Questions you just don’t ask

Second bit of blogging today. Shorter, I hope. But no less moany (sorry).

This morning, I explained that at the start of the hearing I attended this week, the judge asked me a question: she wanted to know why I wanted to attend that particular hearing.

This is problematic. But before I say why, I’ll explain something that happened before I attended a different remote hearing, a few weeks ago.

I had emailed to find out how to log in to this hearing – at that point I only had the case number, so I asked the Judicial press office to enquire for me. If I’d known who the judge was – I don’t think one had been assigned at that point – I’d have emailed the clerk (again, by going through the Judicial Office Press Office to find out what the right email address was). I don’t suppose the press office adores these requests of mine, because I don’t think it’s strictly their job to sort out media attendance (they are very obliging, nonetheless!), but I had earlier written to the supposedly correct email address and hadn’t heard  back.

I was helped out by a couple of people in the court service, and my email explaining I wished to attend the hearing was passed to the judge, as by that time, one had been appointed to the case.

I then received an email from the judge. He wrote that he was interested to know the basis on which I wished to attend the hearing. Had I been asked to attend by one of the parties, and if so, which one? Or was my interest in the case “non specific”.

Sooooo many problems with this too!

Let’s unpick why these judges’ questions make me so uncomfortable.

First of all, accredited media can attand most private family court hearings as of right. I don’t have to explain to anyone why I’m there or how I found out a case was happening.

There could be times when to do so would involve me revealing a source. Revealing sources is something journalists shouldn’t do. Particularly when my distinct sense is that if I were ever to disclose that one party (or maybe an organisation) had either suggested I might, or positively asked me, to attend (and people do, ALL the time), the judge might well take quite a dim view. Not to mention the aspersions that would doubtless be cast on a party for having done so, by the other side.

But… but… picture this. At the point at which a judge is deciding on the objections to me being there that are often raised by one or more of the parties, it would set a hearing off to quite a confrontational start if I was to refuse to answer a question such as “why are you attending this hearing?” or “has a party asked to you to attend?” by saying something along the lines of:  “I am entitled to be here, and my right to attend is not contingent on the court understanding my reasons for choosing this case”. Hoity toity or what?

Still… I think from now on, I am going to have to take this approach.

In the case I mentioned above, I was able to say, perfectly truthfully in response to the judge’s email, that no party had asked me to attend. In the second case, I simply said that I was attending a number of cases during the pandemic, and was interested in remote hearings. That too was true. But I now wish I hadn’t responded to either question, but had simply said “I never justify my attendance – I may come to court as part of my job, and so I do.”

Another thing judges – and counsel – have asked me, which can also be tricky:

“What are you wanting to write about this case?”

I do not have to explain to anyone, before I’m allowed to attend, that I intend to publish anything that I may lawfully report without permission, much less what I intend to write about.

Further, once I’ve attended a hearing,  the fact that I have published something should not be any reason for criticism – whether implied, as per Wednesday’s skirmish – or explicit, unless someone is saying that what I have done is unlawful.

So, to sum up;

Don’t ask me what I’m doing in court.

Don’t ask me how I found out about the case.

Don’t ask me – or assume that you know – what I’m going to write.

And don’t raise my reporting with the judge unless you are going to argue I’ve done something wrong.

Or – as neutrally as I possibly can (and this will be a stretch, given the indignation that will be surging inside me) – I am going to have to push back.






To tweet, or not to tweet (about a family court case)

On Monday, I attended a  family court hearing at London’s Central Family Court – in very general terms, it was a private law dispute about contact with children, of which many thousands are  heard up and down the land every day. It was a hybrid hearing, which means that some people are in court, and others attend remotely.

In this case, the judge and two counsel were in court. The expert giving evidence was remote. On that day, the parties, the Guardian, and counsel for the Guardian were also logged in from home, as was I. I think there was also a local authority social worker logged in remotely.

At the start of the hearing, the judge, HHJ Brasse, asked me why I wanted to attend this particular hearing. It was asked in a perfectly friendly way, but it is not a question I think a judge should ask, and I’ll come back to this in a second blog.

She welcomed me to the hearing, and made it clear to all parties including me that I could not report the detail of the case without making an application to the court – she had clearly anticipated that this was something I might want to do. That is always welcome, because it means in my experience, it means it’s likely a judge will ask at the end of a day’s hearing if there is anything the media might want to raise. This is really helpful, as it is nervewracking – whether in physical court or remote court – to raise your hand and go ‘ahem, excuse me judge’ when everyone is briskly packing up for the day.

Anyway, I was only able to attend 90 minutes or so of the hearing on Monday. I tweeted as follows that same evening:

Screenshot 2020-08-12 at 12.00.18

(This is not a post about the merits or otherwise of different types of hearing, but I point out that family barrister Lucy Reed, responded to my tweet agreeing, while pointing out that for parties themselves, it is sometimes their preference to be able to give evidence, in person, in front of the judge. Clearly this is a very important reason for attempting to ensure fair process in a way that works for the people who are most directly affected in a case).

As you will see in the tweets, there is no reference at all even to the general gist of the case I was attending.  Case law has confirmed that I am permitted, even within the constraints of S12 AJA and S97 Children Act, to give a broad outline of the matters being considered in a private family court hearing. What I am not allowed to do is go into any detail. In fact, I hadn’t done either.

On Wednesday, I had time to attend again (this is all unpaid, uncommissioned, and with very little likelihood of ever being able to publish much if anything about the case, but I’m interested in family court cases, so attending is something I try to do, when I can; especially during the pandemic, it feels important to me that the media’s watchdog role is made use of, when state powers are being exercised remotely, and there has been so much concern about the fairness of hearings, and attempts to work them better in the interests of all parties). Before the case got underway, the judge said hello to everyone, noting that I was present again, and said something along the lines of ‘shall we get on’.

The following narrative is what I have just sought and gained permission to publish – though I feel it is ridiculous that the way the law is framed requires me to do so in order not to risk being in criminal contempt (everyone who knows about S12 AJA thinks it is very poorly drafted, and this unfortunately, is the result).

Wednesday’s hearing

At the start of the hearing, counsel for the Guardian, Giles Bain, said he wanted to raise with HHJ Brasse that I had tweeted two tweets about the part of the hearing I attended on Monday. He did not inform the judge what was in the tweets. He said he wanted to raise the fact that I had tweeted about the case so that the judge was aware.

I felt astonished. What I had done was completely within the law, and entirely unremarkable. What on earth was he playing at, I wondered?

Given the way this matter had been raised, the judge, I think  perfectly understandably, did indeed express her surprise and dismay that such a thing should have happened when she had made it clear at the hearing on Monday that I would need to make an application to report on the case. She then invited me to respond.

As you can imagine, I was pretty cross.

I explained that I had tweeted no detail at all about the case, but had simply commented on Twitter that having now observed a hybrid hearing earlier on that day, and comparing it with fully remote, I felt that hybrid was considerably worse.

I also said I was frustrated and angry at the suspicion I meet with regularly from counsel, to the point that my tweets are now being monitored, and points are raised about entirely innocuous reporting that might give alarm to a judge, without explaining the content of what I had said.

I pointed out that the law permits me, in any case, to report the general gist of any private family law case without special permission, but simply not the detail.

I made the point that I was not at all happy that the fact I had simply tweeted about the hybrid nature of the way the hearing was being conducted had been raised in such a way as to make the judge feel – in that moment – concerned.

And then I drew breath and thought I should probably stop .

The judge immediately said that now she understood what the tweets contained she was not concerned about them.

Giles Bain then protested that he had simply raised with the judge that I had tweeted about the case, and his comments had gone no further. I should clarify here that in this morning’s hearing, he said that in raising the fact of the tweets, he had specified that he took no issue with their content. I don’t recall him saying this. If I had heard this, I think I might have been less indignant at the time. But I may be misremembering. And I should also note that it is also perfectly possible that he raised the issue of the tweets on instruction.

Back to the hearing on Wednesday:  having thought I’d said all I needed to say, I now felt I had to pipe up again to pount out that I had not in fact tweeted anything at all about the  case.

The judge reiterated that she was not concerned about the tweets.

It felt like a very sticky start, and unneccessarily so.


Why does this matter – why am I so cross?

It’s just this: I am getting very tired of encountering what feels like passive aggression when I attend family court hearings that the media has been entitled as of right to attend for ELEVEN years.

I think it is unfortunate, to say the least, when entirely lawful and unremarkable reporting is “raised” by counsel with a judge in a such a way that will inevitably cause alarm.

While in this case, nobody sought to exclude me from this hearing, and the judge has continued to clarify that I am welcome in her court, I also observe that my overall experiece is that some people – generally Guardians and local authorities, and certain counsel,  very rarely parties – seem at times to be inherently hostile to a journalist taking up their right to attend.

By raising the fact of the tweets AT ALL, given their entirely lawful content, the barrister seemed to me to be, for some reason, making something out of nothing. What was the point of raising perfectly ordinary, unremarkable reporting, leaving out the content of the tweets which would have made it obvious just how innocuous they had been? In my view, it wasted everyone’s time. Basically, there was nothing to see here.

I should note that in today’s hearing, that I am just out of, where I asked for permission to report what happened, the judge said again that “having seen the tweets, I’m not concerned about their content at all” and further, said that she did not think it was anything to do with the court.

She later said “Mr Bain properly brought them to my attention”.

So I’m a bit confused. If every time a journalist writes or tweets a lawful report about any part of the justice system, and counsel keep bringing it to the attention of the judge, then an awful lot of time is going to be wasted on something that is of zero relevance to the case in hand.

Now to the issue of judges and the questions they ask – will post that this afternoon as I have to scoot.







The family court in lockdown – part 3

An incursion

2pm – Lunch despatched, I’m back in court for the final case of the day. This is a hearing about the making of a special guardianship order.

Bristol City Council is the local authority involved, and it’s another case where the pandemic has adversely affected children who are urgently in need of a settled home: the transition plan created for these siblings to move from foster care to relatives has been impossible to put into effect because of lockdown restrictions.

We access the meeting log-in. The judge goes through all the usual warnings; make sure you’re alone, no recording, this is a private hearing. There are no objections to me attending.

The parties and their counsel appear on screen. From what I am able to make out – introductions go fast and I’m not familiar with the case – for the LA there is a barrister and two social workers; the mother’s barrister but not the mother; the Guardian’s barrister but not the Guardian. One father has no facility to join remotely; one father has had to go to work and sends his apologies. The prospective special guardians are in attendance and visible, sitting in what looks like their living room.

This is effectively a hearing to update the judge as to progress, or rather, thanks to lockdown, lack of it.

As the barrister for the Guardian makes her points, it’s suddenly apparent that someone is approaching the open patio door behind her. A teenager in shorts and t-shirt wanders into the room. Everyone watching can see. It takes a couple of seconds for the Guardian’s barrister to grasp what’s happening behind her.

Horrified, she turns around and says something to the effect of “You have to leave. Now.” She says it again, with increasing emphasis, at which point the teenager skips across the screen and out of shot.

Profuse apologies follow. The judge is understanding.

Fortunately, this is not an upsetting hearing. Children are not about to be removed from their parents, as was the case at the morning’s interim care order application. We are not in a hearing with a mother in hospital, who, having just given birth, is facing the loss of her newborn compounded by no physical contact for untold weeks. So on this occasion, the fact that the solemnity of the courtroom was broken didn’t actually hurt anyone who was already in a  vulnerable position.

But it demonstrates clearly one of the dangers of remote hearings under conditions where people have no option but to work from home. To me, it was a graphic example of how, despite everyone’s best intentions, virtual hearings could go badly wrong for someone who has to enter the family justice system at the most distressing time of their life.

The family court in lockdown – part 2


Another quick (I hope) post to detail the second hearing I attended in a Bristol family court yesterday.

12 noon: Next up is a private law case, with ex-partners appearing in person (ie, without a lawyer to represent them). Judge Wildblood tells me it will be done by telephone, using BT MeetMe. He puts his loudspeaker on for me to hear the parties. This means I don’t need to dial in as I did for a previous remote telephone hearing I attended, when I was sat in my study at home.

The woman is dialled in first. She comes through loud and clear. Her ex partner is dialled in next. He is quite muffled but just about audible for me – I imagine it’s a bit better for the judge, who is close to the speakers.

Judge Wildblood takes both of them through the usual warnings about confidentiality, no recording, are they alone. Then he informs them that a journalist is in court, ‘as the press is entitled to be’ and asks if they have anything they would like to say about that.

The woman says “I don’t have a problem with that”.

The man does have a problem. “This is my child and I’m not happy to have a journalist hearing my personal details” is about what I can make out.

Judge Wildblood explains that there are only certain lawful grounds on which he can, if he agrees with a party’s objection, exclude a member of the press. He goes through the reasons (I should know these off by heart but ALWAYS have to look them up). Here they are, bowdlerised from Adam Wolanski QC and Kate Wilson’s super document on reporting family courts produced in 2011 (Transparency Project, really sorry, I looked for them in your also super Media Guide, but couldn’t instantly locate them – so shoot me):

The media may be excluded from all or part of the proceedings if it is necessary (my emphasis) on one of three grounds specified or if justice will otherwise be impeded or prejudiced.

The three grounds are that it is necessary (my emphasis) –

  • in the interests of any child concerned in, or connected with, the proceedings;
  • for the safety or protection of a party, a witness in the proceedings, or a person connected with such a party or witness;


  • for the orderly conduct of the proceedings.

The judge also explains that I will not be able to report any details of the case, or anything that could lead to him or his children being identified. Given that, he asks, does he still have an issue with a journalist being in court?

The man does, saying he has had a poor experience of the media in the past. I have decided not to be any more precise about the substance of his objection in this regard.

The judge then asks me if I would like to say anything in response. I’ve decided that I want to continue to attend this hearing, and I don’t think any of what the man has said amounts to a legitimate ground for me to be excluded.

I say:

  • a simple preference that a journalist is not in court is not a valid ground on which to object to the media’s presence
  • I’m sorry he has had a bad experience of the media before, but I think it’s important that the media is able to attend private hearings to scrutinise how they operate, and particularly so in lockdown when they are being held remotely
  • I think should be allowed to stay

The man isn’t able to hear much of what I say, but the judge briefly recaps. It is evident he is still not happy, but Judge Wildblood decides there is no valid basis on which he can ask me to leave the courtroom, and continues with the hearing. It feels like a sticky start. I don’t envy parties or judges being caught in the middle of this sort of difficulty at the beginning of a hearing about your  family life. But that is where the legislation has left us.

This  is a directions hearing, where the judge helps parties to sort out what has to happen before the next one. Because both parties are litigants in person, the judge has to take them painstakingly through what will be required.

It becomes clear that the man has fundamentally misunderstood how he will have to engage in the next hearing, and the judge clarifies what is required and spells out to him the paperwork and process he will need to undertake. If this had not been done, it is absolutely certain the man would have been fatally disadvantaged in his case when he next came before a judge.

Judge Wildblood  also warns them that the chance of them being able to have a hearing in a physical court with a real live judge is going to be difficult not just in the short, but even into the medium term future. The judge asks them “can you think about whether you will be able to accept a hearing by Teams or Zoom, or whether you want to come to court?” he says. “Don’t answer now, but by the next phone hearing.”

This case has been going on for many months already. The next phone hearing is fixed for midsummer. It will clearly go on for many months more before any resolution is achieved for this separated couple and their children.

The judge finishes the call. “Because they are litigants in person, I have to go and draft the order now” he says with a wry smile.

12.45 – I spend lunchtime totally alone, perched to eat my oatcakes and wedge of Brie on top of one of the inexplicable concrete plinths randomly plonked on the plaza in front of Bristol’s Civil Justice Centre.

1.45 – I head back into court. Again the lobby is deserted and so I whizz up to the fourth floor in the lift.

To be continued….

The family court in lockdown

Here’s a very quick, diary style post about my day spent in court 17 at Bristol’s Civil Justice Centre on 28 May 2020, as the family justice system grapples with the practical, moral and emotional implications of hearing family cases during the coronavirus pandemic.

9am. Arrive at the court and go through security. Nobody else is waiting to go in, or I’d have had to queue – no more than one person at a time may now step inside the glass doors  to have their belongings checked and go through the body scanner.

The security manager tells me that people entering the court will have to take out all the contents of their bags and pockets and put them in one or more of the five red trays laid out on the table. Then they will step back as security checks the items.

Once that’s done, they may step through the scanner. I point to the scanning wand used for when your belt goes beep. What will happen about that, I ask? You’ll have to come within two metres to scan people. The security manager nods. They’ll have to try to scan people as little as possible, he says. How long does he reckon security checks will take per person, I ask. About three to four minutes, he tells me.

There is now a one way system for the lobby, which you have to walk through to get to the lift. Only one of the two lifts is working. This is a modern court centre on four floors; lifts are essential. But only one person may travel at a time in the single operational lift. And stickers on the floor show that only a maximum six people will be allowed to queue for the lift after getting through security. Meanwhile, court users will be queueing outside to get into the building. Lucky it’s nice weather at the moment. In winter on a busy court day, if you’re elderly, or infirm, or if you have a baby in a buggy, that wait could be less than fun. There’s no shelter.

Back inside, as the lobby is deserted I march straight to the lift and head up to the first floor to check in with the ushers. Colin the head usher is sitting behind the main welcome desk, socially distanced from the milling public (none of whom are in today) by yellow and black incident tape that’s been installed on poles at just below waist level.

Colin takes me to a court that has been newly set up to operate on a socially distanced basis. He’s done two per floor so far.

In this small court, he’s removed chairs so there are now just two chairs per long bench, rather than the usual six. The ‘witness stand’ is a chair in the corner of the room, at the end where the judge sits. Colin does all his measurements with a two metre stick, and has spent days if not weeks going around the entire civil justice centre making sure that no-one will sit or move closer than two metres to another individual.

The biggest court here, which would typically be be employed in long-running, highly contested cases with large numbers of parties (and their accompanying silks, juniors, solicitors, note-takers, social workers and expert witnesses) has a total capacity of 85. But it can now accommodate only 15 people, along with the judge and a clerk. Almost all the chairs in here have been removed,  stacked and taped off at the back. How will these big cases be heard now, I wonder.

Back in the main waiting area, and I see that only one person can go into the loo at a time. Colin has niftily taped labels on the doors which you’re meant to turn around so it says Engaged when you enter. I am here all day, and keep forgetting to turn it back to Vacant on the three occasions I come out. Sorry Colin.

I glance up the staircases that lead up to the next floors. No way can two people pass by each other while keeping two metres apart. Even one metre is doubtful. That one working lift is going to be busy.

