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Woman who sparked versus Magical Sparkle Powers

You might remember this Court of Protection case

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/12/02/a-life-that-sparkles/

where a woman was found by the Court of Protection to have capacity to refuse medical treatment, even though doing so would be likely to bring about her death. The woman had some unusual (though capacitous) ideas about how she wanted to live, and she preferred to leave life whilst she still felt glamourous and sparkling, rather than to limp on in life and eventually fade away. It was an interesting case, with a lot to debate. As a result of this decision, she did die, leaving three children, one of whom was still a minor. Very sad case.

Sadly, some of the mainstream Press, having spent years sobbing outside the doors of the Court of Protection wanting to be let in to report responsibly, rather let themselves down, with the reporting they carried out

 

 

  • The application came before me on 9 December 2015. In summary, the statements filed in support of it show that:

 

i) V and G have been distressed by having to be involved in the COP proceedings, and by the extensive media interest in the information about C and their family that was provided to the COP, which appears to them to have been precipitated not only by a wish to report and comment on the bases on which the COP reached its decision but also to attract prurient interest in their mother’s sexual and relationship history (including her relationship with her children V, G and A).ii) At the time of the hearing before MacDonald J, neither V nor G anticipated the possibility that C and her family would be named in the press and that photographs of them would be published. Their attention was entirely taken up with the decision the COP was required to make and its implications.

iii) C’s youngest daughter, A, is a teenager who was already suffering from fragile mental health which has manifested itself in her physical conduct. The suicide attempt of her mother and her subsequent refusal of life-sustaining treatment despite A’s request to her to accept treatment, with which A had a direct and stressful involvement, have understandably had an appalling impact on A’s emotional and psychological wellbeing.

iv) A has already been negatively affected by the media coverage of the family, despite attempts by her father to shield her from it. Inevitably, A has now been told about certain very limited aspects of the COP’s reasoning, including negative descriptions of her mother’s character, which have upset her further. A’s father and one of her teachers are sure that if her mother is named, this will have an even more serious effect on A’s mental wellbeing and her ability to cope at school. V also asks the court to have regard to the serious risks of harassment of A not only directly from people around her, e.g. at school, but also on the internet including and in particular through social media.

v) There have been numerous attempts by journalists to contact the family and people with a previous relationship with C and her children.

vi) Family photographs have been obtained and published in a pixelated form.

 

  • Before the reporting restrictions order was extended:

 

i) At around 5.30 pm on Wednesday 2 December 2015 a reporter from the Daily Mail went to the home of A’s father (an ex-husband of C) where A lives. A answered the door and without saying who she was the reporter asked to speak to her father using his name, V asked who she was and was told that she was a journalist from the Daily Mail, A’s father came downstairs and the journalist asked if he would talk to her about his ex-wife. He refused and the journalist left.ii) On the evening of 2 December 2015 a reporter from the Mail on Sunday was asking questions about C in one of the pubs in the village where A and her father live. This was reported to V by friends in the village.

 

  • More generally, the evidence indicates that on unspecified dates (a) the Daily Mail and the Sun contacted C’s third ex-husband in America, and (b) a journalist went to see the husband of the housekeeper of flats where G had once lived seeking G’s current details on the basis that he was writing a memorial piece about G’s mother and was sure that G would want to speak to him. During his visit he opened C’s Facebook page.
  • Some of the coverage contains pixelated photographs of C, V and G. It is plain that some of these photographs have been chosen as photographs that emphasise the aspects of the published accounts that are of prurient interest and there is at least a risk, particularly in respect to C, that she would be recognised by some people.
  • Examples of reporting in the Times (4 December), the Daily Mail (6 December) and the Sun Online (6 December), are highlighted by V:

 

i) the Times ran a pixelated photograph of C on its front page with a caption “Voluntary death. The socialite allowed to die at 50 rather than grow old had a narcissistic disorder, doctors said. A court ruling blocked her identification. Page 7”. The article at page 7 was under the headline: “I won’t become an old banger” there was a further pixelated photograph of C standing by a car and a pixelated photograph of one of C’s adult daughters,ii) the Daily Mail at pages 26 and 27 published the same pixelated photograph as that on the front page of the Times and the article had the headline: “Revealed: Truth about the socialite who chose death over growing old and ugly —- and the troubling questions over a judge’s decision to let her do it”. Near the end of the article it is stated: “For the husband and daughters she leaves behind, the manner of her death is heartbreaking”, and

iii) the Sun Online has two headlines: “Mum who fought to die was “man eater obsessed with sex, cars and cash” and “A Socialite who chose to die at 50 rather than grow old was a “man eater obsessed with sex, money and cars”, a pal claimed yesterday” and published two pixelated photographs of C at a younger age each showing her with a drink in hand. In one in which she is wearing a low-cut party dress and in the other she is raising her skirt, standing by a vintage motor car and wearing what appears to be the same outfit as she is wearing in the photograph on the front page of the Times and in the Daily Mail.

 

There’s an old Aesop fable about a frog and a scorpion. The scorpion wants to cross a river and asks the frog if he can ride across on the frog’s back. No, the frog responds, you’ll sting me and I’ll die. Wait, says the scorpion, if I was foolish enough to sting you whilst we were crossing, we’d both die – you from the sting, but I would drown, so it won’t be in my interests to sting you. The frog agrees. Midway across the river, the scorpion begins stinging the frog. The frog shouts, if you keep doing that, we’ll both die. The scorpion says, I know, but it’s in my nature.

 

frog-scorpion

It really isn’t in the longer term interests of the Press to sting the frog of transparency by using that additional access to behave so irresponsibly and despicably, but it’s in their nature.

Anyhow, this is Charles J’s decision on the Reporting Restriction Order.

V v Associated Newspapers Ltd 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWCOP/2016/21.html

 

The first law Geeky point, hence the title, is what jurisdiction the Court of Protection have to make a Reporting Restriction Order. The argument goes like this :- (a) The Court of Protection exists to determine whether a person has capacity, and if not, what is in their best interests and you have already ruled that this woman HAD capacity, so your involvement stops and (b) as she is now dead, whatever jurisdiction you had over her affairs is now gone. Decent points.

Charles J concluded that the CoP did still have jurisdiction, and in any event, if they don’t, then the High Court will just use Magical Sparkle Powers (TM)

 

  • I have concluded:

 

(1) The COP has jurisdiction after the finding that C had capacity and her death to make the reporting restrictions order sought by the Applicant but insofar as it may be necessary or appropriate I will also make it as a High Court judge.

There is a longer answer here:-

Jurisdiction of the COP to make a reporting restrictions / anonymity order after it has determined that C had capacity and/ or after C’s death

  • As I have already mentioned this jurisdictional point is raised by the media Respondents but they do not resist me making an injunction as a High Court judge. They base the argument on the finding of capacity made by MacDonald J. The Applicant addresses the relevant jurisdictional effect of this finding and of C’s death.
  • The media Respondents rely by analogy on In re Trinity Mirror Plc and others [2008] QB 770 concerning s.45(4) of the Supreme Court Act 1981 which provided that in “all other matters incidental to its jurisdiction” the Crown Court was to have the like powers, rights, privileges and authority as the High Court. The Court of Appeal held that the Crown Court has no inherent jurisdiction to grant injunctions and that unless “the proposed injunction is directly linked to the exercise of the Crown Court’s jurisdiction and the exercise of its statutory functions, the appropriate jurisdiction is lacking”.
  • Section 47 of the MCA is worded slightly differently and provides that: “the court has in connection with its jurisdiction the same powers, rights, privileges and authority as the High Court”. It is generally accepted that the COP does not have an inherent jurisdiction so the issue is whether it can grant an injunction because it is exercising that power “in connection with its jurisdiction“.
  • At the time that the reporting restrictions order was made in this case by Moor J, sitting as a judge of the COP, I consider that it is clear that he was making that order in connection with the jurisdiction of the COP to determine initially whether or not C had capacity. In my view, it follows that he could in reliance on s. 47 have made that order for a period extending beyond any finding made that C had capacity, or the death of C (as to which see further below), if he had thought that that was appropriate. He did not do so.
  • The effect of the argument of the media Respondents is that if the hearing on 13 November 2015 had been before a judge, other than a High Court judge (which is not the practice in serious medical treatment cases but could occur in other cases) that judge having determined and announced his decision that C had capacity as a judge of the COP had no jurisdiction to continue, vary or discharge the injunction granted by Moor J. To my mind, that would be an unfortunate and odd result particularly, for example, if C had asked for it to be discharged. However, in my view, it does not arise because I consider that the termination, continuation or variation of an injunction made by the COP in the exercise of its jurisdiction conferred by s. 47 would also be within the jurisdiction so conferred as being “in connection with its jurisdiction”.
  • However, by its terms the injunction that was granted by Moor J expired on the death of C and so the present application is for a new injunction that was made at a time when for two reasons the COP no longer had jurisdiction over C and was therefore functus officio.
  • The Applicant points to a number of sections in the MCA which give the COP jurisdiction to make orders in respect of persons whether they have or lack capacity (see ss 15 (1)(c), 21A, 23 and 26(3)) but, in my view, this does not provide an answer because in this case the COP was not exercising jurisdiction under any of those sections.
  • To my mind the question on this application is whether the COP has power to grant a new injunction because it relates to proceedings that were before it although by reason of its decision and/or the death of P it no longer has any jurisdiction to make the welfare order sought. The answer is determined by considering whether in those circumstances it is exercising a power “in connection with its jurisdiction“. In my view the answer is that it is. This is because, in my view, the nature and extent of the relevant Article 8 rights relied on flows from the existence of the earlier proceedings before the COP, in which it exercised its jurisdiction and I see no reason to construe s. 47 to limit the power it confers to the period during which that jurisdiction continues to exist over the subject of the proceedings.
  • Indeed, I agree with the Applicant that the principle that legislation should be interpreted so far as possible to be compatible with Convention rights supports this conclusion because:

i) it promotes the grain of the legislation (the MCA), andii) it enables the court best placed to carry out the balancing exercise between competing Convention rights to perform that exercise.

  • That grain links back to the points I have already made that the jurisdiction of the COP invades not only the life of its subject P but also on many occasions the lives of others and in particular P’s family members.
  • Conclusion. I can make the injunction sought as a judge of the COP and I do so. However to avoid any jurisdictional argument in the future, and if and so far as this is necessary, I also make it as a High Court judge exercising the jurisdiction of that court.

 

The central issue here was whether the Press could report the story, and deal with both the human interest angle and the issue for public debate (the case being categorised – incorrectly, as a ‘right to die’ case, which is always interesting to the public – in fact, it is not a development of law at all, because people with capacity have always been able to refuse medical treatment, which is all that happened here) WITHOUT identifying the woman at the heart of the story. Clearly, the Press knew who she was, because they were able to doorstep people who knew her, look at her Facebook page and print pixelated images of her.

 

 

  • The naming propositions are reflected in the following points made by Mr Steafel:

 

The Daily Mail considers it has a duty to the public to report fairly and accurately on what happens in the courts. In order to engage the interest of members of the public in the kinds of issues the court decides, it is however necessary to publish articles and reports that people actually want to read. That means telling our readers about the facts of the cases, including the real people and places involved, and sometimes publishing pictures that relate to these people and places.

Where proceedings are anonymised, it is more difficult to engage our readers as the real people involved in the cases are necessarily invisible and the stories therefore lack a vital human dimension. It is human nature to find it more difficult to take an interest in a story about problems arising from, say, dementia or the right to die if the story does not feature identifiable individuals. If we cannot publish stories about important issues that people are drawn to read, this will inevitably limit and reduce the quality of public debate around these issues. It is in my view important in a democratic society that we should encourage informed debate I believe that the media, including the popular press, fulfils a vital function in this regard. By reading about the experiences of others, readers are likely to be able to identify with those people and understand what they are going through. But they are much less engaged – and correspondingly less focused on the surrounding public debate – where they cannot identify with real people, places and events. Pictures are a hugely potent way of engaging readers and one of the problems with covering anonymised cases is that it is impossible to include pictures in our stories which identify those involved.

