There is a new Reporting Restriction Order case up – Re TM 2013, decided by Holman J. In this case, there is a blanket ban on publication of information about the case, in a very wide sense.
The purpose of these few words is solely to explain why I am imposing temporarily what has just been described as a blanket injunction on any reporting whatsoever – whether in a newspaper, by broadcast, or in any form of web-based communication – of the existence of these proceedings or anything that has taken place in court today. I do so because that is, of course, a very strong and grave restriction on the Convention right of freedom of expression which underpins the democratic rights of us all. These proceedings were listed for hearing in public, and every single word of them today has taken place in public, with journalists present in the court room. I am now delivering this short judgment in public, but this judgment, like everything else that has been said today, will also be the subject of the same temporary blanket restraint.
That immediately makes one reach for Roget’s Thesaurus of “Secret Court Outrage phrases”, but bear with me.
The Judge goes on to point out that the parents did not attend this hearing, and that part of the reason for the blanket ban on publication of details is that it would be truly ghastly for them if they were to read a story in the Press about what was happening to their child and learn something new from that reporting, rather than from the doctors caring for the child.
- I have been very concerned throughout today at the complete absence from the courtroom of either parent or any representative on their behalves. It is very sad indeed that there has been this breakdown, which I hope is only temporary, between the parents and the hospital concerned, and I am extremely anxious that every possible step is taken to seek to repair the damage. There is a local authority social worker who knows the parents well, and steps are being taken, as I understand it, to see if that social worker can directly visit and engage with the parents.
- There is a real risk here that if I conclude today’s hearing with some final judgment and decision, that may serve only to deepen, rather than heal, the difficulties that currently arise. It is not difficult to imagine that a parent, who already feels in some state of disagreement or even conflict with a hospital, may feel all the more aggrieved if he or she learns that some legal proceedings have taken place, as it were, behind their back. It is desperately important that as soon as reasonably possible the relationship between the mother and the child herself resumes, and desperately important, if at all possible, that the advised medical treatment moves forward consensually rather than as a result of some court order from the outside.
- Because I am not able to be satisfied that either parent has been appropriately served, it seems to me that I have really no alternative but to adjourn this hearing. The treating doctor, Dr J C FRCS, has given extremely careful, measured, clear and sensitive evidence today. He has made clear that there is no serious risk of harm to the child if there is a delay of a few days in moving to the next stage of treatment, however much they might have wished to have done so now or even before today. So this is not a situation of such urgency that a grave risk to the child would override considerations even of justice to a parent.
- For those reasons, I am clear that I must adjourn this case part-heard to next Tuesday, which has been identified as the only available clear court day next week. The reason why I make the blanket injunction against the press really arises very obviously out of the facts that I have just described. I wish to make plain that I, as much as any judge, and perhaps more than many, am very committed indeed to open justice, particularly in this type of case. The press are very welcome in the court room; and, so far as I am concerned, provided the identity of a child and his or her immediate family is protected, they are normally very welcome fully to report anything and everything that is said in the courtroom. But it is obvious that in the current situation it could be little short of catastrophic – when I am not sure that either (or both) parents are even properly aware of these proceedings – if either parent were to turn on their wireless or open their newspaper this evening or tomorrow morning or over the weekend and read something there which revealed to them (however anonymised it might be) that some public proceedings had taken place in relation to their child in a courtroom. That clearly could have a devastating effect on relationships between the parents and the hospital, with a severe knock-on, damaging effect on the relationship even between the parents and their child.
As Holman J points out, he is a judge who is very keen on transparency, and having to take this step made him somewhat uncomfortable, but that given that the facts of the case would be likely to identify the child (at least to the parents) they ought not to learn of these important issues in the papers.
A difficult one, and one hopes that the parents re-engage with the process and attend the hearing which will move the case forward. Whether they agree with the treatment or not, it is going to be important for their views to be heard.
Obviously, with an RRO having been made, I would be unable to have comments that go further than the information set out in the judgment, and would prefer not to discuss the particular case at all (as we don’t know what we don’t know).
I do however, applaud the publication of the RRO and agree completely with Lucy over at Pink Tape about the importance of RRO judgments being published as soon as possible – for two reasons – they sometimes raise issues of public importance which can be discussed whilst keeping carefully within the RRO terms, and secondly that publication of them means that they are less likely to be inadvertently breached.
UPDATE – the parents did engage with the second hearing, and a judgment that gives more information is provided here – there is still an RRO on identifying those involved, or going into more detail that is in the judgment. The RRO was served on broadcasters as well as print media. Very sad situation for everyone concerned.