Remote hearings in lockdown

9.45am – Designated family judge Stephen Wildblood is sitting in court 17. This court hasn’t been taped out so it’s socially distanced, but it’s just him and me in today, so it’s easy to observe the rules. Judge Wildblood puts a spray bottle Dettol in front of me, together with a wad of kitchen roll, so I can clean my desk top.

I sit in for three cases. In this blog, I’ll describe the first one  (as it’s not long till teatime and the kids want barbequed burgers) and the other two later.

This case is an application for an interim care order. This means the local authority – Bristol City Council – is asking judge Wildblood to agree that the Police Protection Order***  under which a young child was removed in emergency circumstances from the care of her mother (PPOs last three days, and this one is about to expire) can be replaced with an order that – without prejudice to any eventual outcome – means the local authority retain the care of the girl, who is now in foster care.

*** Note added at 7.45am the morning after I posted this blog: It has now been pointed out to me by a social worker, a law lecturer, a barrister and a solicitor that there is no such thing as a Police Protection Order. Police can remove children with no notice under police protection powers, but there is no judicial oversight of this action, which is why the power only lasts for 72 hours before the removal has to be examined by judge. At that point, the judge can either make an order to keep the child in care, or refuse, at which point the child must immediately be returned. In my defence, the term PPO was used in the hearing, so I thought it was correct, but actually, if I’d thought about it a few seconds longer, I’d have worked out that there is no order at that point because no judge. With her permission, I quote the solicitor Emily Boardman’s message to me: it said “The use of PPO is my absolute bugbear though – professionals use it sloppily to indicate to parents it is more powerful than just a police decision – so they elevate it to an ‘order’ when it is not.” Something to cogitate on.

10am – The hearing starts. The judge takes everyone carefully through the points that there must be no recording or its a criminal offence, that everyone must be in a private space and alone, that it’s a confidential hearing, and that everyone must be able to hear throughout, and to alert him if they cannot.

Before I’m allowed to join the meeting, and the judge states to all on the Zoom call that I am in court, physically in front of him, and that I am entitled to be there. (Everyone has been informed in advance I wished to attend). He carefully checks that nobody wants to object to my presence. Nobody does, but the mother’s barrister says that her agreement is contingent on my video being turned off. It seems entirely reasonable that a mother  who is anticipating the enforced loss of her child does not have to engage with a journalist’s face on a computer screen if she doesn’t want to, so that is quickly agreed. (In fact, I wonder if that might be a really good idea for future hearings? I’d be interested to know if people think there are advantages to a journalist being visible in a remote hearing? I think it is potentially distracting for parties, and unnecessary.)

I enter the Zoom, and it’s realised that I’m on a log in that shows my partner’s name. He installed it on my laptop, I realise with a sigh. Luckily, this is dealt with calmly by the judge, who spares my blushes. He is also Zoom savvy enough to be able to change the name that shows against my blank postage stamp presence. Note – make sure you are set up as yourself on whatever virtual platform you enter remote hearings on: as a journalist, you don’t want to create problems.

It emerges immediately that this has been a very heavy week for Bristol child protection social workers. Workloads are stretched.

At some point the mother’s connection drops out. This is realised by Judge Wildblood after the Local Authority, Children’s Guardian and mother’s barrister have made their points.

This is clearly not good. The judge tries to log the mother back in. It doesn’t work. The local authority barrister tries. It doesn’t work. The judge says he will try again using a different method. Again, no contact can be made.

I think of that woman, all by herself, at home in lockdown, unable to hear at least some of what has gone on in court relating to a distressing decision about her child. Whatever the circumstances that led to this hearing, she will be anxious for her daughter. And she will not know how she is going to get back into the hearing.

At this point – again, very calmly; the whole hearing is very measured – the judge asks the mother’s barrister if she can phone her to ask her to log back in. She has her number, the barrister says, but the mother is using her device to attend the hearing.

She calls her and the mother is logged back in.

The judge then checks if the mother has heard what her own barrister had said. “No,” is the answer.

“Did you hear what the Guardian’s barrister said?”

“No,” she says. She is evidently distressed.

The judge asks the Guardian’s barrister and the mother’s barrister to repeat what they have said. They do so, fully.

This has all added ten minutes to the hearing.

Soon after there is a 10 minute break for the advocates to meet and discuss a few points. The recording is stopped, and the judge and I both exit the courtroom to ensure there is no technical glitch that means we can hear what people are saying.

Outside the court,  judge Wildblood tells me that when cases resume in front of him with people attending in person, he will insist that there is break every hour for all those in the hearing to wash their hands. So we now take the opportunity to go and wash our hands. How long this will take if people in a ‘normal’ sized hearing go out two by two for handwashing, (only one person per toilet, remember)? About 25 minutes, he reckons. Hearing time will be reduced, he assesses, from 5.5 hours per day to about 4 hours per day. That’s drop in capacity of just over a quarter.

The hearing resumes.

For the first time, the mother is now seen clearly, as she moves from silhouette in front of a window to another part of the room. She is managing to cope with the hearing, but is evidently extremely upset. It strikes me again how very difficult it must be for any parent faced with losing the care of their child not to have the reassurance of sitting next to their solicitor who can take them, minute by minute, through what is happening, and what is to come next. I’m sure those conversations still do happen by phone, afterwards. But at a human level, it is hard to watch anyone suffer in this way, alone, with no opportunity for human contact.

The judge says he will make the order asked for. He emphasises to the mother that this is without prejudice to any eventual outcome, and also emphasises that he is sure that opportunities for contact between her and her child (which must now be done remotely) will be facilitated by the social workers.

About 15 minutes in, the Guardian’s barrister notices that the recording has not been restarted. That means the judge now has to recap everything that has been said. The recording is restarted, and he patiently does so. There is only one way to approach remote hearings, I realise – with a determination to exert a Buddhist sense of calm.

As the hearing concludes, the judge checks methodically if anyone has anything to add. At the end, he asks me.

I ask to be able report the figure cited at the start of the hearing for the high number of referrals made to the council’s child protection team on a particular day this week.

The judge has no issue with this – it has no relation to this actual case –  but asks the social worker if she would like to refer this request up within the council. She nods, and says she will do this, but also says she has “no issue with confirming it has been extremely busy this week for Bristol Children’s Services.”

Everyone is thanked. The recording is stopped. I leave the Zoom call.

….. right, I need to go and do bedtime now. I’ll do another blog about hearing two and three – much shorter ones – later.

Freedom of expression doesn’t just arrive on a bleedin’ plate

When a child’s privacy rights compete with the right to impart and receive information, sometimes, the media has to take the trouble to argue its case.

Last week I got an email from Brian Farmer, the PA reporter on family courts. He’d just been alerted to two judgments, then up on Bailii, written by Mr Justice Hayden.

One judgment told in great detail of the very serious failings of the disabled children’s social work in an unnamed local authority.

The second told of how the local authority and the Children’s Guardian had asked for the name of the council to be anonymised.

It was made clear in that judgment that the media had not been put on notice of the council’s attempt to restrict its name from being put in the public domain – the judge pointed this out, and said it should have been done. It was also clear that the judge had rigorously tested the local authority and Guardian’s barristers as to their evidence on the risk of identification of the children if the council should be named, and whether this would put them at unacceptable risk of harm. These are the right tests. And he decided, on balance, that the council should remain anonymous. This means that he felt the public interest was outweighed – but, I sensed, only just – by the risk of harm to the boys.

One sentence in particular stood out from the judgment concluding that the council could not be identified – the judge said:

“I do not think that I have ever had to criticise a Local Authority to the extent that I have found it necessary to do in this case.”

Mr Justice Hayden is a very experienced high court judge. As such, this sentence is remarkable. And it meant I felt that the media absolutely had to try to persuade him that the public interest was so overwhelming it had to be named. At that stage, I didn’t know which council it was. Nor did Brian Farmer, who felt just as strongly as I did that we had to challenge the ruling.

Despite the care Hayden had very evidently taken to take account of Article 10 freedom of expression rights – which is not just the right of the media to impart, but of the public to receive, information – I was pretty indignant. The outcome for two children had been disastrous, in very large part because of really culpable failings of social work practice in the team which dealt with disabled children. These failings had been going on over a long period of time. The family had, again, not solely, but substantially as a result of these failings, ended up being split apart. Two brothers who had dearly wished to grow up together, now could not. One of them, a severely disabled child, now lived in an institution. This, absolutely tragically for this child, had not needed to be the case. It was, in short, an absolute shitshow, and Hayden did not hold back from saying so. I felt we had to challenge his ruling on anonymising the council – and I also felt he should not have taken that decision without involving the media. Somewhat ironically, I pointed out to the judge in an email, his ruling on banning the name of the local authority without the media having been in court to contest it was handed down on the very day the President’s consultation for his Review into transparency in the family justice system closed to submissions.

In the same email, I also asked if he might be willing to take down the judgments so that, together with the counsel for the various parties, Brian and I might be able to try to locate certain details that were particularly identifying, If they could be removed, thus mitigating the risk of the children being identified if the council was to be named, we might, I reasoned, stand a better chance of making a successful case.

Very helpfully, Hayden agreed, though only the substantive judgment was taken down off Bailii. The one which detailed the reasons why the press could not report the name of the council remained up – this still had quite a lot of detail about the case. But very far from all of it. The judge also immediately listed a hearing for the media to make its arguments for 2pm on Monday 18 May.

Meanwhile, Brian had managed to identify the council without needing its name, just from the detail in the judgment. I’d tried, but hadn’t managed it, but he is a better Google researcher than me, and the judgment had specified there had been previous media coverage of this family.

Last Thursday, he and I had a Zoom meeting with the advocates. We realised quite quickly that it wasn’t going to be possible to remove anything from the substantive judgment that would make much of a difference to the level of risk that the family might be identified, should the council be named. So that was a dead end.

The next day – last Friday – Brian wrote to the judge setting out his arguments, and after doing my nightmare afternoon session of ‘home-learning’ with the kids, I managed to send mine in too at just after 6pm. I’d used the time between the advocates meeting and Friday to do some research. And I found out that Ofsted’s most recent full inspection, just 18 months before, into this local authority’s children’s services had found it to Require Improvement in all areas. Inspectors had also been highly critical of its disabled children’s social work team. Extraordinarily, their criticisms were virtually identical to those that the Guardian and the judge had identified, and which had led to such a terrible outcome for the family.

This felt really important, and I suddenly felt that maybe we had a chance.

There had been a recent ‘focused’ inspection into the local authority too, late last year, which had been much more positive. But it hadn’t looked at the disabled children’s social work team.

Thanks to remembering the advice of an editor I’ve worked with for years – Patrick Butler, social policy editor of the Guardian, who once told me that council scrutiny committee meeting minutes can be very revealing – I had a look to see what the local authority’s councillors had been hearing about its children’s services department. Unsurprisingly, they’d been told about the progress that had been made as detailed in the latest Ofsted letter. So, I surmised, they would be feeling quite reassured that things were on the up. There was nothing to tell them the information that was crystal clear from the judgement – that practice was still poor in the disabled children’s team, which dealt with some of the most vulnerable children in the area.

This, I felt, meant that it was even more important that the council was identified – to councillors, but also to the parents of disabled children in that area, and to professionals such as teachers, GPs and safeguarding leads. Also… the voters! They needed to know. Otherwise, how could they hold their council to account?

I wrote all this down in my email to the judge. I’ll do a separate blog tomorrow on the arguments made in the hearing – I have Hayden’s permission to report that level of detail – but for now, all I need to say is that we all convened at 2pm on Monday just gone, and Brian and I made the best case we could. We asked to be able to name the council in the public interest. We did not ask to be able to name the social workers. (They may have done a very poor job indeed, but there was no question of anyone having been either dishonest or fabricating evidence or having done anything else of that nature. That sort of thing is, I think, probably the only situation in which I would now seek to have a social worker named.)

Hayden said he would write his judgment and have it ready for end of play the day after (ie yesterday) and we all had it through at around 6pm. I think it’s important to state that at a time when the family justice system is working above and beyond to make decisions for vulnerable children – who must be the urgent priority – it is a testament to the judge’s commitment to both get this decision right and get it out there as quickly as possible that he a) convened a hearing very fast in what I’m sure is a full list and b) turned a complex judgment dealing with finely balanced competing rights around so very quickly.

It’s very interesting to me that Hayden makes it clear that there was no intention to exclude the media from the initial hearing where submissions were made that the name of the council should not be made public. The local authority barrister had, in an oversight – I imagine, probably caused by sheer pressure of work at this incredibly busy time – not put the press on notice. Once the judge had realised that, I actually think he should not have gone ahead with the hearing. But…. the family justice system is horribly, horribly stretched. All the advocates were there. Listing time is hard to find, I imagine. I am not inclined to cut judges much slack, but at this very particular time, when everyone is grappling with remote hearing arrangements, I imagine it is hard to keep your eyes on every ball and make the decision that everyone agrees with all the time. So, maybe the learning should be this for the future – advocates, the media has a right to know if you want to restrict the name of a local authority that is being criticised, and judges, please please don’t hold hearings on such applications if you realise we don’t.

Part of the reason I say this is principle. But part of it is distinctly practical. The media not being put on notice from the getgo has resulted in a bit of a mess.

Yesterday, the Daily Mail put out a piece based on partial information from the only judgment that was still online, ie, the original judgment that restricted the name of the council from being being published. Of course the fact that a judge had banned us from publishing was high on the list of complaints. The Mail piece didn’t explain that the judge had specifically invited the media to make their case if they wanted to report.

Screenshot 2020-05-20 at 15.14.11

And nor did the Mail bother to do so. Sure, it takes time and effort – and frankly a bit of journalistic research – to fight effectively for freedom of expression, but if I, a freelance journalist, unfunded (because uncommissioned on this story) can do a bit of Googling into a local authority’s Ofsted ratings and make an argument for Article 10, then a well funded paper like the Mail can too.

Still, at least that piece didn’t, I think, contain any inaccuracies.

This morning however, the Mail ran a piece by former MP John Hemming about secret family courts. I don’t object to that. I deplore the secrecy of our family justice system too. What was absolutely appalling was the headline, which blared:

Screenshot 2020-05-20 at 15.08.57

Hemming wouldn’t have written the headline. But whoever did was completely and utterly wrong. Whatever the failings were of the disabled children’s social work team, they did not include sending a child to live with a paedophile. Nor, according to any information in either judgment, had either child indeed ever simply ended up living with a paedophile.

I read that headline and just put my head in my hands. Then I commented below the line. Then I emailed the journalist who wrote the Mail’s piece yesterday. “It will be enough what the council actually did to to fail this family, surely! We weaken our case for more scrutiny of family courts if we report what happened inaccurately.” I wrote. “Could I persuade you to ask that this headline is altered so that it doesn’t go further than the actual facts of this case?” I understand he has passed my email on to the managing editor who deals with such requests.

So, I can now reveal – actually, I tweeted an hour or so ago – that the council involved is Haringey. Here’s the judgment explaining our arguments and where Hayden decides that the council can be named. More to come on why it mattered that we could say so – Haringey has a long and uneviable history in terms of child protection. This blog is about the process that the media had to undergo to be able to reveal it – and to show how a series of events came about, which has led to vociferous protests about secret family courts, when in fact, a judge had made it clear that the media could challenge the restrictions he had imposed. In fact, certain members of the media actually had contested his first determination, and were in the process of succeeding in the attempt when the Mail ran its article without taking the trouble to make the same effort.

Justice delayed by, ooh, all of a week was not – in this particular case – justice denied



Consultation response to the President of the Family Division’s Review into transparency in the family justice system

This is the document I emailed earlier today to the office of the President of the Family Division, in response to his call for responses to his Review into Transparency.

A quick heads up – I am asking for the urgent repeal of Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act (1960), which prevents virtually all reporting of what goes on in family hearings,  stifling freedom of speech and preventing scrutiny of a system that many no longer trust.

I am a freelance journalist with a particular interest in reporting on the family courts, which I have been attempting to do, with varying levels of success, since 2014. My reporting on family courts was shortlisted for The Orwell Prize for Journalism in 2016, and in the same year I won the Bar Council’s Legal Reporting Award for a Guardian investigation focusing on the effects of legal aid cuts to family law cases. I write a quarterly column for Family Law Journal, and over the last five and a half years, have made a number of applications to report details of private hearings, both orally during or at the end of hearings, and more formally by way of written application during or after the conclusion of proceedings.

Three of these were substantial written applications; in two, the investment of time, effort, expertise and money was immense and onerous to the point that the commission was i) in one case lost ii) in one case nearly lost.

One of the applications required considerable advice and drafting support from The Guardian newspaper’s in-house legal team. Two have required counsel’s advice and representation in court hearings over several months. The first of these was a request to relax restrictions in order to report the details of a public law case; it involved a council’s application to place for adoption a baby who had been removed at birth, which was abandoned at the 11th hour in favour of the child being returned to his mother (the subject of a Guardian Weekend Magazine longread published 20 Feb 2016). The second is an ongoing application to be able to report certain details of a private family law case; this is for a documentary I am making.

In addition, in February 2019, and as a freelance, I successfully appealed a reporting restriction order I believed had been unlawfully made by a deputy high court judge in a Portsmouth court, and which would have prevented the public interest reporting of the outcome of a complex and important story about an adoption placement order on a young girl. (I append my Guardian comment piece published the week after the appeal hearing, and also two Guardian leader columns on the issue of transparency in family justice).

As part of my submissions in my appeal (which benefited from significant pro-bono advice and representation from a family barrister, a human rights QC and solicitor’s firm, without which, I came to realise after initially attempting to manage it solo, the endeavour would have been virtually impossible to contemplate, let alone succeed at) I requested that the President issue guidance as to how family courts should in future approach media applications to relax the statute preventing reporting. He agreed, and the Guidance was published a few months later in October 2019. I have had several opportunities to use it in subsequent applications to the family court, and will comment later on the results.

In late 2018 I was awarded a one-year Ideas and Pioneers grant by The Paul Hamlyn Foundation to explore with users of family courts possible ways to recalibrate the current balance between privacy and openness. My aims and some of the work I did with this funding was described on my blog, which also hosted guest posts from lawyers, parents and social workers. As part of my research, I visited the Republic of Ireland to see how they had pursued greater transparency, after amending their law to allow anonymised reporting of family law cases. As of February this year, I hold follow-on funding from the Paul Hamlyn Foundation to help me set up an Open Family Court Reporting Pilot (discussed last year in principle with the President), the planning phase for which I had just embarked on when the Covid crisis hit.

