custodial sentence, that may itself fuel resentment.

 

    1. She goes on to say that, if the application for the Reporting Restriction Order fails, the Local Authority has decided that it will have to remove the family immediately to a completely new area of the country and give them new identities. This, of itself, shows how very seriously this matter is viewed. If this happens, the children will lose the stability that has been painstakingly acquired since the tragic events of 2006 and 2007. They will also lose the consistency and security of their schools that have provided them with significant stability, notwithstanding the difficulties faced by the family. They will lose friendship groups. I accept everything that Ms Jones writes.

 

    1. The Guardian, Joanne Bamford, says that she is particularly concerned about one of the children, who is well aware of what has happened. That child has found the stress of the last few months increasingly intolerable and is exhibiting signs of anger and frustration. Ms Bamford considers exposure will have a particularly devastating impact upon that child who uses Facebook and will be exposed to what is written about the family. The child may well be bullied and threatened. There is concern as to the child’s mental health and even the possibility of self-harm or even attempted suicide. I accept all this evidence as well.

 

 

  1. As noted above, the Local Authority has prepared a Safety Plan that involves immediate relocation out of the Swansea area even before the reaction of the public is tested, so serious are the concerns. In my view, the effect of all this on the children will be nothing short of devastating. In due course, they will all know that one of their siblings has died and that another sibling was seriously injured. These events happened as a result of the actions of their Mother, who they love so much. None of this was in any way their responsibility yet they are the ones who would now suffer the most. They would have to move home and school. They would lose their friends and all that is familiar to them. They would have to change their identities. Moreover, in all likelihood, they would suffer significant vilification and abuse. Once this is all clear, it becomes immediately clear why this is such an exceptional case.

 

 

This case is a good illustration that there’s a tension between public policy and interest that people who commit crimes should be identified and their crimes reported and the privacy of children who have done nothing wrong but might face serious detriment or harm if the local community linked them to the mother who committed these crimes. It is that tension, otherwise expressed as article 10 (freedom of expression) v article 8 (right to private life) that the Court had to wrestle with.

The law as it relates to this particular case

 

    1. I have already said that, very responsibly, having considered all the evidence, the media organisations represented before me accept that this is one of those very few wholly exceptional cases in which anonymity is justified not just for the children but also for the Mother (and Father) because identifying the parents will lead to identification of the children.

 

 

    1. I agree with that assessment. I am solely concerned in this regard with the effect on the children, not the effect on their Mother but the evidence points inexorably to serious harm being done to the children if their identity was to become known. The fact that the Local Authority considers, rightly in my view, that it would have to uproot them immediately from the area where the children have lived for many years, if I was to refuse to make the Reporting Restriction Order, is clear evidence of the serious damage such exposure will do.

 

 

    1. I am, however; equally clear that I must permit reporting of anything that does not lead to the identification of the children. I must therefore assess what is likely to lead to their identification and what can safely be put in the public domain without leading to their identification. I accept the submission of the Local Authority and the parents, with which the media organisations do not dissent, that, in dealing with this area, I must consider “the jigsaw effect“. In other words, I must remember that there may be an individual piece of evidence that itself may not lead to identification but that is likely to do so if combined with other pieces of information also placed in the public domain.

 

    1. It is accepted that they would be identified if their name was known. It is for this reason that it is accepted that the Mother and Father’s names must be given anonymity as well as those of the children. I also remind myself that there may be a significant number of people who know that this family lost a baby in 2006.

 

The individual issues

    1. The first issue I had been asked to consider was whether or not to permit reference to the family’s origin. I am absolutely clear that such reporting must be prevented as was agreed by the media once they had read the further papers. Having considered the statistics relating to persons from that country living in the Swansea area, I am quite satisfied that, if any reference had been made to their origin, there would have been a likelihood of exposure.

 

    1. I will therefore now turn to deal with the areas that remain in dispute.

 

 

    1. The first issue was whether or not there could be reference to their religious faith. Again I have considered the statistics in relation to this and I have come to the clear conclusion that permitting disclosure of her religious faith would also be likely to lead to identification of the children. I therefore refuse to do so.

