Disclosure of information in family proceedings cases involving children
There have in recent months been several reported family law cases relating to media coverage and restrictions on disclosure of information in family proceedings.
Media coverage is certainly a highly debated issue, partly because the proceedings involve children and partly because the disclosure could amount to a breach of human rights, in particular Article 6, the right to a fair trial, which could be negatively affected if there was disclosure of private information, and Article 8, the right to respect for family and private lives.
The President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has been quoted as saying, “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?”
Three recent cases show that the courts are trying to find a balanced position; ensuring that direct personal information relating to client and parties in proceedings, which could identify the children, is not disclosed but allowing information relating to the proceedings and procedures to be reported / disclosed.
- Re: J (Reporting restrictions: Internet: Video)  concerned a case where the father posted names, photos and videos on social media networks when care proceedings were issued in respect of his child (a new born baby). The local authority applied for a reporting restriction order to prevent the publication of any information until the child concerned was 18 years old; this included provision for all names of the local authority, social worker, guardian and lawyers to be omitted too, if that could lead to the disclosure of the child’s details. The court granted the application in part, preventing disclosure of the child’s name but not images (i.e. videos taken by the father of the child being removed from the parents care) and no restrictions on the parties’ details. There is an argument between public interest in the workings of the system and personal privacy/ welfare of the child, and the court felt in this case that a balance had been struck between the two. It was commented that there was a pressing need for much more transparency in the family justice system.
- Re: K (Wardship: Publicity)  involved the breakdown of an adoptive placement. The child concerned had been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The parents wanted to publicise their experiences and raise awareness for RAD. The local authority opposed, stating that this would be distressing for the child concerned. The court permitted this, subject to the identity of the family not being disclosed and allowing a short period of time for the child to engage with her therapist. The court felt that the parents had “experienced a catalogue of poor social work practice… and the public had a right to hear their story.”
- Re Al-Hilli (Children: Reporting Restriction)  involved the murder of the parents and grandmother in a gun attack which the two children witnessed (they were all in a car together when the attack occurred). The case attracted world-wide media attention and the court did grant a number of reporting restriction orders preventing the publication of information which could lead to their identification. However, the police also applied for the media to be excluded from the proceedings, on the basis that to allow them access to the hearings would impede or impair the interests of the safety and protection of the children. The court refused the application, saying that courts must guard against giving excessive weight to “naturally protective instincts” and accredited representatives of the news must be trusted not to abuse their right to attend by publishing information lawfully.
These cases show that there is a clear evolution towards greater transparency in the family courts.Subscribe to our newsletter
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