Since 2016 I have been an active committee member of The Transparency Project and contributed to its very full response to this consultation; this much briefer personal response is intended simply to add some details from my experience as a journalist in the hope that they may be helpful.
1 – The President has asked respondees to consider particularly whether the line is currently drawn correctly between, on the one hand, the need for confidentiality for the parties and children whose personal information may be the subject of proceedings in the Family Court, and, on the other hand, the need for the public to have confidence in the work that these courts undertake on behalf of the State and society.

2 – The assumption in this debate has always been that confidence versus confidentiality is a zero-sum game. I do not think it has to be. It does not fully encompass the options for more openness and scrutiny that are possible if the culture of the family justice system were to change, as I think, given the state it now finds itself in with regard to public confidence, it now must.

With measures in place to properly anonymise family members in any media reporting – such as operate very successfully criminal cases where sexual assault is alleged, or where young people are ordered not to be identified – far more detail could be published of the processes and decisions that take place in family courts, leading to greater understanding, more scrutiny, better quality debate, and, hopefully, more legitimacy for a system that – however painful this might feel to those within it – is currently failing to maintain public respect.

While secure anonymisation procedures do not address the issue of identifying information being placed, often by family members, on social media, the fact is that the publishing of such information is already very extensive, as a cursory search of Facebook, Twitter and other online platforms quickly demonstrates. By contrast, the ability of the media to publish details of a family court case and interviews with all those involved (an issue of balance frequently occurs currently where a local authority is unwilling to offer any input into an article for fear not only of intruding on a child’s privacy, but also of falling foul of contempt laws) does offer a legitimate route to complaint for family members who wish there to be investigation and reporting of their case. Meanwhile, not all reporting would involve investigation of this type of allegation of injustice: my interest is far less in cases where individuals approach the media than it is examining the overall process of family court hearings; it is vital that with secure anonymisation, journalists are able to undertake public interest reporting of both ‘bread and butter’ and complex family law cases. Such investigations are currently almost always far too risky for editors to contemplate commissioning.

3 – I also suggest that to take no action to increase transparency will not mean that public confidence in the child protection and family justice system remains in its existing state, whatever one assesses that to be. The longer no action is taken to improve openness, scrutiny and public acountability, the greater will be the loss of confidence, and even the contempt, felt by so many of those who find themselves embroiled in the family justice system.

This is not a sustainable situation for any system of justice where great powers are exerted that intrude into and change people’s lives forever – even less so for one whose raison d’etre is to protect some of the most vulnerable children in society. It matters enormously that the family justice system is trusted by those who use it. Virtually all my experience of speaking to, interviewing and being contacted by many hundreds of family members, and probably by now, scores of concerned professionals, suggests that today, in too many cases, it is not. Even given the fact that people primarily approach journalists when they are unhappy, angry or dissatisfied, the level of concern, plus the sheer, unrelenting number of the contacts I have received – incomparably higher than on any other issue I have dealth with in nearly two decades as a journalist reporting for the national press on a wide variety of education and social affairs issues – would indicate that trust in the system is broken.

4 – Regarding the President’s Guidance as to reporting in the family courts:
This has been useful.

For instance:

a) Last spring/summer, when it was still in draft form, I quoted sections of the Guidance in correspondence with a court centre when making a request for a transcript of a hearing related to the Portsmouth adoption case mentioned above. Where some family courts have in my experience been wary, slow or even obstructive in assisting my media enquiries, Section 8d “Courts should be astute to assist reporters” can now be helpfully employed to speed up the response. In this case, it worked – not wonders, but it worked.
b) More recently, I quoted the finalised Guidance to back up my requests for documents in advance of attending another freelance journalist’s application to the family court for sight of the paperwork and evidence in the Portsmouth adoption case mentioned above. I was given all parties’ skeleton arguments which helped me follow the oral submissions made over the next two days in court.

The setting out of a defined process with which a judge should approach an application to relax reporting restriction is very helpful in showing how an unrepresented journalist should be involved in the courtroom process, and actively invited by the judge to make their arguments.

Though it should not have needed to be said, it is right given the RRO which I appealed that judges have been plainly told that in approaching the decision as to whether to relax S12, they “should conduct the balancing exercise between privacy and transparency by balancing ECHR, Article 8 and Articles 6 and 10 …”

Finally, and speaking from experience, it is a huge relief that the Guidance says that unless the media has acted unreasonably or behaved poorly, a journalist or publisher is not at risks of a costs order if an application to relax the statutory restraints is not successful.

5. Journalistic experience of attending and reporting on family courts

It is is important to say that I have had some good experiences of attending private family hearings, and also of applying for and being given permission to report on family cases. Although often, I think, slightly anxious, some solicitors and counsel have been helpful and respectful of the role of the press in attending a case, whether they opposed my applications or otherwise. I think particularly of an occasion when a barrister representing a father whose child had died explained how difficult it would be for his bereaved client if I was to attend his final hearing. The barrister asked if I might consider not coming in. I had not been following this particular case for an article so there was no reason to insist, and in human terms it felt right not to go into court. What was important in this interaction was that the barrister did not question the media’s right to be there, but asked if I might be willing to forego that right given the circumstances. That approach was respectful of the role of the media while explaining the potential impact on his client. It left the decision to me, and in my view was the correct understanding of the right balance to strike in seeking to protect his client.

By contrast, I have been repeatedly unimpressed by local authority and Guardian opposition to my attendance at and/or reporting of a number of family court cases. I have been more unimpressed still by the widespread ignorance I have encountered of the law relating to the media’s rights of attendance, the grounds on which it may be objected to, and the way in which, once I have made an application to report, some experienced family lawyers and even in one case, a senior judge, have attempted to block reporting without recourse to any consideration of Article 10 rights versus Article 8 rights.

An example of this was set out by HHJ Wildblood in his judgment on the media’s application to report on a 2017 case: in the following excerpt he comments on a hearing on 20 October 2017 convened solely and specifically to consider the prospect of publication of certain details of a case.

In court, I observed, just as the judge describes, no reference by counsel to any of the competing human rights, or the need for them to be balanced, but instead simply a self-justifiying rehearsal of the social worker’s perspective on the care proceedings that had concluded.

6. The hearing on 20th October 2017 was disappointing. Although the Local Authority, guardian and mother all attended with legal representation there was no mention in any of the skeleton arguments or position statements of the legal considerations that arose in relation to the grandmother’s application. Specifically, there was no mention at all of Articles 6, 8 or 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights or any of the relevant case law (LT bold)The Local Authority had produced a statement from the social worker seeking to justify its actions during the proceedings and the written submissions were to the same effect. It was necessary for me to repeat many times that I was not conducting a hearing to decide upon the validity of the grandmother’s complaints (how could I do that in two hours without hearing witnesses?). I had to stress repeatedly that I was deciding whether the grandmother should have the right to disclose her statement (LT bold) and a contextual statement within the public domain.

I refer to this in particular because:

a) it is a reported example– a judicial description – of what I have experienced several times in attempting to attend and report on private hearings: not only a kneejerk, often legally unsustainable, and in one case, unpleasantly aggressive, opposition to a journalist’s simple attendance (an objection not made on any of the recognised grounds was most recently made on 6 May 2020 when a Guardian was informed I wished to attend a remote ICO application) but also –

b) because the longstanding private operation of family court hearings appears to have been so deeply ingrained into many lawyers and social workers working in the family justice system, my experience is that some cannot envisage, have not considered, and worst of all, do not especially value the reasons why scrutiny of a justice system is, in principle, a healthy and necessary aspect of democracy.

I believe that both factors a) and b) demonstrate a genuine, deep-seated cultural problem – an opposition to transparency, a complacent attitude to practice, and an unwillingness to see any benefits that might result from scrutiny – that has simply not been touched by the rule change allowing journalists into court that happened now eleven years ago. Nor indeed has the fact that it has always been possible to ask a judge to relax or remove the restraints imposed by S12 AJA by successfully making the argument that Article 10 and 6 (and indeed sometimes Article 8) override the right to confidentiality, been fully grasped by many professionals in the family justice system. Although this is incredibly frustrating, I say this not to express that frustration, but to make the argument that attempts to report on family law cases have been difficult not simply because of the complexities relating to the existing statute, but because some of those working daily in the family justice system have not demonstrated that they value the principle of open justice enough to learn in what circustances even our current law on private hearings does allow reporting, under certain conditions, to take place.

6 – This takes me on to Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act (1960).
This law is, in practical terms, utterly chilling to freedom of expression and scrutiny of state powers.

First of all, it is generally agreed that Sec 12 is poorly drafted, such that the best legal minds have, over decades, lengthily and expensively wrangled with the meaning of its phrasing to decide what and is not permitted in terms of publication. The most senior judges in the land have had repeatedly to navigate – and sometimes create – tortuous routes through that phrasing.

Any law that requires such constant, costly and onerous litigation cannot be fit for purpose, particularly when what is in question is the proscription of human rights – primarily freedom of expression in relation to the exercise of justice, but also in some cases, it is argued, Article 6, the right to a fair trial, and an absolute right – which are so fundamental to the healthy operation of democracy.

The powers of which S12 AJA prevents public interest reporting are extremely draconian – in public law, for instance, the evidence and process leading to the removal of children from their parents, the forced adoption of children and the extinguishing of their legal relationship with their entire birth family including siblings, and the immediate separation of a newborn baby from its mother. In private law, these powers can, for instance, result in the total loss of contact between a child and a parent, or the enforced movement of a child from one parent to the other when the resident parent truly believes – whether or not they have been able to prove it to a court’s satisfaction – that abuse or harm will result.

These state powers, the process by which they are exercised and the judicial decisions which are made as a result of the legislation, need to be regularly, thoroughly and independently scrutinised, described and debated by citizens. At present, because of the immense costs in time, money and expertise of any contested application to publish the details of private family proceedings, this barely happens at all.
While ensuring sufficient measures are in place to protect children’s anonymity (while bearing in mind that courts have accepted that, depending on the case, harm does not necessarily result from identification) I believe that S12 AJA 1960 must urgently be repealed.

7 – The Republic of Ireland may offer some useful experience to inform moves to open up the family court system to independent scrutiny. I reproduce in full here my blogpost of the visit I made last year, mentioned earlier, because – although I would not favour the establishment of a similar Child Care Law Reporting Project as our sole means of scrutiny – the Irish experience offers interesting and perhaps surprising reassurance as to the overall long-term reaction to, and effect of, removing the automatic ban on the anonymised publication of details of private family cases.

Scrutiny of family courts – what can we learn from Ireland?

29 March 2019

I’m recently back from Ireland, where I went on a mission to explore how the country’s Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP) works to provide scrutiny of their family courts and family law system. This blog should certainly have been written sooner, but I’ve been felled by a vicious bug, and am only now really able to collect my thoughts and attempt to analyse what I learned.

I made this trip because I am trying to figure out what might work in terms of achieving greater scrutiny of the family law system in the UK, so there is more transparency when the state intrudes into families’ lives, and better accountability for its methods, ethics and outcomes.

I’m tentatively calling this an Open Family Court pilot, and am hoping to advocate for it in meetings I have coming up with some people who might be able to help to make it happen.

Dublin visit

I met with solicitors, barristers, civil servants, the head of the biggest provider of Guardian at litem services, a human rights charity focusing on children with experience of care, and with judges. I also interviewed a journalist by telephone, spent a morning in a family court with one of the CCLRP’s rapporteurs (she is both a qualified barrister and a journalist), and interviewed the Project’s director, Dr Carol Coulter (who last autumn presented to the Association of Lawyers for Children conference in Bristol – here is her speech).

I tried over several weeks to arrange a meeting with Irish social workers, but this didn’t work out. I also didn’t have the chance to speak to any families who had been through the care system. Both are a real shame and I acknowledge that it is a significant gap.
The reactions from everyone I met to the Child Care Law Reporting Project were broadly very positive, with some criticisms. I will do my best to set out both in this post.
The first thing to note is that applications to remove children into care in Ireland are made not by local authorities, but by a central government body, the Child and Family Agency (also known as Tusla). This means that accountability issues on care applications are predominantly for central government to face. And helpfully, if you don’t need to name a local authority in order to hold the state to account, then worries around family identification relating to geography substantially fall away.

Of course, local authority areas in England hardly comprise tiny populations, but the fact that the Child Care Law Reporting Project does not need to – and indeed has chosen not to – name where care cases are heard, has probably helped considerably in countering arguments that detailed reporting of hearings risks identifying families.

Secondly, there is considerable protection given to families in the Irish Constitution.
There is no constitution in England and Wales. And I was told several times that the protections provided in the Irish constitution results in the courts being exceptionally wary when considering the removal of children from their parents. Interim care orders are made for 28 days, and often renewed repeatedly rather than applications being made for full care orders. Longer time-limited – one and two year – care orders  are common. Adoption without parental consent almost never happens, though the conditions in which it can take place have recently been very slightly relaxed. And care numbers in Ireland are currently going down, though numbers of voluntary agreements for children to live with their wider family members are going up.

Thirdly, the fact that families are highly unlikely ever to have their child adopted, does, I sense, takes some of the fury and heat out of the child protection debate. Here there is undoubtedly very great fear within families that care proceedings, particularly when they concern young children, might lead to parents, siblings and relatives losing their relationship with a child for ever. Not having the spectre of adoption hanging over them also, I venture, may well affect the relationship parents in Ireland have with the state and therefore the social workers they come into contact with: because the government is vanishingly unlikely to intrude quite this drastically into family life, there is perhaps not the visceral terror related to anticipated permanent loss, and therefore maybe a better chance of constructive working.

Fourthly, journalists in Ireland do not only have the right, as does the media here, to attend family court cases held in private: quite differently from in the UK, they are permitted to report the detail of those cases, and this does happen, though only typically for controversial cases. The legislation provides for the ability to impose restrictions on publication of information from family cases, and there are really draconian penalties – 50,000 Euro fines and a possible three years in clink – for any reporting that identifies a child or family.

But, critically, the starting point is that journalists may publish details of family cases held in private.

This is the direct opposite of the situation in the UK, where the starting point is that they may not. This is something I would very much like to reverse.
Nevertheless, I was told by Shane Phelan, legal affairs editor of the Irish Independent, the penalties have a rather chilling effect on editors’ willingness to cover family cases, even if they could stomach the resource implications of sending reporters to multi-day trials.

Finally, it’s important to understand that the Child Care Law Reporting Project does not, apart from specifying when cases are held in Dublin, identify the area of the country in which a case is heard, nor name the judge, social workers, experts or Guardians. Families of course are not identified either.


On the Monday morning that I arrived at the offices of the CCLRP, it had just released a report to the media. This report was unusual in that it did not detail any individual family cases, but described instead the pressures of lists in the district courts around the country that sometimes ran to 90 and 100 cases. District judges in the smaller towns, the Project’s rapporteurs had found, were dealing with issues like child contact, maintenance and domestic violence as well as public law care cases, all in the course of a day. While in bigger cities, care cases are dealt with on dedicated days, in the smaller and commuter towns, these cases were being squashed into more general lists, and the media was running stories about it on radio, tv and in print.

Coulter had previously told me that every time the Project releases a report, there is considerable media interest and even though there was no “sensational” family case described in this report, the media was certainly talking about the issues it raised: Coulter had been up early doing radio interviews, and dashed out of our meeting to give another one mid-way through the morning.

Only shortly before, a different report detailing six-months worth of lengthy, highly contested and problematic family cases had shown that homelessness was an increasingly frequent reason for courts being reluctant to allow children to return to their families: this issue too had been comprehensively picked up by the media.
“At the outset, civil servants and the Child and Family Agency (CFA) were not enthusiastic about us,” Dr Coulter told me, between radio interviews. “They had this fear that all journalists do is look for problems, which I understand. But we designed our attendance at court to be as randomised as possible, based on court statistics on volumes. I think, with some caveats, we get a more or less representative sample, and I think they were at least somewhat reassured.”

Coulter  designed a reporting protocol based on anonymisation best practice as carried out by responsible media outlets: the protocol is the mechanism whereby the Project’s reporters do not breach legislation on identification. “It wasn’t reinventing the wheel: it was based on how the media ensures it doesn’t name, for instance, victims of sexual offences,” said Coulter. “We train our new reporters in it.”

Coulter explained that many of the cases the CCLRP has written about are not contested, or are short and relatively simple, with only a very small number being highly contested. “If you were doing this journalistically,” she pointed out, “you’d go for highly contested, and that’s certainly important. But it’s not very useful in looking at the issues faced by vulnerable children across Ireland.”

This measured approach was specifically noted, and regarded as important by several of the people I later spoke to in the sector.

“The beauty of Carol’s work is that she’s not only looking at the worst cases,” said Freda McKittrick, a social worker by background who has worked in both England and Ireland, and is now assistant director of the Guardian Ad Litem service at the charity Barnardo’s Ireland.

She  believes that by describing the detail of public law care cases, the Project has given policy makers an insight into what is happening in child protection across the board. “That might be on the ethnicity of parents, or what proportion of care orders are granted compared to those asked for. This is not data that’s collected by the state.”
McKittrick also believes that reporting has raised society’s awareness of and sensitivity to child abuse. “Our perception is that the general public have had no idea of the level of misery that these children experience, and we can’t talk about it,” she said.
She expressed concern about whether children’s views on whether their cases should be reported, even anonymously, are ever solicited, let alone taken into account.
“The Guardian Ad Litem relationship has limits to its confidentiality already; we have to tell children that their information will appear to parents, also to other lawyers – should we also be saying ‘and it might also appear in the papers’?”
But she also observed that, as a Guardian who had built a relationship with a child, “you would know a child who was very sensitive to information and other children who would like people to know what happened in their case”.

Overall, McKittrick’s view was that “you need to look at the value of the reporting. And balance it against the rights of the individual child and also their anonymity and their consent.
“Having said that,” she concluded, when the Project began reporting, “the world didn’t fall in.”

I met John McDaid, the chief executive of Ireland’s Legal Aid Board, and a lawyer who formerly worked on child care cases, on my first afternoon in Dublin.
Is the Child Care Law Reporting Project effective in holding the state to account, I asked him.

“I think we’ve made giant strides but there is a way to go,” he said. “I think the fact Carol’s team even go into the district courts may make people behave a little more carefully than might otherwise have been the case. “Historically there was no scrutiny and everything was private, so anything could go on.”

I laugh to myself a little hollowly. That’s pretty much where we are in the UK, I thought.
But what about more overt media interest in family cases… what would he think of journalists reporting more enthusiastically from family courts?
“I’d have no problem with it.” McDaid said firmly.“In terms of greater levels of press scrutiny it’s good. The risk is the level of experience of the journalist, and the level of understanding of what is taking place in court.”