 

    1. I consider that it also follows that the media should not be entitled to name AZ. It certainly points to a family of their origin. I have come to the conclusion that AZ should be referred to as “A” and BZ as “B”.

 

    1. Ms Gallagher perfectly properly pointed out at the end of the submissions that the draft Reporting Restrictions Order would appear to permit the media to report how the Mother came to be in this country. The other parties were surprised by this as they had assumed that this would not be possible. I was therefore additionally asked to decide on that.

 

    1. I am particularly aware of the fact that the Z family are not living in an area where there are a significant number of people who might potentially have this background. I have come to the same conclusion in relation to this aspect. In other words, I consider that permitting disclosure would run too high a risk of identification.

 

    1. Finally, there is the question of the composition of the family. I consider that very different considerations apply here although I am still concerned about naming the exact number of the children. To do so would immediately show that this is a family with a particular number of surviving children plus one deceased in 2006. I do not believe there are likely to be many families in the Swansea area in that category and certainly not where they live. It therefore follows that I consider it would be to run too high a risk to permit naming of the number of the children.

 

  1. I do not, however, see that there is any reason to prevent reporting that the parents are separated. Indeed, it would be surprising if they were not. Equally, I consider there is no reason to prevent the media saying that there is more than one surviving sibling and that they see their Mother. Further, I consider that it is appropriate to report, if the media wishes to do so, that, since the institution of care proceedings, her care of them when with her has, at all times, been exemplary.

 

[This latter bit explains the earlier suggestions about how giving much of the family's background would easily identify them - let's pretend for hypothesis sake that they are Martians, and have green skin and surnames like M'Hxtelkraw, and you can then see what is being hinted at, and also the talk of 'how the family entered the country' makes sense of the earlier suggestion that the local community might, wrongly, feel that they had been treated differently because of their background]

 

The Press were very responsible in this case – reading between the lines, this would be a very newsworthy story, particularly for the more erm… ‘traditional’ newspapers for whom the story would have pursued several agendas, but they recognised and accepted the balance between the children’s welfare and running a juicy story.

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.

It’s clobbering time ! Or not, as it turns out – Italian C-section case, the President’s judgment

 

Thanks to Jerry for tweeting that this was up – I didn’t even know there was an application. Okay, if you have been on a desert island in December – the Sunday Telegraph ran a story about social workers arranging a c-section for an Italian mother who had had a panic attack so they could steal her baby. A few days later, the press reported that Munby LJ (now the President of the Family Division) had called the case in, and demanding that social workers answer for their dreadful actions.

 

Over the course of a few days, we got more of the official judgments published, and one could see that although there were problems here the luridness of the reporting was not perhaps bourne out by the actual facts. (There are legitimate public debates about whether the mother’s representation in these situations is forceful enough against the State’s wishes, whether there should be a higher test for judicial declarations on c-sections, whether the placement order judgment made before Re B, Re B-S et al would now survive if we re-ran the case now, whether the State ought to have a mechanism to get the country that the mother is from to seize the case, and a few other bits and pieces) – but the press driven debate of “Should social workers be able to impose a c-section to snatch a baby” is a non-starter. The answer is an emphatic, no, they shouldn’t. Which is why they don’t.

 

Anyway, the case found its way to the President, ostensibly as a return of the Reporting Restriction Order (see last blog), although it appears that part of the thinking was that the President was about to open up a can of whoop ass on social workers.

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/4048.html

On 3 December 2013 a national newspaper ran a front page story under the headline ‘EXLAIN WHY YOU SNATHCHED BABY AT BIRTH’. The strapline, ‘Judge’s order to social workers behind forced caesarean’, was elaborated in the accompanying article, which stated that I had “demanded to know why the girl should not be reunited with her mother”. That was simply not so. All I had done was as I have set out above. I had directed no hearing. How could I? And I had given no directions as to the evidence that might be required at some future hearing of an application that had not yet been made. How could I? All I had done was to direct that any further application was to be heard by me. In other words, if any application was made, either in the Court of Protection or in the family court, I would hear it. That was all. Unhappily this canard has been much repeated in the media.

 

What the President does say is that the case raises important principles which are worthy of discussion, and building on his judgment in Re J, considers that transparency and being able to see the judgments and scrutinise them is a vital part of that.

