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Minnock judgments (part 2) and a different judicial approach

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

 

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

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

 

They are the bottom four (beginning 12th June)

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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