Catherine Ghent and Seona Ni Mhurchu are solicitors who represent children and families. Ghent introduced me to the delights of breakfast at the food emporium and cafe extraordinaire Dollard and Co, on the south bank of the river Liffey, before dashing to court on the Tuesday morning. Ni Mhurchu was kind enough to meet me in her office the following day before her court commitments.

Of journalists reporting on family cases, Ghent said: “I see public discourse as a way to hold judges, lawyers and the state to account.” However she also felt strongly that it was important that entire cases were observed, rather than journalists coming in for one day out of three or four.

“The problem is you need to be there for a long time, not only so that you get to see the whole progression of the case, and get a feel for the dynamics between professionals, parents, lawyers and the judge, but also so the judge forgets you’re there. It’s then you’d see how conduct of the case affects the evidence put before the court, affects how professionals give their evidence and how – and if – it’s properly heard.

“In cases where solicitors and social workers are bullied into not putting evidence they want to before the court, or are stopped from cross-examining for spurious reasons, it’s really dangerous for the system because it’s having a knock-on effect in terms of what case will be put forward on behalf of the child,” she continued. “Courts then make decisions with incomplete information. These are cases where children are at risk from dangerous decisions being made. And then you have other judges riding roughshod over parents’ rights, and if that had been reported at all…”

She also said that there are some “excellent judges trying their best to deal with difficult cases, who are very skilled and do a great job”: her view is that problematic judges are thankfully a rare minority “but one is too many given the ramifications for children and parents”.

I’m surprised she’s willing to be so publicly critical, but Ghent says she has made her opinions openly known.“The whole system becomes complicit,” she says. “It’s a human reaction to want to avoid conflict. “You need a complaints mechanism beyond judicial review. There needs to be an accountability mechanism. Because you have judges who are conducting family hearings in camera, and in courts that are open, you don’t get away with that.”

Although she said there is some excellent reporting and it plays an important role in terms of informing the public, Ghent is not uncritical of the Child Care Law Reporting Project: “What’s missing from the reporting is an analysis of the atmosphere (in court),” she said. “Where the judge’s conduct is relevant to how the case has proceeded and if that conduct is problematic, then that should be reported to give the full picture.” She felt this was a difficult line to walk for the Project in terms of its remit and observed that it highlights a need for a wider mechanism for accountability within the courts system.

Across the river, in Seona Ni Mhurchu’s office, the solicitor recalled the reaction among lawyers and social workers when the CCLRP was first proposed: “Oh, the scaremongering!” she laughs.

I ask whether she believes the potential risks of children being identified as a result of family cases being reported have ever materialised.

Ni Mhurchu says there have been only a very few instances: identification has occurred not because of CCLRP reporting, she said, but because individual news journalists had failed to understand the law which states that no child who is in care may be publicly identified as such. She cites one case, in which a journalist reporting on the inquest of a child (who had not been not in care), wrote that they had a sibling who was fostered.
She also emphasised that there are situations in which reporting public law family cases “really matters.”

“I think the Child Care Law Reporting Project has brought to the fore the extent of child sexual abuse in our society – around 70% of my cases have an element of that in it,” she explained. In one such case a few years ago, reporting by the wider media was, she says, “really helpful.”

Is reporting worth the danger of identification, I asked?

“I think it’s so important that there is scrutiny. I think it trumps any downside.”
“Unfortunately you have to take that risk. Before (the CCLRP) here was no oversight at all. Having that journalistic oversight – it changes things. And there is an overwhelming benefit to people in understanding what is happening in these cases and how difficult social workers’ jobs are.”

Pol O Mhurchu, her father, a renowned family law solicitor in Dublin, popped his head round the door. I grabbed the chance to ask what he thinks about the CCLRP, and scrutiny of family law systems. “It’s very good idea, very important,” he said. “Because it’s starts right here. I need someone to check on me. Because it’s much healthier. I know that I need to be open to that.”

And yes, he said, he would accept the risk of a family being identified for the benefits gained through better scrutiny.

He also says that everyone involved “must make every effort to avoid it.”

Terry Dignan, chief executive of the human rights charity EPIC which supports children with experience of care, had tried very hard to arrange for me to meet some of the young people he works with, but this had unfortunately proved tricky to achieve.
Instead, I met with both him and EPIC’s head of policy, Karla Charles.

Dignan offered a surprising perspective on the right to privacy as it relates to family cases. “Talking about the ‘in camera’ principle,’ he said, “whose interest is best served? What about young people who go on social media and identify themselves as being in the care system?” Under Irish law, he pointed out, this isn’t permitted.

Of this blanket rule not to identify children who have been subject to care proceedings, he said: “You wonder why it’s being used as such a blunt instrument. Obviously, we shouldn’t be publishing the details of why they’re in care. But just the fact that they are in care – why are we increasing the stigma? Rather than reducing the stigma by normalising the fact that a child is in care.”

When I asked about the possibility of children being identified as a result of reporting, Dignan’s response was: “I have no doubt that some children feel that they don’t want it known. But others do tell their peers that they are in care.” Karla Charles then posed a fascinating question, to which of course we don’t know the answer: “It would be interesting to go to care leavers and ask, would it have bothered you to have your case anonymised and published?”

My final meeting – apart from a fascinating lunch with a group of senior family judges, which I can’t report on – was with a civil servant at the Irish government’s Department of Child and Youth Affairs (DCYA). He oversaw the recent three year funding agreement with the CCLRP.

It was this official’s perception that the Project’s reporting is “scrupulously neutral.”
“It’s more like a research project,” he said. “It’s not positioned as existing in order to call out the failings of the judiciary or others. Its reports are descriptive rather than commentary.”

In terms of people’s original fears that the Project’s work risked identifying children and families, he points out that while this is not a widespread problem, court rules occasionally already fail to prevent families and professionals being identified on social media, as people release details of their own cases across various online platforms. “Carol has established an effective protocol to ensure that the reports do not in any way identify parties and that this has been effective now for a number of years,” he said.
The DCYA has made a significant financial commitment to support the Project’s work: the benefit, the official said, is that its reports bring emerging trends in public law care cases to the attention of national media and the attention of government. “As an example, reports have highlighted the length of time children are spending in care under renewed interim care orders,” he said. “This has implications for their wellbeing and also has resource implications, so clearly that’s an issue that may require a policy response.”

And what if the CCLRP didn’t exist?

“We would miss it,” he said. “It’s a good spot check, and while it has to be seen as indicative, and as flagging issues rather than analysing them in depth – we couldn’t make policy on the basis of its findings alone – it does tell us where we need to look and where we might need to do more.”

My conclusions from my visit, are as follows:

Despite widespread initial misgivings throughout Ireland’s family law and child protection sector, the CCLRP appears to have become widely accepted as a valuable tool in holding the Irish state to account in public law care cases, and is used and appreciated by policy makers for the information it provides that is not otherwise available.

The Project’s neutrality is valued, as is the fact that it does not cherrypick the “juicy” cases, or attend only those which are highly contested.

There remains a degree of concern that children might be identified via reporting of family courts, though this has very rarely happened, and never so far as a result of reporting by the CCLRP. This may be because its reporters are specifically trained in its anonymisation protocols and also, there is no pressure of time in terms of publication, as there will always be in news reporting (though less so for longer pieces/documentaries/investigations).

There was a strong sense from everyone I spoke to that the risk of identification needs to be tolerated in order to ensure the state can be held to account for its intrusions into family life, and very importantly, in order that those who are involved in the system, and those whose policies shape it, can improve on what they do to protect vulnerable children.


As a journalist, my job is make things that are hidden, known: to help people see what currently they don’t – or can’t.

The media doesn’t itself reform, though it may at times campaign.

So my ambition for this Open Family Court pilot – in whatever form it takes – is to allow people to understand better what they currently have little chance of grasping, because family law processes are private, and hearings are held in such restrictive conditions that despite UK journalists’ entitlement to be present in court, we are left with what I’d argue amounts to a judicial process exercised in secret.

The only consideration, in my view, which needs to be taken seriously in relation to reporting, is the risk that children might be identified. The CCLRP has two significant mechanisms to help avoid this: the distance in time between a case being heard and the reporting of it, and the fact that there is no need in Ireland to identify a local authority as the agent of the state.

My feeling is that arguments for some degree of delay in reporting may have some value in helping prevent identification, even if in journalistic terms, a time-lag is very far from ideal – if you do not report something at the time it happens or very shortly afterwards, you might easily find you can never report it at all.

But in the UK, where local authorities are the arm of the state which both propose and heavily influence drastic and life-changing intrusions into families’ lives, failing to identify who is doing what would make the exercise of reporting pretty well pointless.
Not only would it mean we could not identify where poor practice and human rights breaches were taking place, so that the prompt of public knowledge can add salutory impetus to drive change: it would also mean that councils’ good practice could never be identified either.

Next week, I’m meeting with three other journalists who between them have considerable experience of reporting on family courts, to try to thrash out what we feel might be an acceptable and useful way forward for an Open Family Court pilot.  I’ll follow that up with a blog about what we’ve discussed.

If anyone has any feedback on the findings of my Dublin trip, or constructive suggestions on how an Open Family Court pilot might shape up, I’d very much welcome your comments!

Oh, and yes, Dublin did have excellent cakes.

1 – Why I fought for the right to open up family courts to greater scrutiny, The Guardian, Tuesday 19 February 2019
Louise Tickle

On Friday, I was at the Royal Courts of Justice for a hearing in front of the most senior family judge in the land. I was challenging a reporting restriction order (RRO) that I believed had been made unlawfully last autumn in a Portsmouth family court. The restriction order banned the media from reporting on Southampton city council’s attempt to remove a young child from her mother, for ever.

The child had been placed in foster care in 2015. In 2017, the council applied for her to be adopted. The family law court judge ruled in the council’s favour. But the mother appealed against the decision and at the beginning of 2018 the court of appeal declared that Southampton children’s services had offered “only the slimmest of evidence” to back up its assertion that the little girl should be adopted. The judge, the appeal court continued, had “fallen into error” in analysing whether adoption would be best for the child, and his ability to do so was “compromised” by weak evidence from the local authority. It ruled that if the council still wanted the child adopted it would have to make its case again. A date was set for October. Yet, unbeknown to any journalist, during the summer the council reunited mother and daughter. A court hearing did go ahead in October 2018, however, at which the council applied for a RRO banning the publication of names of professionals who had been involved in the case, or the ages and ethnicity of the family.

Family court proceedings often cannot be fully reported and there are some good reasons for privacy to safeguard children and their families. But court of appeal judgments are in the public domain unless, as happened in October, a judge slaps a RRO on it.

I emerged from court on that day feeling furious – and frightened. It is shocking enough that family courts are not subject to anything approaching the level of openness in the rest of our justice system. But when one family judge acts, in secret, to remove a child from her mother, and a more senior family judge then says that the media may not report how weak local authority evidence, compounded by questionable judicial decision-making, has almost destroyed a family, then it’s dangerous territory.

Since then, I’ve discovered that fighting for the right to freedom of speech is scary, time-consuming and far too expensive for most people to contemplate. There is no automatic legal aid for a parent to appeal against an adoption decision. In this case, the mother scrabbled together the £60,000 to mount a legal challenge. A number of lawyers warned she had almost no chance of success. But, she told me, she had wanted her child to know that even if she failed, she had tried her hardest to keep them together.

But the RRO meant that the public would never know that a terrible judicial decision could have resulted in a child losing her relationship with her mother. And this is why, risky though it is as a freelance reporter to go to court – I stood to pay everyone’s costs if I lost – I was determined to argue the case.

I crowdfunded to cover the costs; £528 simply to apply for permission to appeal, then a further £1,199 for the hearing itself. The mother was represented for nothing by solicitors Boardman Hawkins & Osborne and barrister Lawrence Messling. My legal bill – representation was provided pro bono by human rights silk Paul Bowen QC, family barrister Sarah Phillimore and solicitors Simons Muirhead & Burton – plus the risk of paying the costs of the other parties had I lost, would have been in the many tens of thousands of pounds.

This is the price of fighting for the freedom of speech required to keep the state accountable: the cost to this mother to protect her daughter’s right to be brought up in her birth family has been incalculably more. Their story deserves to be told – and, thanks to help from so many people who believe that family courts must urgently become more transparent in their dealings, it now can be. And following this important victory the country’s top family judge has vowed to make rules covering reporting restrictions in cases involving children much clearer.

2. The Guardian view on family law: Transparency is in the public interest
15 February 2019

3. The Guardian view on the family courts: Openness is the cure, 31 August 2017


A journalist in family court asks to report on a journalist in family court

“Journalist tries to report on journalist trying to investigate” is perhaps not the catchiest phrase you’ll ever read. Frankly, I’ll admit that things are getting a bit meta when you have one freelance reporter taking the early train to London to ask a family court judge for permission to report on the efforts of another journalist to get sight of restricted papers in a flawed adoption case. But… bear with me.

Tomorrow, freelance journalist Melanie Newman will embark on a two-day contested hearing in front of Mrs Justice Roberts; she wants to be able to read the papers that were submitted by Southampton city council as evidence for a little girl to be adopted.  A judge gave permission for the adoption to go ahead, but the girl’s mother, bravely and thanks to huge financial sacrifice by all her family, appealed. Very unusually, she was successful. The Court of Appeal described as “only the slimmest of evidence” the paperwork and oral testimony given to the court by the local authority in support of it’s case to remove the child from her family, forever – and, after a huge amount of trauma for everyone involved, the girl returned to live with her mother.

Being a dogged investigative journalist, Melanie wants to know what is in the papers, and is trying very hard to find out. I estimate she formally applied for sight of the court bundle – to see what this “slimmest of evidence comprises – ten months ago.  The mother is in agreement that she should be able to see the documentation. The local authority and child’s Guardian are opposed. There have been several court hearings to date: the opposing parties have instructed counsel including Deirdre Fottrell, one of the country’s most eminent family law QCs to argue their case contesting Melanie’s application. Melanie herself is now, thankfully and incredibly generously, represented pro bono by barristers Anya Proops QC and  Kate Temple-Mabe, and Mark Stephens of Howard Kennedy solicitors.

From my own experience of successfully appealing an unlawful reporting restriction order made to gag the media from reporting the outcome of that case, I know all too well the immense amounts of time and energy that Melanie – a freelance reporter, working on her own  – will have put in to try to find out what on earth the local authority felt was adequate evidence to support an application to have a child adopted. Evidence that the Court of Appeal, remember, did not believe was remotely sufficient. Journalists are frequently criticised for not reporting family courts accurately: it’s important to underline the point that Melanie’s efforts to interrogate source documents are in the very best traditions of rigorous journalism. And what stands in her way is Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960– a 60 year old law that restricts anyone from knowing what goes on in closed family court proceedings, even when the state, in exerting its most draconian powers – to remove a child from its family, and extinguish the legal relationship between them – clearly made a terrible mistake.

Using the President of the Family Division’s recently published Guidance as to reporting in the family courts, I emailed the judge on 20 January this year to let her know – as a courtesy, there is no requirement to do this – that I would be attending the hearing tomorrow and Tuesday, and to explain that I would, at that hearing, be making an application to report the parties’ arguments both for and against Melanie having sight of the documentation. I also applied, via the email, to be able to see documentation in advance of the hearing. Eventually, though it was opposed (though not by Melanie), I gather from a short excerpt from an order that I was sent by the judge’s clerk that this was agreed, subject to anonymisation of the documentation.

So, to conclude: I’m on not-quite-the-most-crack-of-dawn train to London tomorrow to get the Royal Courts of Justice for 10am, then staying at my sister-in-law’s overnight, then back in court on Tuesday. I’ll make the best case I can to Mrs Justice Roberts that reporting Melanie’s efforts to investigate what went wrong in this adoption case is in the public interest,  that in doing so I will not identify the family members (remember, there has been significant national coverage that successfully protected their anonymity), and that I should be able to let you know what arguments the state makes – at very significant public expense – to ensure a journalist cannot even read (not, at this stage, publish) the evidence the Court of Appeal  said was insufficient for a judge to have ordered that a little girl should lose her relationship with her birth mother, and be placed for adoption.

Please support this reporting!

I am paying for my own travel to London tomorrow (rail fare  £171.81) and am giving up two days of time to report on this case. This is not the kind of story that would be commissioned by the national media, but I feel it is important to show the efforts being made to try to hold the state to account as it exercises its powers in the family justice system. If you feel able to support my Patreon, which will help pay for me to make these applications to report on family court cases, I would be hugely grateful.







Frankly, it’s all getting a bit meta. I’ll try to explain.



Thoughts from the back row of the family court

A journalist’s response to the President’s draft practice guidance on how applications to relax reporting restrictions should be dealt with


Screenshot 2019-06-28 at 13.42.07Thanks to Flickr

The consultation period for the President of the Family Division’s draft practice guidance on how courts should approach applications to relax reporting restrictions in family court cases will end on Sunday 30 June. So… if you’re interested in submitting your views, get yer skates on – this is a significant opportunity for journalists and others who are interested in how transparency intersects with privacy in the world of family law to have their voices heard.

I’ve published my response below, and am looking forward to seeing the thoughts and ideas put forward by other individuals and organisations when and if these are published.



Response to the President’s Draft Practice Guidance as to
Reporting in the Family Courts

Submitted by Louise Tickle, 28 June 2019



1. I am a freelance journalist specialising in reporting on family law. I am also a committee member of the charity The Transparency Project which has submitted its own response to this consultation. This response is my personal submission which I have prepared with the assistance of the two barristers who represented me pro bono in my recent appeal against an unlawful reporting restriction order – Paul Bowen QC and Sarah Phillimore – out of which the current consultation document emerged: Re R (A Child) (Reporting Restrictions) [2019] EWCA 482 Civ. .

2. Given my experience of attempting to report on family courts, which has tended not to be simple, swift or affordable, the measures outlined in this draft guidance are very welcome. They will go some way to ease the process of applying to relax or lift reporting restrictions, as well as, I hope, offering helpful clarity to reporters, lawyers, judges and parties as to the process required when the media, legal bloggers, or indeed parties themselves, seek to exercise freedom of expression in relating what happens in family courts to the wider public. My thoughts on how to further improve the very helpful measures detailed in the draft guidance are as follows:

Timing of journalist’s submission

3. It is typically difficult for an unrepresented reporter to know at what point in a hearing they may stand to make an oral application for reporting restrictions to be lifted. We have no clear “standing” in court, and it can feel as if we are interrupting or even being disrespectful to draw attention to ourselves in order to ask the question. There have been situations when a hearing has been wound up by the judge without me having any obvious opportunity to ask whether I may report aspects of the case, and one is then left in the much more logistically difficult situation of having to contact the judge and parties afterwards.