 

    1. In the present case, as typically, a number of competing interests are engaged, protected by Articles 6, 8 and 10 of the Convention. Three competing interests, in particular, have to be considered here. I take them in no particular order.

 

    1. The public has an interest in knowing and discussing what has been done in this case, both in the Court of Protection and in the Chelmsford County Court. Given the circumstances of the case and the extreme gravity of the issues which here confronted the courts – whether to order an involuntary caesarean section and whether to place a child for adoption despite the protests of the mother – it is hard to imagine a case which more obviously and compellingly requires that public debate be free and unrestricted.

 

    1. The mother has an equally obvious and compelling claim to be allowed to tell her story to the world. I repeat what I have on previous occasions (see most recently Re J, para 36) about 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 and likewise being able to criticise local authorities and others. I repeat what I said last week (Re P [2013] EWHC 4037 (Fam), para 4):

 

“The mother wishes to complain publicly about the way in which the courts in this country have handled her and her daughter. The court should be very slow indeed before preventing a parent doing what the mother wishes to do in the present case.”

If ever there was a case in which that right should not be curtailed it is surely this case. To deny this mother in the circumstances of this case the right to speak out – and, I emphasise, to speak out, if this is her wish, using her own name and displaying her own image – would be affront not merely to the law but also, surely, to any remotely acceptable concept of human dignity and, indeed, humanity itself.

    1. P also, it should go without saying, has an equally compelling claim to privacy and anonymity.

 

  1. How then, in the final analysis, is the court to balance these competing demands?

 

The Judge defends, to an extent, some of the inaccurate and tendentious reporting

 

    1. Before parting from the case there are two points that require to be addressed with honesty and candour. Both relate to the fact that, when this story first ‘broke’ on 1 December 2013, none of the relevant information was in the public domain in this country.

 

    1. The first point is this: How can the family justice system blame the media for inaccuracy in the reporting of family cases if for whatever reason none of the relevant information has been put before the public?

 

  1. The second point is, if anything, even more important. This case must surely stand as final, stark and irrefutable demonstration of the pressing need for radical changes in the way in which both the family courts and the Court of Protection approach what for shorthand I will refer to as transparency. We simply cannot go on as hitherto. Many more judgments must be published. And, as this case so very clearly demonstrates, that applies not merely to the judgments of |High Court Judges; it applies also to the judgments of Circuit Judges.

 

It is a reasonable point. Whilst the placement order hearing had little of public import until the case broke, my view is that every Court of Protection declaration judgment ought to be published in anonymised form. Looking at the law reports, there are such few c-section cases reported since the introduction of the Mental Capacity Act, I think all of them ought to be published as a matter of routine – Mostyn J’s judgment was important and should have been published and available even before this furore. If it had been, it is likely that when the story broke, factual inaccuracies could have been put right (or heaven forbid, the journalists involved might even have tried to find the judgments)

I also happen to believe that any family court application for a Reporting Restriction Order should be published in such anonymised form as is necessary to protect the individuals privacy. We can’t have family law becoming like super-injunctions, where we don’t get told that there is something we can’t know.  (The RROs in this case were put up very promptly, which does the Court service and the judges involved a lot of credit)

 

Munby does have a word of caution for the Press, however

 

think I should repeat what I said earlier this year when addressing the Annual Conference of the Society of Editors:

 

“dare I suggest that the media should remember the great C P Scott’s famous aphorism that “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” I recently gave a judgment that received coverage in the media. A legal commentator* suggested that readers might wish to compare and contrast what I had actually said with how it was reported: “Compare. And contrast … And weep.””

 

*Waves at Pink Tape

 

 

“Don’t put your daughter on the stage – if you want to claim Disability Living Allowance for her”

The High Court have just published twin judgments on an interesting case, relating to reporting restriction orders – Re Z  v News Group Newspapers 2013

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/1150.html

 Is the first one, at which the Reporting Restriction order was sought and obtained  (I think with a late sitting hour)

 http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2013/1371.html

 Is the second one, at which the Court determined how that Reporting Restriction Order would be altered if the outcome of the criminal trial was that mother was convicted.