 

  • I agree that fair and accurate reporting is vital if the public interest is to be promoted and I acknowledge that whether something is fair involves a value judgment and does not equate to it being balanced.
  • On the intense scrutiny that is required of the rival propositions relating to anonymisation I consider that a distinction can be made between (a) cases where pursuant to the default or general position under the relevant Rules or Practice Directions the court is allowing access (or unrestricted access) to the media and the public, and (b) cases in which it is imposing restrictions and so where the court is turning the tap on rather than off. But, I hasten to accept that this distinction:

 

i) simply reflects the strength of the reasoning that underlies the relevant COP Rules and Practice Directions, the established Scott v Scott exceptions and the positon referred to by Lady Hale that in many, perhaps most cases, the important safeguards secured by a public hearing can be secured without the press publishing or the public knowing the identities of the people involved, and soii) provides weight to the general arguments for anonymity to promote the administration of justice by the COP generally and in the given case, and does not

iii) undermine the force of the naming propositions as general propositions, with the consequence that the COP needs to remember that it is not an editor.

 

  • As I have already said (see paragraphs 94 and 95 above) the weight to be given to (a) the naming propositions, and (b) the conclusion on what generally best promotes the administration of justice will vary from case to case and on a staged approach to a particular case the weight of the naming propositions, and so this aspect of the factors that underlie and promote Article 10, will often fall to be taken into account in the context of (i) the validity of the reasons for their application in that case, and (ii) the impact of a departure in that case from the general conclusion on what generally promotes the administration of justice in cases of that type. This means that those reasons and that impact will need to be identified in a number of cases.
  • As I have already mentioned, although he refers to and relies on the naming propositions Mr Steafel does not say why in this case the relevant public interests, rather than the gratification of a prurient curiosity or interest of the public:

 

i) would be or would have been advanced by the identification of C and members of her family in the publicity that took place,ii) was advanced by the reporting that contained pixelated photographs and focused on C’s lifestyle, or

iii) why he says the balance will change on A’s 18th birthday between reporting that does not name C and her family and reporting that does.

Accordingly he does not say, as an editor, why in this case the view expressed by Theis J that “there is no public interest in C or her family being identified” either is wrong or will become wrong when A is 18.

 

The Press had the chance to set out arguments and provide evidence as to why naming the woman was necessary for the proper and accurate reporting, rather than to gratify prurient curiousity, and they did not do so. Nor did they take up the Court’s offer of the ability to file evidence setting out why they felt the previous reporting and methodology were appropriate…

 

  • S0, to my mind, in this exercise the COP needs to consider why and how the naming propositions, and so the proposed naming or photographs of C and her family members that links them to the COP proceedings, would or would be likely to engage or enhance the engagement of the interest of the public in matters of public interest rather than in those of prurient or sensational interest.
  • This has not been done in this case. But in contrast evidence has been put in on the likely harm to the relevant individuals that such reporting would cause.
  • The ultimate balance in this case on the dispute relating to duration. On one side are:

 

i) the Article 8 rights of all of C’s children,ii) the weight of the arguments for a reporting restrictions order in this case, and so of the general practice in the COP of making such orders in analogous COP cases where the family do not want any publicity and have given evidence of matters that affect their private and family life and that of P of a clearly personal and private nature,

iii) the acceptance by the media Respondents that until A is 18 the balance between the Article 8 rights and Article 10 rights in this case justifies the grant of a reporting restrictions order,

iv) the compelling evidence of the extent and nature of the harm and distress that reporting that identifies C and any member of her family as respectively the subject of (or members of the family of the subject of) the COP proceedings and so of MacDonald J ‘s judgment would cause, and

v) the ability of the court to make a further order if and when circumstances change.

 

  • On the other side are the general propositions relating to the benefits of naming the individuals involved.
  • I accept that Thiess J’s statement that “there is no public interest in C and her family being identified” and my indications of agreement with it at the hearing go too far because of the well-known and important naming propositions and the public interests that underlie them. But, in my view, the absence of an explanation of why:

 

i) the accepted balance changes on A’s 18th birthday and so of why identifying C and her family and linking them to the COP proceedings and the publicity at the end of last year would then promote the public interests that underlie Article 10, or why those public interests could not in this case then still be properly and proportionately served by reporting that observes the reporting restrictions order, orii) more generally why any such identification would at any other time promote (or have promoted) or its absence would harm (or would have harmed) the public interests that underlie and promote Article 10

means that the naming propositions have no real weight in this case and balance of the competing factors comes down firmly in favour of the grant of a reporting restrictions order until further order.