4. In practical terms, therefore, it would be extremely useful if there was a commonly understood point or points in the hearing where the judge briefly asked whether reporters wished to address the court. It would seem to make most sense to do this at the start of a hearing – a reporter may well know that they wish to report in advance, and this allows parties and lawyers to be thinking about any issues they may ask to be restricted from publication – and also at the end of a hearing – a reporter will have a better idea at this point of exactly what they wish to publish.

Provision of case papers

5. It can be difficult for a reporter to understand what is being discussed in a family court hearing without knowing the background to the case, the names and roles of professionals, and the names and ages of the parties involved, Giving accredited journalists and legal bloggers sight of the paperwork being referred to by counsel at the hearing would allow greater understanding of the issues being dealt with, enable them to follow proceedings, and help to ensure greater accuracy in reporting.

Proposed additions to the draft guidance

6. I would like to make the following two suggestions for additions, which would run after paragraphs 4 and 14 respectively:

6.1 Proposed paragraph 4A: “The automatic reporting restrictions in s 12 AJA and s 97(2) do not apply to local authorities, their social workers, expert witnesses or other professionals unless the disclosure of their identities is intended, or likely, to identify the child (J (A Child), Re [2013] EWHC 2694, [22]). Compelling reasons must be given for anonymising local authorities or professionals (Practice Guidance (Family Courts: Transparency) [2014] 1 WLR 230, [20]; J, Re (a minor) [2016] EWHC 2595 (Fam), [24], [28], Hayden J).”

6.2 Proposed paragraph 14A. “In conducting that balance, the same approach is to be taken when considering whether to reduce or lift the automatic restrictions in s 12 AJA and/ or s 97(2) CA 1989 as when considering whether to impose reporting restrictions under the inherent jurisdiction that are not provided for automatically. While the starting point – privacy in the first case, openness in the second – may differ in each case, neither value has automatic priority over the other. What matters is the weight to be attached to the competing values in the particular context.”

Publication of written judgments

7. In my experience, some of the problems in ensuring the publication of judgments appear to stem from the fact that judges and lawyers are put to additional time and expense in ‘anonymising’ a judgment after it has been handed down in order to make it suitable for publication. It is therefore understandable why there continues to be significant non-compliance with the existing practice direction on publication of judgments. I understand that the Courts have experience in other contexts in writing ‘Open’ and ‘Closed’ judgments and that a similar approach to judgment writing might make it easier for family court judgments containing sensitive information to be published. It may be that if judges were to receive training and guidance in applying a similar approach to the writing of judgments, so that any confidential information is identified at the outset and placed in a confidential annex, the process of publication would become less expensive and time-consuming. This would also make it easier for members of the press or legal bloggers to identify the information that is considered to be sensitive upon which they can focus any argument that more information needs to be opened up for publication.

President’s Anonymisation Guidance

8. Finally I would like to use this opportunity to comment on the President’s Anonymisation Guidance, issued in 2018. It pertains directly to the decisions that a judge will be asked to make in assessing what details may be published when an application is made to relax or lift reporting restrictions, and difficulties with aspects of the checklist were raised by my counsel Paul Bowen QC in the court of the appeal hearing on 15 February 2019.

9. It is worth saying that the mainstream media – as opposed to individuals irresponsibly using social media – is very well used to successfully anonymising people involved in legal cases in order to prevent jigsaw identification: this is commonly done in cases of sexual assault and sexual abuse for instance, and will often go further than simply not publishing the name of the person involved. Notwithstanding the recent case where a serious but genuine mistake was made and a journalist was prosecuted, these anonymisation measures are almost always successful in keeping the names of victims or alleged victims out of the public domain. I do not believe that the media would act any differently in cases related to children in family court proceedings, and while some may deplore the facts that certain media choose to highlight from published judgments, there is not, I think, evidence to suggest that ordinarily even the red-tops actively seek to publish information in order to identify vulnerable individuals involved in family law cases.

10. Although I have serious concerns about the overall level of micro-management of what details the Anonymisation Guidance says a judge may include in a judgment, I am most concerned about what it says about the naming of local authorities, which are agents of state, and must, most particularly in cases which are held in private, be capable of much greater scrutiny than this guidance would appear to permit.

11. Under the section relating to local authorities in the Anonymisation Guidance, the wording runs as follows:

After redaction/abridgment of a judgment intended for publication and following consultation with advocates and consideration of the number of potential applicants served by the court, the judge concludes that naming the LA would carry with it no risk (my emphasis) of identifying the children (or any of them); or…

12. However, there can never be a situation in which there is no risk. This wording is therefore worrying to any reporter who wishes to hold the state to account for the drastic intrusions it makes into family life when the law is exercised in the family courts.

13. There is also an important difference between the exercise of judicial discretion and a highly prescriptive checklist issued as official guidance: the above paragraph is indicative of the conservative approach taken throughout the Anonymisation Guidance, which does not acknowledge the value of open justice, and the importance for public confidence of the media’s ability to robustly scrutinise the workings of family courts.

14. I hope that within his Transparency Review, there might be an opportunity for the President to look again at the Anonymisation Guidance and consider whether certain aspects of it might be refined to take account of these concerns.

15. I intend to publish this response on my Open Family Court blog (, and very much hope for the opportunity to read others’ responses if they are published either by the President’s office or themselves.

Louise Tickle 28 June 2019


For interest, here also is the consultation response by The Transparency Project, of which I’m a member.


“Don’t be shy, Mr Bowen”

Screenshot 2019-03-04 at 11.58.59

On 18 March, I submitted an application for a transcript to be made of the Court of Appeal hearing where together with the BBC, I successfully challenged an unlawful reporting restriction order. Today, over three months later, I’m finally able to post it.

The delay is partly down to me. I made two mistakes.

First, I ordered it from a transcription service I had previously used, not realising that it didn’t do Court of Appeal hearings. Second, when I emailed my application form to a company that did, I used the wrong case reference number: not an incorrect number, but not the one they needed to request the audio.

Sorting out these mistakes has been – a lengthy and painful process. Let’s just leave it at that.

My enormous thanks to those at the RCJ who have helped all along the way. You know who you are.

My thanks too to the extremely generous person whose donation meant I could afford to pay for this transcript.

I have chosen in this single instance not to redact the name of the country of origin of the mother in the case, as I want to publish an accurate and complete record of what happened on the day. It is permitted to be public. But it is her preference that it is not reported. I understand why, and in my writing about her case to date, I have not done so. Nor has the BBC. I would very much appreciate it if in any quoting of the transcript, the mother’s wish was respected.

I’m not going to comment further, as the point is that people can read what happened during the hearing in full. But if you’d like to see where the headline of this blogpost comes from, have a quick scroll down to the bit I’ve put in bold, where Paul Bowen QC begins a beautifully polite and effective challenge to the President on his recently published Anonymisation Guidance.


Royal Courts of Justice
The Strand
London, WC2A 1LL

Friday, 15 February 2019







– and –

(2) R (A CHILD)
(by her Guardian Ad Litem, Jane Young)
(3) A (R’s mother)


Mr P. BOWEN QC and Miss S. PHILLIMORE (instructed by Simons Muirhead & Burton)) appeared on behalf of the First Appellant.

Mr A. WOLANSKI (written submissions) (instructed by the Editorial Legal Group) for the Second Appellant.

Miss S. EARLEY (instructed by Southampton Council Legal)) appeared on behalf of the First Respondent.

THE RESPONDENT CHILD BY HER GUARDIAN did not appear and was not represented.

Mr L. MESSLING (instructed by Boardman Hawkins & Osborne) appeared on behalf of the Third Respondent.



Page No.

Miss EARLEY 30

(For judgment, see separate transcript) 47


Friday, 15 February 2019
(10.27 a.m.)

MR BOWEN: My Lord, my Lady. I appear in this matter for the appellant, a journalist, an independent journalist, Louise Tickle.
MR BOWEN: With me is Miss Sarah Phillimore. Mr Adam Wolanski is here for the BBC.
MR BOWEN: Mr Laurence Messling is here for the mother, A.
MR BOWEN: And Sarah Earley is here for the local authority.
MR BOWEN: The Guardian had written in to apologise that—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, that they had not got funding.
MR BOWEN: –that they are not attending. They do not have any funds.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So far as the local authority are concerned I think we have had no documentation at all from them. Is there any documentation?
MR BOWEN: There is, there is a position statement. May I just hand these up, my Lord?
MISS EARLEY: We did send through a short position statement this morning.
MR BOWEN: (inaudible – over speaking)
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Oh well, yes, well that is (inaudible).
MR BOWEN: I am mistaken (inaudible), my Lord.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Right, okay. Can we just read that? (After a pause) Right. So can we take matters in turn? There is no objection to the BBC being joined as a party to, to the appeal?
MR BOWEN: No, we are all agreed about that.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So as ever Mr Wolanski is welcome.
MR BOWEN: Could I, could I ask, my Lord? Can we just at the outset just set some ground rules for live tweeting?
MR BOWEN: Because a direction has already been given permitting live tweeting of the hearing.
MR BOWEN: We have agreed between the parties that there should be no live tweeting of certain details and that your Lordship and your Ladyship should made a direction under r.39.2(4).
MR BOWEN: So that there should be no live tweeting of the identity of any children, either R or his – her sibling.
MR BOWEN: Or the parents, or the mother’s ethnicity, just for the purposes of this hearing.
MR BOWEN: That is an issue however that needs to be resolved in the wider scheme of things.
MR BOWEN: Or the identities of any of the professionals, and again that is an issue that is agreed only for the purposes of live tweeting but is an issue that needs to be resolved more generally.
MR BOWEN: But that the name of the local authority can be reported because under the terms of Judge Levey’s original order, Southampton City Council were named in the order so there is no restriction in any way.
MR BOWEN: We are agreed at the Bar that that order can be made.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well that seems sensible. That seems entirely sensible. So we make it plain to anyone in court that whilst live tweeting is alive, is allowed, no tweet is to include the identification of the children or the parents, or the mother’s ethnicity or the identification of any of the professionals, but can name the local authority.
MR BOWEN: Thank you, my Lord. So, my Lord, we have all agreed that we are going to do our best to avoid saying anything, which cannot be reported anyway.
MR BOWEN: But I think that should, that should cover it.
MR BOWEN: So, my Lord, my Lady, I am going to take my submissions of 8 September largely as read. I apologise for the lack of material.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well can we cut to the chase.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I have established this hearing—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –and sometimes you establish a hearing and you wonder why you did or did not, but it seems to me – and I think my Lady – that in fact it has been very useful because it has drawn out in detail what everyone says about any reporting restrictions order, and also the submissions, and we are extremely grateful to you, Mr Bowen, taking up the baton that Miss Phillimore had polished and carried in providing your skeleton argument. It seems to me, acting pro bono as you do, what your contribution is, instructed by Miss Tickle, has been extremely useful.
MR BOWEN: Thank you.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: The position that my Lady and I have at the moment is that we accept that it would be very helpful to the system as a whole, and to journalists, for there to be greater clarity as to the process to be adopted where journalists attend, as they entitled to do, family courts which are being conducted in private and then wish to make an application for the reporting restrictions to be lifted. And subject to further assistance from you and others this morning, we feel that guidance in the broad shape of the guidance that you have suggested would be helpful.

In terms of how that proceeds, we are conscious that, at a hearing such at this, only limited contributions are made by the parties who happen to be here and who are represented before the court and the guidance, if it is to be of greatest value, probably needs to be the subject of some sort of consultation with a wider community. Equally such guidance is normally issued in the form of guidance from the President rather sitting in the body of a judgment given at a short hearing in the Court of Appeal. So subject to your various submissions, what we would propose to do is tease out some of the detail this morning with all of you, and then deal with the appeal by way of a short judgment making a reporting restrictions order in place of the one made by Judge Levey, but then dealing with the guidance by a process of sending out a draft for consultation and then issued as soon as possible by me as President in due course.

Now that would obviate the need for any further hearing as it seems to us that that would be unnecessary and given the costs implications, or the lack of costs, that would be a burden on you, and also the number of senior journalists involved here can be about their business rather than turning up on another day in March to do what we think we can do today.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So that is where we are, subject to you persuading us that we should take a different course.
MR BOWEN: Well, my Lord, that is very helpful. Thank you. I think that the – that there is unanimity among the parties. If we were to take the four potential public interest issues that I have highlighted in, in our submissions at para.8—-
MR BOWEN: –there is unanimity that there needs to be some practice guidance.
MR BOWEN: And that clearly my Lord’s proposal would, would meet that, that issue.
MR BOWEN: I have highlighted, and I think it is fair to say, that these are issues which, which the other parties do not – are not clamouring for the court to resolve.
MR BOWEN: But I have highlighted three additional issues and it will be helpful if your Lordship were to give an indication whether you were proposing to deal with any of those in any practice guidance.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So just so we are not talking at cross purposes—-
MR BOWEN: So if we—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –which are the three additional—-?
MR BOWEN: So the – if I could pick up in our written submissions, it is at p.97 of the appeal bundle, para.8.
MR BOWEN: So we have highlighted some four potential issues. The first one is this, the guidance which your Lordship has already dealt with. The second is the, this issue of whether the automatic reporting restrictions create a presumption or merely a starting point.
MR BOWEN: And I have, I have outlined in our submissions why we submit that it is a starting point, not a presumption. But it may be that some clarity on that would be of assistance.
MR BOWEN: Because of course it has practical implications. If it is a presumption then it is for the person seeking to overturn the restrictions to prove it.
MR BOWEN: And if it is just a starting point then it is not.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: But clearly there is a material difference between the two.
MR BOWEN: Then the third issue is that this paramountcy point—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Which really ties in with the starting point of presumption—-
MR BOWEN: Well it does, my Lady.
LADY JUSTICE KING: –in a way that (inaudible).
MR BOWEN: It does. Now—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: And then look at 97, the issue is, is ultimately going to have to be resolved. I mean it—-
MR BOWEN: It is.
LADY JUSTICE KING: –for my own part, and I am sure for my Lord’s part, it is coming more and more often. The question is whether, you know, in—-
MR BOWEN: This is the right case.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Whether this is the right case.
MR BOWEN: Yes. And, and all that I would propose is that, well you have a case here – it was not – it did not come up specifically—-
MR BOWEN: –in the course of submissions before His Honour Judge Levey.
MR BOWEN: But it should have done because—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Well what you say – not much did.
MR BOWEN: Not much did, exactly. So this would provide a vehicle by which it could be resolved. You have got at least one willing party. I cannot speak for the others but it is a matter of course for the court.
MR BOWEN: But it is clearly an issue that would satisfy the Salim(?) test that a case that the court could resolve, even if there was no lease inter partes, it is of sufficient importance that would warrant a judgment. And then the last issue, and I make this submission with a degree of tentativity—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Do not be shy, Mr Bowen.
MR BOWEN: But I do suggest, my Lord, that, that there are certain aspects of the anonymisation guidance that were given in December which are potentially misleading.
MR BOWEN: In particular where, where there is reference to the need to – for there to be no risk of identification or for the risk of identification to be eliminated. I have in mind – we have got a copy of it in the bundle of authorities before your Lordships at tab 16, if I just pull it up.
LADY JUSTICE KING: We went through it yesterday actually.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I am afraid I have not brought the bundle of authorities in.
MR BOWEN: I think Lady Justice King is going to share hers, my Lord.
MALE VOICE: We have a spare.
MR BOWEN: We have a spare.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Good, thank you. (Same handed)
MR BOWEN: And it is at tab 16—-
MR BOWEN: –if one turns to p.334 just by way of example. Page 334, under the left-hand column where it reads, “Name of the local authority applicants.”
MR BOWEN: And then the, the right-hand column:
“In the first instance while the default position is that an applicant should be named, the judge should undertake a balancing act and name of the local authority should be confined to cases where after redaction …”

And then picking it up at the last, last five lines:
“… the judge concludes that the name of the local authority will carry with it no risk of identifying the children, or any of them.”