 It is a peculiar one, since although the children in the case were pivotal to the offences, they were neither victims of the alleged offences, nor witnesses in the criminal trial, which meant that all of the restrictions on reporting from the criminal trial which would otherwise ensure the anonymity of the children were dislodged.

 It became apparent to the children’s father that the national press were interested in the story (for reasons which will become apparent) and he therefore made a stand-alone application to the family courts for a Reporting Restriction Order.   These two cases are a very good summary of the competing interests of article 8 privacy, and article 10 freedom of the press.

 Why was the Press interested?  Well, this background  (and the current context of ‘benefit cheats’ ) explains why

  1. Mrs Z is the mother of eight children. They are A (aged 23), B (aged 21), C (aged 19), D (aged 16), E (aged 15), F (aged 12), G (aged 9), and H (aged 7).
  1. The Applicant is the father of D, E, F, G, and H. It is the Applicant’s case (see para.4 application) that the oldest six children (A, B, C, D, E and F) all have special needs. Five of the mother’s children, A, C, D, E, and F are cited in the indictments to which I have referred (and which I discuss more fully below); of those, three of them (D, E and F) are currently minor children.
  1. The trial of Mrs Z focuses on a number of claims for Disability Living Allowance (DLA), Carer’s Allowance (in respect of the child C) and other tax credits which Mrs Z is alleged to have made in respect of a number of her children, over an extended period of ten years.
  1. The prosecution case, in summary, is that Mrs Z was not entitled to those non-means tested benefits, and she knew that she was not so entitled. It is alleged that Mrs Z had made these claims based on the assertion that five of the children “suffered from problems with their speech and language, physical disabilities, mental health problems and severe learning disabilities and behavioural problems” (§1.4 prosecuting opening note) including “handicaps, phobias and intolerances e.g. ‘difficulty with walking’, ‘poor co-ordination’, ‘poor spatial awareness’, ‘unclear speech’, ‘fear of crowds’, ‘difficulty following instructions’, ‘difficulties getting dressed’, ‘cant wash or bathe’ and ‘needs help with toilet’” (§1.4 ibid.). These claims were reported to be independently verified, including (in some respects) by a consultant paediatrician, Dr. K.
  1. Proof of the falsity of the claims, asserts the prosecution, is that the disabilities and problems which Mrs Z claimed her children were suffering were not compatible with their various activities and other achievements. In particular, for periods of time when Mrs Z was asserting (for the purposes of the benefit claim) that the children suffered “various disabilities and conditions which materially affected their care and/or mobility needs” (see §1.3 prosecuting opening note), they were (according to the Crown) all in mainstream school, successful in their academic subjects, and apparently able to undertake physical exercise in school.
  1. Perhaps most notably, it is said that three of the children attended a specialist theatre school, became successful child actors/actresses and appeared in amateur and professional productions in regional theatres, and even on the West End stage, including appearances in a number of well-known and successful productions; they appeared on the television. In their theatrical and public roles they were said to be involved in acting, dancing, and singing – “wholly inconsistent” (says the Crown: §1.9) “with the care and mobility needs described by the defendant“.

 

 

Yes, one can see in the light of that, and the information that the total sum of alleged fraud with which mother was charged amounted to £365,000 , why there were print journalists at the trial, frantically licking their pencil tips and writing punning headlines   (for shame, punning headlines are a dreadful sin)

 So, the competing interests here were in the press being able to report on a criminal trial   [see the quotation below from the Trinity Mirror case] and on the protection of children who were, although not victims per se of the alleged offences, were certainly innocent of them and who might very well be stigmatised were their identities made public

 

  1. In our judgment it is impossible to over-emphasise the importance to be attached to the ability of the media to report criminal trials. In simple terms this represents the embodiment of the principle of open justice in a free country. An important aspect of the public interest in the administration of criminal justice is that the identity of those convicted and sentenced for criminal offences should not be concealed. Uncomfortable though it may frequently be for the defendant that is a normal consequence of his crime. Moreover the principle protects his interests too, by helping to secure the fair trial which, in Lord Bingham of Cornhill’s memorable epithet, is the defendant’s “birthright”. From time to time occasions will arise where restrictions on this principle are considered appropriate, but they depend on express legislation, and, where the Court is vested with a discretion to exercise such powers, on the absolute necessity for doing so in the individual case“.

