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Blog Surrounding the Disclosure of Documents to the Media

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Northants Family Law has recently been involved in a case which included an application under Family Procedure Rules 2010 Rule 12.75 for the disclosure of redacted documents to the media and/or the client’s MP. 

The team had represented the maternal grandmother, who had had her three grandchildren placed with her prior to the issue of proceedings.   Not only did the Local Authority seek to remove the children on more than one occasion during the course of the proceedings but failed to provide her with financial support for a number of months.   There were approximately eight changes of Social Worker during the case, which resulted in the Local Authority at various times failing to carry out its statutory duties under the terms of the Interim Care Orders in place.  

As part of the application, the legal principles contained in Re H (Care Plan) [2008] 2FLR 21 and Z County Council –v- TS, DS, ES and A [2008] 2FLR 1800 FD, S –v- H and Another [2015] EWHC 3313 (Fam) and Re X, Y, Z (Morgan –v- A Local Authority) [2011] EWHC 1157 (Fam) were relied on. 

The application for the release of redacted documents was opposed by all parties on the basis the professionals and the parents did not wish their details to be disclosed to the general public.  There was no suggestion that the children’s names be published due to the restrictions imposed by Section 97(2) Children Act 1989.   A compromise was eventually achieved whereby a chronology of “failings” by the Local Authority was agreed, with the court sanctioning the release of this document to the media and/or our client’s MP. 

As a point of interest, Section 12 Administration of Justices Act 1960 was considered.  What has become apparent from both the Practice Guidance of 16 January 2014 : Transparency of the Family Courts, Publication of Judgments and the related cases of Re: B (A Child) (Disclosure) [2004] 2FLR 142 and A –v- Ward [2010] 1FLR 1947 is that the ban on publication is generally limited to what has happened during the court hearing and to documents, statements, reports, Position Statements, Skeleton Arguments, summaries and notes of evidence prepared during the proceedings.  Of further interest is that the section does not automatically prevent the identification of witnesses nor the disclosure of information and discussions that have taken place away from the courtroom.  

With ongoing restrictions placed upon resources of both Local Authorities and the courts, the question for future debate is whether there are likely to be more cases which justify the publication of failings and miscarriages of justice on the part of the State.  At present, the tide is being held back by what appears to be the widespread publication of Judgments in family cases.  Whether this will be enough to fully restore the general public’s faith in the Family Justice System remains to be seen.  Whether a greater scrutiny (and probably criticism) of the professionals involved is in the public interest and in the best interests of families involved in the court process is similarly questionable.   Maybe we should be careful what we wish for.