MR BOWEN: And we, we respectfully submit that—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: You think that is too high, yeah.
MR BOWEN: –there is a balance that needs to be struck.
MR BOWEN: And in, in, for example, MacDonald J’s judgment of H v. A (No. 1) [2015] EWFC 58, where he carried out that balance, even if there is some risk that is outweighed by the public interest then, then that particular detail would still need to be published, and we are concerned that if that were to be applied literally then judgments would be anonymised which went too far.
LADY JUSTICE KING: It seems to me as well having – in the light of your skeleton argument, having gone through this yesterday, that there is an allied concern that you are raising which is whether jigsaw identification, which has effectively become a term of art in the most recent years, has effectively just been, “Press that button, say the word ‘jigsaw,'” and in comes the reporting restrictions order.
LADY JUSTICE KING: And one has to step back and go through the process, identify the harm, carry out a balancing exercise—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –and that you have got to look at the jigsaw and not just say, “jigsaw.”
MR BOWEN: Well, my Lord, this, this comes back to our point about presumption versus starting point.
LADY JUSTICE KING: It does, absolutely.
MR BOWEN: Because if it is a starting point then both values of transparency and privacy being of the same value initially, those who seek to uphold the restriction must establish the need to do so by evidence, and this again feeds into that question of well, you know, what evidence is there that this would lead to identification and if, if it did there is a second necessary question of what harm that would cause. Bearing in mind what Wall LJ said in Clayton v. Clayton [2006] EWCA Civ. 878—-
MR BOWEN: –which is that you cannot presume harm that will ensue if a child is, is identified.
MR BOWEN: Now I understand since then, of course, the Julia Brophy research has, has perhaps has a particular influence on the debate in this area about concerns the children themselves have expressed about being identified.
MR BOWEN: And perhaps that has in some respects shifted the balance in the other direction, and the risk caused is, is in correcting what had been a shift in favour of transparency, whether it may have shifted it too far back in the other direction.
MR BOWEN: Now, my Lord, my Lady, these of course are matters that you could address by way of guidance, but in my respectful submission they are matters that arise for determination. They are sufficiently important to be determined. This is a vehicle in which those issues could be determined. You will have seen our proposal which has been picked up by the Guardian, that if you were minded to hear submissions about these wider public interest issues that CAFCASS could instruct a friend to the court, an amicus, for the court to hear submissions in the other direction if you like, if, if none of the other parties wished to attend.
MR BOWEN: But in one sense I am not seeking to persuade your Lordships that you should have a hearing. All I seek to do is to demonstrate that there are some real issues here.
MR BOWEN: Some of those issues would of course be addressed by guidance of the kind that my Lord has identified in your proposal. But perhaps not all of them would be and you would, of course, not have the benefit of submissions.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well it would not be possible in, it would not be possible in guidance, I would think, to resolve the issue of whether it is a presumption or a starting point, or what role the welfare of the child should, should take.
MR BOWEN: Well, my Lord, I would be inclined to—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Those, those go beyond guidance.
MR BOWEN: I would be inclined to agree with that as a proposition. But I do not seek to persuade you that you should do this. This is very much a – from, from my client’s point of view, as a working journalist who has to, has to encounter these issues in practice—-
MR BOWEN: –they are the kind of issues that are causing difficulties for her and, and for others like her.
MR BOWEN: And I only raise the question whether my Lord’s very welcome suggestion of producing practice guidance would necessarily answer all of the questions—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well no, you are right to do that and indeed you are right that not all of the points would be encapsulated in guidance.
MR BOWEN: But, my Lord, I do not, I do not seek to persuade you, as I say, in another way—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Perhaps it would be, would be possible to correct any infelicity in, in the December guidance in further guidance.
MR BOWEN: Of course.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: The, the central points are really the, the first two, the linked one, presumption and the staring point, and the welfare of the child.
MR BOWEN: My Lord, I think that is already a matter of settled law.
MR BOWEN: There is one paragraph in my Lord’s judgment in Re W (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ. 793 (Fam)(?), para.36, which, which perhaps fudges that a little bit and it would be helpful to have it restated that it is a starting point and not a, not a—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: When I said, “Do not be shy, Mr Bowen,” I was not encouraging you to be downright offensive. (laughter)
MR BOWEN: Well, my Lord, I do not think anybody’s ever accused me of being shy so I am perfectly happy to—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, well I parked it, did I not? I said it needs to be looked at, yes.
MR BOWEN: Well you, you parked the issue of paramountcy.
MR BOWEN: But in relation to presumption you, you – the submission was being made on behalf of the media organisation so the presumption was in favour of transparency.
MR BOWEN: And you rejected that. You said, “No, there is not a presumption. The presumption is to the contrary.”
MR BOWEN: That is all. It is para.36 of that judgment.
MR BOWEN: Again, my Lord, that could be dealt with, I think, in guidance because the case law is legion that says in terms—-
MR BOWEN: –that the process is one where effectively the scales stand empty at the outset—-
MR BOWEN: –and neither value has primacy.
MR BOWEN: So probably the only one that could not be resolved by way of the sort of guidance that my Lord has suggested is the paramountcy issue.
MR BOWEN: But that may well come up before your Lordships at some point in due course anyway.
MR BOWEN: We are not – I am not going to seek to suggest that this is the only case that could decide that, that issue.
MR BOWEN: So those, those were the public interests that I just wanted to flag up.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Thank you. That is very helpful.
MR BOWEN: We do have, we do nevertheless have to reach some conclusion as to how to resolve the, the appeal.
MR BOWEN: And we have now reached a still more substantial degree of agreement.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So we have got the – a version of the draft order. I do not know if it is the most recent one.
MR BOWEN: It is not. I know that my learned friend Mr Messling has some proposals to make that would amend those—-
MR BOWEN: –and I am going to leave them to him in a moment. But I will just flag up what they are. His concern remains that references to the mother’s ethnicity—-
MR BOWEN: –in the Court of Appeal judgment—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: In the Court of Appeal judgment.
MR BOWEN: –should not be repeated in any subsequent reporting. Now—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I was not, I was not sure whether he was suggesting the court should go further and take some steps to remove the reference in the Court of Appeal.
MR BOWEN: Well that was the original suggestion.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: That is what I read, yes.
MR BOWEN: That was the original suggestion. I do not think Mr Messling is suggesting that now because I think he accepts—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I think that would be very, very difficult to do.
MR BOWEN: –that now it has been reported in half a dozen different law reports, some of which will be in hard copy—-
MR BOWEN: –it would be in fact impossible to do so.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Impossible, yeah.
MR BOWEN: But I accept as a matter of principle that if there is a risk of harm that reaches the necessary threshold for Art.8 purposes then the court does have jurisdiction to make orders that restrict further reporting of a particular detail, and I accept that.
MR BOWEN: But I think what I will probably do is leave it to Mr Messling to deal with that point.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Can I just check something?
LADY JUSTICE KING: Can I just check? Looking at the header of the order that I am looking at, so I am clear that we are working on the same document—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –my header says:
“2019-02-08. Draft report and restriction order after comments from all parties but before final agreement.”

MR BOWEN: Yes, it should have p.113 at the top.
LADY JUSTICE KING: And then it has got sort of (inaudible)—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: One, one three at the top, yes.
LADY JUSTICE KING: And then it has got colours on it?
MR BOWEN: So that is – that was the latest version until Mr Messling made his suggestions, which he is going to outline.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Fine, I just thought that—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I think the only – in terms of the substantive order, the only need for further consideration that my Lady and I would point to, is the phrase, “was unlawful.”
MR BOWEN: Yes. So I have spoken to Miss Earley about this.
MR BOWEN: She would be happy for it to be recorded that the judgment was – the order was, was wrong.
MR BOWEN: But not that it was unlawful.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Yeah, I personally was unhappy with the word, “unlawful.”
LADY JUSTICE KING: It was obviously perceived to be incorrect.
LADY JUSTICE KING: And, and reached the standard for allowing the appeal.
MR BOWEN: Yes, of course. I mean I am talking as a public lawyer.
MR BOWEN: You know as far as I am concerned that means it is unlawful. But I am perfectly happy for it to be wrong in the terms of the order. So that has gone away.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Right, so that has—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Fine, that is sorted.
MR BOWEN: And then as far as the terms, the substantive terms are concerned there were a couple of suggestions made by my learned friend, Mr Wolanski, which I think are now all agreed, at p.119. Obviously at p.118 there are some details to be (inaudible) but we can deal with all, all of that.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Sorry, 119. So in terms of the order itself that is in strict (inaudible) terms and no order for costs, yeah.
MR BOWEN: And as far as – sorry, the order itself. Yes, no order for costs.
MR BOWEN: That is agreed.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Then 119. Just on 118—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –there is a reference to the second child and the need to include their birth date for the expiration of the order.
MR BOWEN: Yes, yes.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I do not know that we know what that date is. It may be the local authority—-
MR BOWEN: Well I think Mr Messling will have those details.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Of course, Mr Messling is likely to have instructions on, on that. But I do not think – we have not got them within the modest paperwork we have got.
MR BOWEN: I was slightly foxed by this. I mean the, the suggestion is that a specific birth date should not be given. So that is why R’s birth date appears as November 2030.
MR BOWEN: And presumably the same should be for D.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Given the scope of what we are dealing with, which is an order for 18 years or so, a week here or there at the end of it is not going to be out of proportion.
MR BOWEN: No. So if we, if we just – when we insert that it will have the same degree of—-
MR BOWEN: –or lack of specificity about date.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Yes. Well I mean if you put the actual date when he is 18, I mean that would be a kindergarten jigsaw, would it not?
MR BOWEN: My Lady, yes. So that is p.118. Then p.119, as I said, Mr Wolanski’s suggestion which is highlighted there is, I think, agreed by everybody.
MR BOWEN: And then p.120, para.5, those details will be provided by the solicitors for A, and, my Lords, I would not want the hearing to pass without recording our thanks to them as well for appearing pro bono for the mother in these proceedings.
MR BOWEN: Both counsel and, and solicitor.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: All this week I have been sitting in this court – I did not sit on Monday, I had a reading day – but of the counsel in the room, I think of eight counsel in the case I was hearing, six of them were appearing for three days pro bono in a substantial piece of litigation, and here you are, and I think the Bar is not thanked often enough. I think we all bend over backwards but the public do not recognise just how public spirited the Bar is in providing its services and its expertise, at a high level, in these cases of importance. We just could not function effectively without it. Miss Tickle would attend. She would make her submissions and they would be clear and well thought out. But in terms of the process it needs a lawyer to engage in the, in the way that you have been able to do, and I think that Miss Tickle would agree with me in that respect, given the difficulties that she has encountered from time to time.
MR BOWEN: Well it just so happens, my Lord—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I just think that needs to be said.
MR BOWEN: It just so happens, my Lord, we happen to have quite a lot of journalists in the room today so—-
MR BOWEN: So perhaps the message will get out.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well who knows, who knows?
LADY JUSTICE KING: Yes. I mean your – the skeleton argument that you and Miss Phillimore have put together, despite your expertise, it is a very significant piece of work and I think those of us who are reading that, as my Lord and I have been, can just get how many hours that took to – not just to do the research and produce it, but to produce a document completely free of typographical errors, beautifully formatted and completely accessible, and I, on my part, am extremely grateful.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, here, here.
MR BOWEN: Well that is very much appreciated but I think we all, we all appreciate those thanks.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yeah, yeah, right. Moving on, p.120?
MR BOWEN: So 120, yes. So those details will be provided in para.5 by the solicitor in (inaudible)—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Just one or two – in para.6(b)—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –and this is what is not restricted:
“Reporting or publishing any criticism made by A, R’s mother, of the previous care proceedings.”

Is that criticism made within proceedings or criticism that she might have voiced to journalists outside?
MR BOWEN: Well I think she, I think she would—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: I think that is why I really did think the latter.
MR BOWEN: As I understand it that would be both. I mean it would be any criticism.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So I just wanted to be clear about that.
MR BOWEN: Yes. I think she wants to, to be able to go on record—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well I think that is why she is in favour of the order being varied.
MR BOWEN: Yes. Well she is in this difficult position obviously because, you know, the last thing she wants is for her child to be identified.
MR BOWEN: But she also wants her voice to be heard about what happened to her.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So I – (After a pause) – yeah, yeah.
LADY JUSTICE KING: I do not know whether you want to – I do not know whether, just to be on the complete safe side, it ought to be just slightly tweaked so it makes it absolutely clear that it covers both of those challenges.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, but that is—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Because we do not—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –that is what I was going to – because you do not want to be on the wrong end of a contempt order—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –if it is ambiguous.
MR BOWEN: Well perhaps—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So I think, that is why I raised it, for my part I think it needs to expressly say, “Reporting or publishing any criticism made by A’s mother (whether within the court process or by other means)” – that is bad wording – (or, or outside).
LADY JUSTICE KING: Or otherwise is perhaps a (inaudible).
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Or otherwise, or otherwise.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Within the court process or otherwise.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Or otherwise, yeah.
MR BOWEN: Or otherwise.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Would that do it? Yeah?
LADY JUSTICE KING: I do not want to create any hostages to fortune.
MR BOWEN: Yes, I mean I think it is worth repeating that this is, this is a family where a child was removed on what the Court of Appeal has described as the slimmest of evidence of harm to the child, and she then had to appeal the case to the Court of Appeal using her own resources.
MR BOWEN: It has been reported it was £20,000. It was in fact I think £60,000 of her own resources necessary to overturn the Care Order, and it then returned back to the Family Court—-
MR BOWEN: –where the local authority agreed that the Care Order could be set aside.
MR BOWEN: And the child was returned to her mother in the summer of last year.
MR BOWEN: And that obviously raises a number of public interest issues, not least – and this is one of the matters that I know that Miss Newman(?) particularly wanted to record – the fact that this particular local authority area has the highest rate of adoption of children in the country.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well I have read the statement, yes.
MR BOWEN: But, my Lord, thank you I am grateful for that, that suggestion to 6(b).
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And it shows also that a lot of the applications for permission to appeal in public law children cases are made by litigants in person, and it just shows what a – I cannot think of the right word – of just how, how vulnerable the system is to the litigant in person not actually feeling able to appeal.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And how crucial it is that the Court of Appeal, as it did in this case, sees the validity of any potential appeal and, and takes it up. It is a very fragile, in some cases, pathway given the, the stakes that are involved.
MR BOWEN: Well, my Lord—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: As this, this case shows. The order has gone from the child being placed for adoption to going home.
MR BOWEN: I mean with the best will in the world, and however expert the judge considering the application for the need to appeal—-
MR BOWEN: –when confronted by an application made by a litigant in person—-
MR BOWEN: –it is an extraordinary amount of extra work that you would have to do in order to find a sort of analysis that you would get if you—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Well, Mr Bowen, what in fact happens, which can reassure you and those listening, is it is for that very reason that applications for permission to appeal in any child care case only ever go before a specialist family lord or lady justice, because only those people, with that expertise, can effectively – as my Lord I think did, I assume, in this case—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –have the expertise to tease out and read between the lines—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –of the, of the litigant in person’s ability to express what they felt went wrong and why whatever happened was not right.
MR BOWEN: Well that, I am sure, will be of very considerable comfort, but it is certainly, in my respectful submission, better than a person in that situation should have public funding to enable them to instruct—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Oh, of course.
MR BOWEN: –specialist counsel. It is just—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: I am just telling you what Elastoplast we have available for use.
MR BOWEN: Yes. Well I am sure we are all very grateful for the Elastoplast but—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And in the, in the event the appeal was allowed because of basic structural flaws in the judge’s judgment and, and a parent will have had – no, she did not have public funding, did she? She was a litigant in person before, because it was the discharge application and an application to place for adoption she did not have public funding in, in the first instance.
MR BOWEN: Those behind me are nodding, my Lord.
MR MESSLING: My Lord, the figure of £60,000 divided under my instructions as follows—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, but that is – so she was privately paying. That is why she was privately paying.
MR MESSLING: She paid that (inaudible)—-
MR MESSLING: –£20,000 (inaudible).
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So the point that I was going to make just does not apply, yeah.
MR BOWEN: So – sorry, my Lord, we got slightly sidetracked. So the, so the order, para.6, p.120, (g), that is, that is agreed, I understand.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So the judgment of Judge Hess is not currently in the public domain.
MR BOWEN: No, so—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So he proposal in (g) is that it is to be suitably redacted to comply with the reporting restrictions order.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And is then to be made public so that those interested in this case can, can see the raw materials, see his judgment, the Court of Appeal judgment.
MR BOWEN: Exactly.
MR BOWEN: And there was some debate outside court whether we should be going back to Judge Hess to get him to make that order or not. On reflection, in my respectful submission, this court can and should make that order.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: But this court could, had it been asked, have made it in the original appeal.
MR BOWEN: Yes, had you been asked.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So I mean I think we are seized of—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Well we can make any order that the lower court could have made.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Have you agreed from a practical point of view how you are actually going to get the redaction from—-?
MR BOWEN: I think, I think we are, we are 99 per cent of the way there on redactions. I do not see anybody shaking their heads.
MR BOWEN: But I think that is probably something that we can agree between us.
MR BOWEN: But if we, if we could just – if we cannot agree it we could perhaps come back to you on paper.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: But if you could – yes. We have not – my Lady and I have not got a copy of Judge Hess’ judgment.
MR BOWEN: No, we thought you had enough in front of you already.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, well we have obviously both read it at different times.
MR BOWEN: So that—-
MR BOWEN: So that it (g), and then I think those are the only other matters, and then of course the details of the children and of the relevant professionals – sorry, parents, carers, etc., are sch.1 and sch.2. Those will be populated in the final version—-
MR BOWEN: –that we agree and perhaps send to your clerks.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And indeed the reporting of – (h) at the top of 121:
“Reporting or publishing any detail in the transcript of the proceedings before Judge Levey.”