 

 

 

The Court were unsurprisingly taken to a very recent authority balancing article 8 and article 10, particularly on preserving anonymity of children in a case where their mother was convicted of remarkable offences clearly in the public interest to report  – the case bears careful reading, if you have not already encountered it

 

 

  1. The application of the balancing exercise can be found in a number of cases in the Family Division, and increasingly in the Court of Protection. One of the most recent decisions is that of Peter Jackson J in A Council v M, F, and others [2012] EWHC 2038 (Fam) in which he said this (at §82-84):

82. The resolution of this conflict of legitimate interests can only be achieved by close attention to the circumstances that actually exist in the individual case. As Sir Mark Potter has said, the approach must be hard-headed and even, from the point of view of this jurisdiction, hard-hearted.

83. Rights arising under Art. 8 on the one hand and Art. 10 on the other are different in quality. Art. 8 rights are by their nature of crucial importance to a few, while Art. 10 rights are typically of general importance to many. The decided cases, together with s.12(4) HRA, act as a strong reminder that the rights of the many should not be undervalued and incrementally eroded in response to a series of hard cases of individual misfortune.

84. On the other hand, there is no hierarchy of rights in this context and there are cases where individual rights must prevail. In highly exceptional cases this can even include making inroads into the fundamental right to report criminal proceedings, but only where that is absolutely necessary.

 

I respectfully adopt this analysis.

 

 

The Court tried very hard to balance what could or could not go into the public domain, and recognised the legitimate public interest in the public knowing that taxpayers money earmarked for the most deserving and needy of families had been diverted by means of fraud.   Whilst the criminal trial was pending, a widely drawn Reporting Restriction Order was in place.

 

The Press, understandably, wanted to test whether this would be more narrowly drawn if the mother went on to be convicted at trial, hence the second judgment.

 

The Judge did indeed draw the order more narrowly, whilst still striving to protect the anonymity of the children,

 

  1. In reaching conclusions on the supporting information, I have sought to strike the appropriate balance between competing Convention rights, guarding against disproportionate interference with each. In this respect I have concluded that if, but only if, such publication is likely to lead to the identification of the children, adult children, or Mr Z as being involved or named in the criminal proceedings heard at the named Crown Court, and/or as being the children of the defendant (hereafter Mrs Z):

i) There shall be no publication or broadcasting of the forenames of the children, including the adult children, so as to protect, as far as I am able, some cherished rights to privacy; this applies particularly for the child E, and to a lesser extent D and F, but in view of my intention to reduce identification and unwarranted intrusion into family life for their sake and generally, the other children too;

ii) For the same reason, there shall be no reporting of any picture being or including a picture of either the children, the adult children, or the Applicant Mr Z;

iii) Given that the Applicant, Mr Z, is likely to be assuming the care of the younger children in the event that Mrs Z receives a custodial sentence, there shall be no reporting of his forename, consistent with my desire to respect so far as is possible some Article 8 privacy for the children;

iv) There shall be no reporting of any medical conditions or disabilities which the children (whether adult or minor) are said to suffer other than those conditions or disabilities which were said to have been reported by Mrs Z in the context of her claims for benefit; for the avoidance of doubt, there shall be no public reporting of the contents of the recent CAMHS letter concerning child E;

v) There can be identification of the Crown Court (and the trial Judge) at which the trial has taken place, and the County in which the family live. No more specific information relevant to the address or location of the family is justified;

vi) There will be no restriction on reporting of the fact that the children concerned are a sibling group of eight. In reaching my conclusion on this aspect, which I found less easy than other aspects to resolve, I took the view that this information did not of itself materially add to the identification of the family in such a way as to interfere with their Article 8 rights, given the general availability of other information which will be available in accordance with my order.

 And you will note that this obviously allows the naming of Mrs Z, and publication of photographs of her, allows for the facts outlined in the background already included to be published.