 

As there was to be an Inquest, and Inquests are open to the press and public, the Court did need to consider whether the Reporting Restriction Order should cover the naming of this woman or her family emerging from the Inquest.

The extension of the order to cover C’s inquest.

 

  • The earlier orders provide that the injunction does not restrict publishing information relating to any part of a hearing in a court in England and Wales (including a coroner’s court) in which the court was sitting in public. It seems to me therefore that the result the Applicant seeks would be achieved by changing the word “including” to “excluding”.
  • This is much closer to the position in Re S and Potter P addressed such an application in Re LM [2007] EWHC 1902 (Fam) where he said:

 

The Overall Approach

53. In approaching this difficult case, I consider that I should apply the principles laid down in Re S, ————-

54. There are obvious differences between proceedings at an inquest and the criminal process, most notably that the task of the Coroner and jury is to determine the manner of the death of the deceased and does not extend to determining questions of criminal guilt. In various cases that has been held to be a matter of weight in respect of witnesses seeking to protect their own personal safety. However, in this case, the inquest to be held is into the killing of a child, L, in the situation where a High Court Judge has already found as a matter of fact that the mother was responsible for L’s death and the application is made because harm is indirectly apprehended to a child who is a stranger to the investigative process. It is presently uncertain whether criminal proceedings will in fact be taken against the mother. If so, and the Coroner is so informed, then no doubt he will further adjourn the matter pursuant to s.16. of the Coroners Act 1988. If that is done, then the question of publicity and reporting restrictions in those proceedings will fall four square within the principles propounded in Re S. If not, and if, as seems likely, the mother continues to pose a danger to any child in her care, then, if continued, the reporting restrictions in the care proceedings would prevent that fact from reaching the public domain, despite its clear public interest and importance.

 

  • He carried out a detailed balance between the competing rights emphasising the strength and importance of a public hearing of the inquest and so the general conclusion on what promotes the administration of justice in such proceedings. Having done so he refused the injunction sought that the parents should not be identified.
  • Here the important issue of child protection is absent.
  • In the note of counsel for some of the media Respondents dated 28 January 2016 points are made about the importance of a proviso permitting the reporting of other proceedings conducted in open court, including a coroner’s court. But after the Applicant sought this extension junior counsel responded (as mentioned in paragraph 49 above) that his clients are neutral on this point.
  • As the approach of Potter P confirms an application for restrictions on the reporting of other proceedings conducted in open court engages important and powerful interests against the making of such an order. However, in my view:

 

i) the expressed neutrality of some of the media Respondents reflects a responsible and understandable stance that in isolation the inquest is unlikely to give rise to issues of public interest or to any such issues in respect of which the general propositions in favour of naming C or her family will have any significant weight, andii) in any event, I consider that that is the position.

 

  • The essential question is therefore whether, unless the court makes a further order, C’s family should be at risk of publicity relating to the inquest that makes the connection between them and the COP proceedings and so effectively of suffering the harm and distress that any other reporting that identifies them and makes that link would bring.
  • The history of the prurient nature of some of the earlier reporting is a clear indicator that such reporting might be repeated. But, even if that risk is discounted I have concluded that the balance comes down firmly in favour of extending the order to cover the inquest.
  • The main factors to be taken into account overlap with those to be taken into account in respect of the duration of the order.
  • On the one side are:

 

i) the points set out in paragraph 167 (i) to (v) as the inquest is likely to take place before a is 18 andii) the points set out in paragraph 175.

 

  • On the other side are:

 

i) the powerful and weighty reasoning that underlies the conclusion and practice that the administration of justice is best served by inquests being heard in open court without reporting restrictions, andii) the general and accepted force of the naming propositions absent any evidence or reasoning that they found a need for reporting of the inquest that makes the link with the COP proceedings.

 

And the order therefore stops the Press naming the woman as a result of reporting on the Inquest – they can still report on the Inquest itself. It obviously doesn’t mean that the Inquest itself is barred from naming her.

 

The judgment also annexes some helpful procedural guidance on applications for Reporting Restriction Orders within the Court of Protection.

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About suesspiciousminds

Law geek, local authority care hack, fascinated by words and quirky information; deeply committed to cheesecake and beer.

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