Do they need – that is subject to the reporting restriction order in relation to any detail that might identify the children or the parents?
MR BOWEN: Yes, so—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So does that not need to have a caveat in it?
MR BOWEN: Well it is—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well the whole thing is subject to para.3.
MR BOWEN: Some of para.6 is subject to para.3 above.
MR BOWEN: “Nothing in this order should prevent any person from,” so it is all—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Fine, good, so it is all – the caveat covers it.
MR BOWEN: –all subject to – so, my Lord, my Lady, the only two other points that I think that I need to make while I am on my feet are these. One of the issue of practice that it would be very helpful if you could address in your practice guidance, is the fact that a journalist making an application to lift or vary reporting restrictions should not be liable for the costs of those, of that application.
MR BOWEN: Now the Family Procedure Rules 28.2 disapplies CPR 44, so there should not be that risk anyway. But we have seen, certainly for the purposes of this appeal, that the risk of costs orders are such that somebody like Miss Newman, for example, did not feel able to participate in the appeal because of her concerns about costs.
MR BOWEN: And Miss Tickle rather bravely went ahead anyway.
MR BOWEN: But if you could also make the point, and I have got the references here – if I just hand them up to you, you can slot them into the back of your authorities. (Same handed) But the Supreme Court in the case of Re S (A Child)(Costs: Care Proceedings) [2015] UKSC 20 looked at this question of whether there should be costs – the same position on costs on an appeal.
MR BOWEN: And said that it should be, and again if, if your Lordship and my Lady would be prepared to, in any practice guidance to make clear that a journalist seeking an order to vary reporting restrictions should not be at risk of paying any costs of the application, or of any appeal against an order if unsuccessful, unless they are acting on the—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, I was going to say there would have to some caveat.
MR BOWEN: Yes. And I think the phrase used in, in Re S is – if I just pull it up—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: “Reprehensible” I think is the word, is it not?
MR BOWEN: I beg your pardon, my Lady.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Was “reprehensible” not the word?
MR BOWEN: Yes, it might well have been. I have got them here. (After a pause) Yes, it is acting, if they have acted reprehensibly.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes. But these – and also the process that these applications are likely to happen during the course of the day.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: The journalist or the blogger attends court not particularly knowing what is going to happen during the course of the hearing. Something takes place that they think justifies relaxation of the restrictions so they make the application. It is a pragmatic dynamic process rather than something that needs to be—-
MR BOWEN: Yes, and we, we mention practical suggestions about—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –hampered by the need to go through a formulaic process, and you would say pay a fee.
MR BOWEN: Indeed. And one thing that might well be worth adding, I know Mr Wolanski had a suggestion to add to our proposed set of directions which he may raise, but essentially where a reporting restriction is sought that goes beyond the automatic reporting restrictions, consideration should be given to the existing guidelines—-
MR BOWEN: –the existing Practice Direction. My only concern about that, and I have articulated this to Mr Wolanski, is that one would not want everybody to have to go away while an application was lodged on Copy Direct, with a full reporting restriction order. But certainly once it becomes clear that in order to allow some variation is it necessary to have some additional restriction that goes beyond the automatic restrictions – for example, going beyond the, the conclusion of the proceedings – then clearly in those circumstances there is both a reporting restriction issue—-
MR BOWEN: –as well as a variation of the automatic reporting restrictions issue, and that is why it is really important that the parties should sit down and draft a copy of what it is that they are asking the court to, to do.
MR BOWEN: And it may well be sensible to suggest that if a journalist is present and wants to record what is reporting, that that be dealt with at the outset of the proceedings.
LADY JUSTICE KING: I think when the (inaudible) r.7(f), first came in, that, that is what was planned, was that if a journalist was in, came to court, their credentials would be checked and then effectively it would be dealt with right at the beginning of the trial, “Well this is going to be an issue.” And of course what we found is that it is vanishingly rare that journalists actually do attend the day to day hearings in the family courts, so that that has sort of fallen away because it was a pointless exercise that simply took up court time.
MR BOWEN: Well I think, I think what happened is that a Practice Direction was – there is a Practice Direction on what to do is somebody objects to the journalist being there.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Yes, yes, but not the other way round.
MR BOWEN: But none, but none – exactly.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, there is plainly a need for this.
MR BOWEN: And I think it is right to say that now that the Practice Direction has been amended in the light of the pilot to allow legal bloggers, in fact these issues are coming up more frequently, because they are more likely to be there.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Well I think that is why the s.97(2) keeps coming over my desk.
MR BOWEN: Yes, yes, I am sure.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Or nearly coming over my desk.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, and the legal bloggers pilot has been informative in one respect, in that the people going, by and large, are qualified lawyers. They tend to be barristers taking time out of their ordinary practice, so they are coming in with, with eyes which are attuned to the court process but sitting in a different seat.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And they can spot infelicities in the process which a journalist, even experienced in attending court, would not necessarily spot.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So it has been useful in that respect.
MR BOWEN: Yes. So, well thank you, my Lord, my Lady. We would then ask that the order in those terms be made.
MR BOWEN: There will need to be something added to the order to record what can be reported from today’s proceedings.
MR BOWEN: My proposal being—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well there is nothing, nothing so far—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –that – this is an open court and in terms of the, the embargo on tweets, clearly anything about the children or the parents which we have not said anything so far—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –would stand because that is covered in the order. We need to hear from Mr Messling about ethnicity, but the naming of professionals no one is suggesting that that should be somewhere in this picture.
MR BOWEN: No, and, and the professionals who can be named will be those that are already named in the Court of Appeal judgment—-
MR BOWEN: –and those that are named in the judgment of His Honour Judge Hess.
MR BOWEN: And I think the only names that have been redacted from that are the current carers. Miss Earley probably would be—-
MISS EARLEY: The previous, the previous list of carers.
MISS EARLEY: And the names of medical practitioners who are linked with the local area, which have been taken out.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well that is clearly a proportionate and relevant step to take.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So in terms of what is left, subject to obviously what everyone else may submit, my Lady and I need to decide whether we maintain the March hearing in order to have a fuller consideration of the, the role of the welfare of the child.
MR BOWEN: The paramount issue, I think it is the only one you cannot deal with by way of Practice Direction.
MR BOWEN: And I repeat, I am not, I am not making a submission that you should.
MR BOWEN: I am just saying that if you felt that it was necessary we would be prepared to come along and make submissions on it.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: It is – yes, thank you. Thank you. Anything else? No, thank you.
MR BOWEN: Thank you, my Lord.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Shall we – logically, Mr Wolanski, it should be you next. I think that is right.
MR WOLANSKI: My Lord, my Lady, the starting point insofar as my client is concerned is that what happened in this case is illustrative of what can go wrong when the procedure for time (inaudible) is not complied with.
MR WOLANSKI: And you will have seen in my skeleton argument we set out why we say it mattered in this case. But the real problem here, as it seems to us, is that the issue of reporting having come up, nobody said the judge, “Well here is a draft order which outlines the restriction that we think is needed, and here is the explanation for why it is needed.”
MR WOLANSKI: Now it is understandable how it happened in this case and we do not need to criticise those involved because it was an unusual case in that nobody planned to make a, as far as know, to come to court and make an application for a reporting restrictions order. So to that extent it is understandable why nobody thought to comply with the Practice Direction in the practice notes, which are of course – which are very well established and, and familiar to practitioners in the field.

However having arrived at the court, and one can see from the transcript how it emerged, the parties then said to the judge that some sort of reporting restriction was warranted, and it is at that point, in our submission, that the court should have stood back and taken stock and said, “Hang on, what is going on here is an application is in effect being made for reporting restrictions. How should this be, how should this be dealt with?”
MR WOLANSKI: And at that point what we say should have happened, is that the judge should have said, “Well everyone needs to take their time, go outside and work out what it is that is being sought, whether agreement can be reached, and if it cannot be reached whether perhaps one should go back to the Practice Direction and decide whether or not there should be notification given to the wider media via Copy Direct,” and so on.
MR WOLANSKI: And it is the failure of the court to do that that gave rise to the problems that we are all familiar with.
MR WOLANSKI: So what we asked the court to do in this case is to issue a reminder to explain why one is necessary to those who practice in this field that where any question of reporting restriction arises, that it is important that the formalities are respected. And in particular that a draft order is produced so that everybody knows what it is that is – that should be the focus of the debate in court. What is the order that is being sought and why is it being sought?

And I am not going to go over the history of the case, but it will – it is obvious having read the transcript that the problems that materialised in them is nobody was focussed on a draft order. Nobody really – everyone was talking at cross purposes. Nobody really knew what was available in fact and—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: It was a very short hearing that went at some speed.
MR WOLANSKI: It was. It, it went at some speed and really nobody was really able to, to (inaudible) on what they were talking about.
MR WOLANSKI: And, and the answer to that problem is a draft order in every case—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: A lot of noise and not much light.
MR WOLANSKI: Absolutely. And there is a solution, as I say, which is a draft order, because a draft order enables everybody in court to understand what it is that at least the applicant is seeking to do and then using that as a starting point, decide whether or not that should be implemented or whether there should be some variation to that and so on. But it can, it provides a focus which was lacking in this case.

So that is the first point and we set out in our skeleton argument why, why we say that this, that that gave rise to these particular points in this case and the – and why this court should remind those practising as to the dangers that lie in not observing the Practice Direction.

On the question of applications by journalist or indeed legal bloggers to relax reporting restrictions, it is important in our submission to draw a distinction between, on the one had, applications for reporting restrictions orders and, on the other hand, applications to relax reporting restrictions, because they are two very different creatures. And there is a Practice Direction and practice – sorry, practice guidance, a practice note in relation to the applications for reporting restrictions, and the reason why that exists – and it is set out in the guidance itself – is because of s.12(2) of the Human Rights Act.

And s.12(2) of the Human Rights Act imposes an obligation on anyone applying for an order that restricts freedom of expression, amongst other things, to put those affected by the order on notice. And the court is not allowed to make an order restricting freedom organisation expression without the (inaudible) being put on notice, except in a truly exceptional case. And that is why we have the practice guidance in relation to applications for reporting restrictions.

When it comes to applications to relax reporting restrictions, of course the same rule does not apply, because what the court is not being asked to do is restrict anybody’s freedom of expression. But instead to make an order which gives effect to people’s freedom of expression. So it is a very different kind of beast, and as your Lordship pointed out, the way in which this usually comes up is Mr (inaudible) is in court. He is the one that very often does it and it is helpful for everyone in court because he has a lot of experience.

But the way it usually comes up is that a journalist will be in court and say, “Excuse me, I would like to report this. What can I report please?” It is often not framed as an application at all. It is simply a question.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Mmm hmm, clarification.
MR WOLANSKI: It is clarification. But the – in fact it is an application very often because what the journalist is saying is, “I would like to report more than I usually would be able to because of the restrictions imposed by s.12 and s.97. Please can I do so?”
MR WOLANSKI: And, “If I can do so, please tell me what it is that I can report.”
MR WOLANSKI: So, so that is in effect an application for relaxation of reporting restrictions, and it is done spontaneously for reasons which are obvious. Journalists are not allowed to know very much about a case, particular cases involving children before they come to court because of the restrictions on dissemination of information.
MR WOLANSKI: So, so it is normal for journalists to turn up really knowing very little. And that being so, the next point in our skeleton argument, if this court were to give practice guidance – and we very much encourage it to – then it is necessary to bear in mind that any kind of additional formalities may give rise to problems for journalists in that such situation. And it is just not practical for journalists to be expected to fill in forms, pay fees, even draft orders, given the way in which these applications tend to be made.
MR WOLANSKI: For good reason.
MR WOLANSKI: So insofar as there is a practice – practice guidance given we – and we have seen and studied with some care the proposals made on behalf of Miss Tickle, and we agree because that gives the court flexibility to, to adopt a (inaudible)—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well in the broader context in terms of the drive to make the Family Court more transparent, in a case which should be given some degree of publicity, a case that – a particular case where when the judge has considered the reporting restrictions orders she or he decides to lift it, or vary it, that process should not be impeded by formulaic requirements to file and application or pay a fee, and anything of that sort. The journalist is in the room because they are an accredited journalist. They, in their professional judgment, decide to stand up and ask for clarification, the process should, should move on.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And we should not be putting in yet a further hurdle that might prevent transparency where it turns out that that is in fact entirely justified.
MR WOLANSKI: Exactly, and just coming back to where, to where I started, which is the formalities that apply to reporting restrictions orders. Of course that is very different because a reporting restriction order is an order which, if breached, gives rise to contempt.
MR WOLANSKI: So that is why it is very important for a draft order—-
MR WOLANSKI: –to be produced and for there to be precision and proper focus. When, when it comes to relaxation the same does not apply.
MR WOLANSKI: The court is not making an order which if, if breached will give rise to a contempt or any kind of sanction. It is a relaxation.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Well I think you have to be a bit careful about that submission, because of course what you are asking for is effectively a variation, a relaxation, and if there is not precision about what relaxation is permitted the danger for the journalist is that they may inadvertently put their foot on a landmine after all and be in contempt of the original order.
MR WOLANSKI: Your Ladyship is right. Your Ladyship is right. That is, that is the case. But quite often, just to try and put a, to try and put a practical into – I will give an example. A judge may say, “Well you can report everything you have heard in court today but just not the names.”
MR WOLANSKI: That, that is not an uncommon situation. Or may say, “Well you can report the following five points which have been made but nothing else, because the case is too sensitive at this time,” or for whatever other reason. And that, that is normally quite straightforward and goes to the journalists who tend to come and cover these cases and who find it quite easy to, to comply with, with that kind of relaxation.
MR WOLANSKI: When it comes to reporting restriction it can be a little different because there has to be – precision is all, if it is the contempt aspect.
MR WOLANSKI: And enforceability and so on. But, your Lordship, quite obviously – I am not suggesting, and would not suggest for a moment that it can be – that a relaxed reporting restriction should be vague or—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: No, what I am saying is the same danger arises to the journalist if, if you are not sufficiently precise in the relaxation, because they may inadvertently find themselves in contempt of the original order—-
MR WOLANSKI: Yes, that, that is—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –if they are not absolutely clear about the, the extent and form of the relaxation.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Probably more – there is probably more risk of standing on a landline in relaxation cases. Where there is a reporting restriction order for it, then the journalist can see what they cannot do, and if you relax it – unless you are precise about the relaxation, quite where does it go to—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –and where is the limit.
MR WOLANSKI: The – moving on, the question of starting point versus presumption, the law is set as a starting point. There is no presumption as to how these, as to whether publicity should trump privacy or vice versa, and quite apart from the answer of paramountcy, which I will (inaudible) in a moment, that is a, in my submission, relatively straightforward point which the court will deal with by way of a Practice Direction. There is a live debate as to whether it should be deemed a presumption in any given case. It should agree a starting point and, and there are a wealth of authorities on the approach that the court should adopt when it comes to balancing rights which are engaged in freedom of expression cases and planning vision.

So that is, if you like, the easy bit. The question of paramountcy is not easy and it is perhaps even more complicated than Mr Bowen has explained, because buried in it are really two points. One is the question which, my Lord, Lord Justice MacFarlane alluded to in the Re W case, which is whether as a, as a matter of general approach the paramountcy test is applicable in cases where freedom of expression issues are being dealt with.

But separately from that there is a question which I know, my Lady, Lady Justice King, has looked at recently in another case where permission to appeal was sought, which is whether s.97(4) introduced a different test.
MR WOLANSKI: And if so, how does that test relate to the paramountcy test? Now that is another question which it may be necessary for this court to grapple with on some occasion, and it is obviously related to the question of whether or not paramountcy is the applicable test, more generally when it comes to relaxing s.12.

We, we are not – the BBC does not think this is necessary the right case in which those rather fixed questions can be explored, not least because there is no longer any contrary case. Obviously there is a way for the court to deal with that if necessary.
MR WOLANSKI: But it may not be that the best, the best occasion on which those issues, which will have to be resolved, should be resolved.
MR WOLANSKI: They are not easy questions. The final matter which, which Mr Bowen raises concerns the most recent guidance, practice guidance and whether or not that may be required to be slightly changed.
MR WOLANSKI: And we agree with what he says about that. It seems on the face of it that there is perhaps a, it perhaps needs some further resolution for the reasons that—-
MR WOLANSKI: Yes, so I will say no more about that. But we do, we do agree with him about that.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: It was subject to a process of consultation during Sir James Munby’s time as President, and I do not think these issues were flagged up. But I have no – well we want to get this right, that there is a balance, and so I certainly understand what Mr Bowen is drawing attention to. So it may be that if we are consulting on whatever new guidance is concerned, we offer the opportunity for anyone to make observations about that which is already out there.
MR WOLANSKI: So, my Lord, that—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Thereby opening – I am looking at Miss, trying to catch Miss Phillimore’s eye, but they are opening no doubt – a whole barrage of submissions from different sides of the transparency debate. But that is where we are and these are important matters and I would rather, rather know what people want to say and then consider it, than simply say, “Well I have issued that in December and that is what it is.” It is, it is a process that moves on and develops.
MR WOLANSKI: Yes. My Lord, that, that is all we really say at the moment. I know again Mr Messling has in mind an application for a further change to the reporting restriction order, which we do not agree with but will allow Mr Messling to, to do that.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, and it is controversial then we will hear from you again. Thank you. Anything else?
LADY JUSTICE KING: No, thank you.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No. Thank you, Mr Wolanski. I had rather thought you would be sitting in the row further forward.
MR WOLANSKI: Three weeks time, my Lord.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Very good. Do not be presumptuous, that is the thing then, is it not? Now probably, Miss Earley, it is you for the local authority. Is there anything you wish to add to the position that we now understand?
MISS EARLEY: Well, my Lord, obviously the local authority are pleased that the main (inaudible) have been resolved in terms of the agreed order—-
MISS EARLEY: –that we have asked the court to approve today. In terms of whether the court deals with this by way of guidance, Practice Directions, or with a full hearing, I am simply conscious of the letter which, I hope, is in my Lord and Lady’s bundle at 129, which was from the solicitor for the Guardian appointed in the proceedings.
MISS EARLEY: About the potential need to involve CAFCASS legal to obtain their views in relation to the wider issues that had been raised on behalf of the journalists and the BBC. Of course they are not present today and I am acutely aware of that.
MISS EARLEY: I think they will be an organisation that the court would want to hear from and take their views in respect of future guidance or reporting restrictions and relaxation.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes. But if we decided to go along that path, approaching CAFCASS will be one option. We have not discussed this. But it may be other bodies such as the Association of Lawyers for Children may wish to intervene.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: We would have to look at sources to get a different voice in the room but—-
MISS EARLEY: Yes, absolutely.
MISS EARLEY: And in terms of the general discussion that has been taking place about guidance going forwards and that the practicalities as a practitioner, I am pleased to say that it would be very helpful. What perhaps is not known to those who do not practise it out on the circuit is that His Honour Judge Levey, when he was faced with this application would have been in a very different list and would have had potentially eight, nine or ten cases before him today—-
MISS EARLEY: –and the particular case was listed for an issues resolution hearing. It was not listed for a final hearing and it is in that context, that judges and practitioners find themselves faced with the application of a journalist attending court—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, well one is very aware of that.
MISS EARLEY: Yes, there may be some in the room are not, are not of course aware of that.
MISS EARLEY: My Lord, and that is the reality. My Lord says—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: With, with hindsight I think everyone in this court, including my Lady and I, can see what should have happened on the day.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: But that is not to be over critical of the fact that it did not, given the pressures on the system.
MISS EARLEY: No, absolutely. My Lord has spoken briefly about the pressures on the care system for both practitioners and judges, and therefore I make that point that any guidance, any Practice Direction, in clarity for those who feel we (inaudible) be updated.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well it would help if we had a route map for—-
MISS EARLEY: Yes, absolutely.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –journalists, for judges for practitioners.
MISS EARLEY: Practitioners. So that we do not find ourselves in that situation.
MISS EARLEY: Is there anything else, my Lord, I can assist with at the moment?
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, thank you. I am very grateful. Yes, Mr Messling?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, my Lady, you understand that the mother’s primary concern is to be a mother to her children, to establish successfully the reiteration of her into her household and into her family, and, my Lord, I set out in a position – a short position statement which I think you have in the bundle—-
MR MESSLING: –at 93, that paramount priority for her. But also her sense that her story has wider application and therefore her sympathy for that story to be published, so long as her confidentiality and that of her children, and the other adults in her life, is maintained.