 The Judge ends with a very pithy conclusion

 In my judgment, those who cheat the over-stretched resources of the welfare state can neither generally nor reasonably expect to escape the proper reporting of their wrongdoing, or hope to achieve the concealment of their identities. It is with considerable regret that in varying the Reporting Restriction Order in the event of a conviction, I will expose the children of Mrs Z to the risk of identification. A guilty verdict would reflect the jury’s satisfaction that Mrs Z had improperly used her children as innocent instruments of her crime; if this is the outcome of the criminal process, then it is she alone who has unhappily heaped upon her family the misery, shame and disadvantage, which is the inevitable consequence of her offending.

“Friendly McKenzie, writing the words of a sermon that no one will hear”

{Am hoping for no more McKenzie Friend cases for a while, as am out of puns… }

 The Court of Appeal have decided another McKenzie Friend case – judgment not up on Baiili yet, so all comments qualified by the fact that I haven’t been able to read the judgment itself.

 RE F (CHILDREN) (2013)

 

In this case, the mother had been involved in care proceedings, a finding of non accidental injury was made and Care Orders had been made. The mother applied for permission to appeal and asked for M to be her McKenzie Friend. M produced a document in support of mother’s case.

 The LA objected to this McKenzie Friend being involved, and the Court heard the request for M to be mother’s McKenzie Friend without M being able to come into Court.

 The application was refused and thereafter the mother refused to participate in the proceedings on the basis that her article 6 rights had been breached. She then appealed.

 The Court of Appeal held that the Judge had been entitled to refuse M becoming a McKenzie Friend, although there was a presumption that a litigant in person should be able to have a McKenzie Friend, and also that the Judge was entitled to determine that although M had not been allowed to come into Court.

 Frankly, this case seemed to hinge on M herself, and the document submitted. (This is the extract from Lawtel’s summary, other case law websites are available)

 

The relevant Practice Guidance also assumed that the proposed McKenzie friend would be in court on the application for permission to act. However, the judge’s decision in this case could not be faulted. He had seen the statement produced by M. It was a striking document.

It made clear that M had embarked on a campaign concerning the family justice system and the conduct of the local authority, that she did not respect the confidentiality of the family justice system in other cases and in the instant case, and that she did not understand the role of a McKenzie friend, which was to assist with presentation of the case in court in a neutral manner.

It was clear that M had a personal interest in the instant case and expected to give evidence to make good her contentions. Her ability to be a McKenzie friend had been compromised by the statement. She claimed that she had the permission of those involved to disclose details of other cases, but the confidentiality of family proceedings was a matter for the court. 

Mother was entitled to a McKenzie friend, but M was not a suitable person for that role. If M had been in court on mother’s application, the judge would not have changed his view. He acted within the ambit of his discretion on the basis that M might not respect the confidentiality of the proceedings.

 The confidentiality issue is of course a good point  [although it could, it seems to me, to have been dealt with by making a reporting restriction order, or seeking undertakings]

 but is it a valid reason to refuse someone as a McKenzie Friend because they are a campaigner opposed to the current family justice system, and perhaps have strident views about it?

 They might not be the best person to coolly advise and assist the litigant in person, they might not be the best person for the role, but if they follow the Practice Direction (and if not, the Court warns them that they may have to be excluded)  shouldn’t the parent be able to choose who they want?

 A parent who has had their child removed might very well want someone assisting them who is of the view that family proceedings often get things wrong, that children are unnecessarily removed, that social work decisions need to be questioned.

 If one, for example, were choosing between John Hemming MP and Martin Narey, to be your McKenzie Friend   (and other McKenzie Friends are of course available, this is just as an illustration)  I can see perfectly well why as a parent you might want the one who is critical of the fairness of the current system.

 It appears to be that the document was so peculiar and wide of the mark that it spoke for itself.  And that if the M had held those views, but was respectful of the rules of behaviour and confidentiality, she could have acted as McKenzie Friend for mother.  I hope, and suspect, that this will be plain in the full judgment, that it is not the beliefs that M held that made her unsuitable, but the actions she took as a result of those beliefs.

The Court of Appeal do make it plain that mother is entitled to a McKenzie Friend, just not this one.

 Provided the McKenzie Friend conducts themselves properly in Court, it seems to me that a parent is entitled to seek out help from the person they choose; just as a parent who is represented is entitled to prefer to have a ‘tenacious’ barrister rather than a ‘dispassionate, forensic’ one to represent them.

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