My Lord, that, that as it were intent and that sense made its way into the first draft Consent Order, which my Lord and my Lady have at p.12 of the core bundle, which suggested at that stage that there should be a substitution of the actual country of origin of the mother, and/or her ethnicity, with a more general term that she described as “blacker.”
MR MESSLING: My Lord, the, as it were – as I understand it there is sympathy amongst all the parties, that if it were practical that level of confidentiality should be maintained.
MR MESSLING: To provide that additional level of specificity in conjunction with knowledge of a particular local authority and the other factual matters which are permitted, would in my submission increase the probability of jigsaw identification and therefore the identification—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: But I have not undertaken this exercise as Judge Hess’ judgment, which is to be published. Does that specify—-?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, it does.
LADY JUSTICE KING: That is where I got the information from.
MR MESSLING: And that, my Lord, my Lady, indeed, and that is why that would also have – that would also require further redaction. So, as I understand it, there is broad sympathy as it were about the merits of what I submit, but there is hostility to the practicability.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes, and the problem is that the specific country was mentioned in the Court of Appeal judgment and it is out there.
MR MESSLING: Yes, it was.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And so to a degree it is rather artificial now to do anything to close that down, and brackets – or not even brackets – not as artificial, it would be wrong given that it is in the public domain—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –to now draw it back into some form of confidentiality, confidential status.
LADY JUSTICE KING: It is the King Canute argument, is it not?
MR MESSLING: Yes, to use a slightly more prosaic image, the toothpaste is out of the tube.
MR MESSLING: My Lord, what I, as it were, encourage is consideration of whether, albeit it is not possible to put it back in the tube, it is possible to stop it getting on to the toothbrush, and what I mean by that – my Lord, what I mean by that is that that detail to have provenance in the frontline reporting would unhelpfully add to the profile of that particular fact.
MR MESSLING: And what I sought to—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So what, what is the solution you say?
MR MESSLING: Well, my Lord, what I have sought to do is to see whether there is a way of navigating between not prohibiting reference to the fact, or a link to the Court of Appeal judgment. But nevertheless an embargo or a prohibition, if you want, for repetition of that particular fact in the reporting itself. My Lord furrows my Lord’s brow—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, it is only—-
MR MESSLING: –to consider it.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: It is what I do when I am thinking. That is difficult, is it not?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, it is, yes.
MR MESSLING: I make no – well it would be unrealistic of me to think otherwise. My Lord, shall, shall I take you to the draft order and see whether I have made any traction?
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And your, your client’s understandable fear is that those in Zimbabwe who might read – and that, I have just said, is subject to the tweeting embargo – who might read the details could identify who she is and identify members of her family who are in that country?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, that is one aspect. The other aspect is—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: But it is the local aspect, Zimbabwe and family. It is the local aspect that you were concerned about, do you say?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, both. The, the local aspect, in other words it is a fact that it enhances the prospect of identification and that then impacts upon the child, the stability of the placement, etc., the conventional arguments. But also the, the international concern, yes, as well.
LADY JUSTICE KING: You said the “probability” of identification. I do think you need to be careful because I hope you meant the risk of identification, because obviously if the court was satisfied of the probability of identification it would be a very different thing.
MR MESSLING: My Lady, I, I stand corrected, yes. Yes, it is my submission—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So do you have a form of words that you—-
MR MESSLING: –it increases the risk.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Do you have a form of words that you say we should consider inserting into the draft reporting restriction order?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, yes. If I take you to – (After a pause) – forgive me, I have momentarily lost the—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Do not worry. Page 118 of the, of – the order proper—–
MR MESSLING: Page 118.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –starts at p.118 of the little bundle we have got.
MR MESSLING: I seem, I seem to have extracted it from my—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: (After a pause) It always happens with the most important document.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Does anyone else have a copy?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, forgive me. May I, may I deal with it by way of internal pagination?
MR MESSLING: Oh, no, I have found it.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: You had it open and ready for—-
MR MESSLING: I have found it. Page 119 first of all.
MR MESSLING: So my Lord has para.3(a), (b) and (c) and I propose a consideration of a new para.(d), the country of origin of A in relation to A, B—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Hang on, sorry. The country of origin?
MR MESSLING: In relation to A, B, R or D.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So this order (inaudible) the publishing of—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: Is that not very difficult? Because let us take, for example, a journalist is writing a piece about the case and what has happened. That journalist may want to put quotes from the appeal judgment or Judge Hess’ judgment. So is what you are saying that whilst you accept those judgments cannot themselves be redacted, you cannot put the genie back in the bottle, however if they are seeking to quote from those judgments they have to redact them?
MR MESSLING: My Lady, I draw a distinction between Judge Hess’ judgment and the Court of Appeal’s. Judge Hess’ judgment is still capable of redaction before it is published.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Well – but that is a nonsense, Mr Messling, because how do we manage that? Because clearly a large proportion of the Court of Appeal judgment information, which you now accept cannot be redacted, comes directly from the – in parts are quotes from Judge Hess’ judgment.
MR MESSLING: Well, my Lady, I, I—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: You cannot Judge Hess if they are not redacted in the Court of Appeal, and then ask people to do a bit of redacting of the Court of Appeal if a last minute appeal (inaudible).
MR MESSLING: Well, my Lady, I accept entirely the difficulty with the Court of Appeal judgment. But, but as a matter of practicality, practicability we are intending to embark upon an exercise of redacting in any event Judge Hess’ judgment.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So the Court of Appeal judgment in the opening paragraphs, my Lord, in the course of her narrative—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –drawn from Judge Hess, simply states the country of origin.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Are there later references to the country in the Court of Appeal judgment which are direct quotes from Judge Hess’ judgment? I do not – I mean I did not read it for that purpose but I do not—-
MR MESSLING: My Lady certainly refers, for example at para.47, that springs to mind in Judge Hess’, but that paragraph does not itself contain reference to the matter of the (inaudible).
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Wait a minute. If, if that is right, your submission is that there is still the opportunity to redact Judge Hess’ judgment to remove any fresh—-
MR MESSLING: Yes, yes.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –reference to the country which is not otherwise a direct quotation in the Court of Appeal judgment.
MR MESSLING: But it still leads to the problem with the Court of Appeal judgment.
MR MESSLING: I understand, yes. I accept that.
MR MESSLING: So that is, as it were, the – my Lord, may I digress momentarily to two matters that are not controversial as I understand it, and they are supplemental to – my Lord, has in, in capitals in each case—-
MR MESSLING: –and then (a), (b), and, my Lord, we ask you to include two further provisions at (c), “Identifies or may identify R as a child who has been the subject of allegations of abuse.”
MR MESSLING: And (d), “Identifies or may identify R as a child who has been removed from her mother.”
LADY JUSTICE KING: Sorry, has the case not been reported?
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: That is what, that is what the case is about.
LADY JUSTICE KING: You are saying that – but you cannot – so you are saying that any journalist who wants to write about this case cannot identify that this child has been subject to allegations of abuse, i.e. the threshold, or that the child spent any time in care?
MR MESSLING: No, my Lady, with respect as I understand it, those provisions were designed to limit, as it were – if, for example, R were reported upon by her full name in respect of winning a sports race or something like that, then that will still be permissible because that, that is not, as it were, bound by any of the terms of that. And I am simply widening the, the narrow focus—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: But is that not really covered by (a), by (a) in this section? Identifies R, on that case, as connected with or involved in, or having been involved in these proceedings.
MR MESSLING: My Lord, simply that if, if, for example, there were not references to the proceedings but they were simply referenced to the removal or to the allegation, that would not be covered by that.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: They could be misread in the way my Lady reasonably understands it, or understood it. Did you say these are not controversial? So they are agreed by those acting for—-
MR MESSLING: My Lord, we have – we had some discussion before we came in. The impression I had was that they were either not controversial or not likely to be so.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Mr Bowen, what is – just to – excuse me, Mr Messling, I just—-
MR BOWEN: I think after it had been explained to me what was intended I did not have an objection, and as I understand it what s.12 does is prohibits the identification of a child in relation to any proceedings.
MR BOWEN: And what this does is to prohibit identification of the child in some other context other than the proceedings as having been subject to some form of abuse. So it, it is a belt and braces way of catching—-
MR BOWEN: –and if you like supplementing s.12, because s.12 in some respects is too narrow. I think that is right.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Yes. So we know in this, the detail of this order has now been drawn. Under 6(b), as we dealt with earlier, that it is contemplated that the mother will speak outside the court proceedings to journalists—-
MR BOWEN: Yes, yes.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –and inevitably part of her story is going to be, “My child was”–
MR BOWEN: But the child will not be identified. That is the point. Is that you – there is nothing wrong with writing about R.
MR BOWEN: What is wrong is to identify R as being somebody – and, you know, by naming them as being involved, as having been—-
MR BOWEN: –the victim of some form of abuse—-
MR BOWEN: –outside of the Children Act proceedings, because that would not necessarily be caught by s.12.
MR BOWEN: That, that is the point. I think – that is what I understand. Mr Wolanski, I am sure, will explain it better than me if it is necessary but I think that, that is the position. So section – so to the extent that it is belt and braces, it is not preventing reporters—-
MR BOWEN: –writing about the fact that R has been—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: On, on that basis you do not object to these two additions?
MR BOWEN: No, but I think it could be better worded because—-
MR BOWEN: –your Lordship’s, and your Ladyship’s response was exactly the same response I had when it was first suggested to me.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Mr Wolanski, does—-?
MR WOLANSKI: I think the problem is the word “identified,” and we, I am sure, can come up with a better word. But we agree with Mr Messling. What, what he is seeking to do, quite properly—-
MR WOLANSKI: –is to prevent a report, for example, which says, “Here is Child R. Here is a picture of Child R.” It says nothing at all about the proceedings. This child was the subject of allegations of abuse, or whatever it might be.
MR WOLANSKI: Now as this order is currently drafted that would not be prevented.
MR WOLANSKI: But what Mr Messling wants to do is to prevent this and we agree he should be able to, and that—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Right, so it is a matter of drafting.
MR WOLANSKI: It is just a matter of drafting.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: All right, okay. Good, well I think if that is subject to us being satisfied with the drafting, we see the merit of what you are submitting.
MR MESSLING: Yes. My Lord, I read it in the context of (a), (b) and (c).
MR MESSLING: As it were, the refinement of that.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Whilst there is drafting going on, the numbering in para.3 is (a), (b), (c), anyway.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And so there is a need to somehow identify these further subparagraphs in a different way.
MR MESSLING: My Lord, thank you. I turn over the page with trepidation to 120, because this is where I have to grasp the nettle at para.16, what is not disputed by this order, and find a form of words which enables any reporting to refer to the existence of and link, and if necessary a link to the Court of Appeal judgment, but does not in the article itself repeat that sensitive fact.
MR MESSLING: And so I have respectfully wondered whether it may be possible to split para.6(f) into two, and to, as it were, divide the reporting and publishing of the details of the judgment and place that in one paragraph, and then have a separate paragraph for referring to, or providing any link to the judgment of the Court of Appeal in a separate paragraph.
MR MESSLING: So paragraph—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So, so journalists would be able to report the fact that there had been a Court of Appeal hearing—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –but not provide readers with the link – readers who wished to investigate might find the link, but you would not lead them to it. Is, is that the point?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, I certainly would not resist that formulation, although I had rather thought—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, no, I am just trying to work out what it is you are saying
MR MESSLING: My point—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –you are saying.
MR MESSLING: My Lord, forgive me. I had rather thought that, that there ought to be permitted reference to, or providing the link.
LADY JUSTICE KING: But if reference to – they are allowed to report or publish details but they are not allowed to make any reference to it?
MR MESSLING: My Lady, there would be—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: That is not an order.
MR MESSLING: My, my concern is, is a modest, modest addition which is to reduce the profile of this issue on the frontline article.
MR MESSLING: If para.(f) were to say, “Save for those” – forgive me – if it was simply to say, “Reporting or publishing any details of the judgment,” but the, but the words, “providing any link” – forgive me – the words, “or referring to, or providing any link” were deleted. So in other words all of this is subject to para.3. Paragraph 3 in my draft now contains that prohibition upon the country or origin.
LADY JUSTICE KING: I am sorry, I really do want to be difficult and I want to give the mother as much protection, or the mother and the child as much protection as possible. But how is any journalist going to be able to report this and do what they want to do with this case, if they not allowed to refer or provide a link to the Court of Appeal judgment?
LADY JUSTICE KING: I mean they just cannot, because as I understand it from reading the position statements and the information that has been sent in by the various media organisations, what they are saying is the touchstone for resolution of this case, which led to the return of this child to the mother, was what happened in the Court of Appeal.
MR MESSLING: My Lady, if I, if I—–
LADY JUSTICE KING: So how can we possibly agree to something that says that the, that they cannot refer or provide a link to that judgment?
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: But the, the reason that we are in this position of your client being very concerned and you making submissions, is the fact that the Court of Appeal judgment contains the name of the country.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: At the Court of Appeal was she legally represented?
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: The draft judgment will have been circulated for any observations to be made by the parties as to any redaction or alteration, and again with hindsight it is easy to be critical – there has been a process that has allowed her to nip this in bud at that stage and it was not. It went out there and it would be very difficult, it seems to me now, to alter that situation, and indeed in the matter of public policy, the judgment is out there.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And to take steps now for this court to somehow obfuscate what the public may read or hear in relation to the case in order to prevent them seeing that which is public, seems to me rather questionable.
MR MESSLING: My Lord, may I just, as it were, put the paragraphs before you that I propose?
MR MESSLING: The, there would be a paragraph that says, “Referring to or providing any link to the judgment of the Court of Appeal.” In other words that is not restricted. But it would say at the end of that, “Even though this report does contain reference to the country of origin.” So there will be an explicit acknowledgement that referring to or providing the link was (inaudible) even though it provides reference to the country of origin. That would be one paragraph.

The other paragraph would be, would be as it is, “Reporting or publishing any details, or referring or providing” – sorry, “Reporting or publishing any details that would, as it were, be bound by the overarching paragraph at the start, which is subject to para.3.” So the effect of that would be, yes, providing a link or referring to the existence of can be done. But repeating that detail in the report itself cannot be done.

My Lord, I accept the difficulty that that poses, and my Lord has asked about the Court of Appeal response to that. As I understand it no representations were made at that stage or subsequently, and nothing yet has happened of an adverse nature as a result of that information being in the public domain.
LADY JUSTICE KING: Well I think it is one of the things we would have to consider, would we not? Because we still have to think of the boundaries.
LADY JUSTICE KING: And of the things we would have to consider about is, when you are asking for this quite draconian amendment—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –what is the risk of jigsaw identification—-
MR MESSLING: It, my Lady—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –by reference in a multicultural, multinational area like Southampton, of, of this reference to a country of origin—-
MR MESSLING: My Lady, I simply—-
LADY JUSTICE KING: –justified? We, we have had no submissions. We have not been given any information, statistical or otherwise, or why it is said that the reference to a very large country like Zimbabwe, in the context of this case, provides sufficient risk that we should make the order you seek?
MR MESSLING: My Lady, I simply ask you to take into account, one, that there is simply – to the merits of what I seek, and secondly that the readership of the Court of Appeal judgment is likely to be more limited than that which will read—–
LADY JUSTICE KING: A hypothetical centre point.
MR MESSLING: –will read the, the media coverage of this case in other publications.
MR MESSLING: Thank you. My Lord, I think I have exhausted the submissions I have—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well you have not exhausted us, Mr Messling. I am keen for more but I think you have probably made the point very clearly. Are there any other separate submissions you would wish to make?
MR MESSLING: My Lord, on the other matters that you have been canvassing, the mother’s position is, is simply as set out in the documents that I have produced.
MR MESSLING: Which is that she has a sympathy for all of that, but her primary concern is as I have suggested.
MR MESSLING: Thank you.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Thank you. Mr Bowen, anything in response to Mr Messling?
MR BOWEN: There were just a couple of points I wish to make.
MR BOWEN: But I think as far as Mr Messling’s submission was concerned in relation to the amendment—-
MR BOWEN: –I know Mr Wolanski had something he wanted to say about that and I wonder whether he might—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Right, well I will come to him. I will not come now to him.
MR BOWEN: Yeah, he can deal with that point. All I will say is that we, we have every sympathy with the point that Mr Messling is making and indeed Miss Tickle had agree initially that that could be excised from the Court of Appeal judgment, as you have seen.
MR BOWEN: But practically speaking that is not possible. While she and Miss Burg(?), and I am sure any of the other journalists here, would be perfectly happy not to mention that in their reporting of the judgment, the court cannot make an order—-
MR BOWEN: –that, that sort of binds some people but not others.
MR BOWEN: And so regretfully, as a matter of practicality, it is just not possible.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, and it will be left to the good professional sense of the journalist as to whether it needed to be mentioned—-
MR BOWEN: Indeed.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –and if not, whether it should be.
MR BOWEN: And this is what interestingly, a very similar situation was confronted by MacDonald J in the H v. A case, when Mr Farmer when off and put the details in that could be published and was able to identify the individual and then came back to MacDonald J. But MacDonald J said, “Well it is out there and I am going to carry on – the judgment has to be – sorry – my judgment has to be reported in the way I have already ordered. There is a very limited risk of identification and in any event the balancing exercise comes down in favour of publication,” and that would be our submission.
MR BOWEN: There were just two other points that I wanted to, to briefly make if I may. It is in response firstly to what Mr Wolanski submitted. He, he – just as a matter of factual background, I think he suggested that the applications had not been anticipated.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well there had been emails.
MR BOWEN: There had been.
MR BOWEN: There had been emails a month earlier in one case.
MR BOWEN: So, so the judge had two applications, two emails saying, “We want to report this case.”
MR BOWEN: So it certainly did not take the judge by surprise.
MR BOWEN: The second point is in relation to Mr Wolanski’s suggestion that there is a stark difference between an application to relax reporting restrictions and an application for reporting restrictions. In my respectful submission it is likely that as soon as the court grapples with this question, it is going to have to be considering both in almost all cases.
MR BOWEN: I mean I will give you, by way of example, under s.12(2) of the 1960 Act, an order made by the court is not caught by the provisions of s.12(1). Now an order is often going to contain detail that, that may need to be restricted, so of course immediately as soon as the order is being redacted in any way a reporting restriction order is being made.
MR BOWEN: Similarly, if an order needs to be made in relation to a child’s identity going beyond the conclusion of the proceedings, s.97(2) would not bite. So, so one is often going to have both needing to be considered, and my respectful submission is that you cannot – and I am not sure that Mr Wolanski is saying this – but just to be clear. We cannot have a situation where as soon as it becomes clear something more is being sought by one of other party, that everyone has got to then adjourn while a formal application – while a full order is served on all media organisations under the Copy Direct service, as required under the Practice Direction.

What is required is a pragmatic approach of all the parties, including the journalists, to sit down, to draft something that everybody can identify as being what is sought, identify what is in dispute so that can then be put before a judge to, to rule on. And we would suggest that nothing more than that should be required by way of formality.

As far as what Miss Earley had to say about the very understandable concerns of, of busy practitioners, busy judges, of course that is, that is right. But these are hugely draconian orders that are being made by judges, and in any event judges now should be anticipating in every case that they may need to publish—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well it is to be hoped that most—
MR BOWEN: –their judgments.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –most judges have a copy of this book.
MR BOWEN: Well—-
MISS EARLEY: At least Judge (inaudible) herself, because she unlike my Lord, did not have one.
MR BOWEN: I record for the record that my Lord is referring to Transparency in the Family Court Publicity and Privacy in Practice, by Judy Doughty, Lucy Reed and Paul Mcgrath.
LADY JUSTICE KING: But, Mr Bowen, you—-
MR BOWEN: I am not selling (inaudible).
LADY JUSTICE KING: –you referred to it extensively in your, in your skeleton argument that only one of the judges had a copy. That is very sad.
MR BOWEN: And quite often, quite often.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Direct fishing—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: –it takes place on the Bench.
MR BOWEN: So, so we, all we—-
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, but I did – these are important – the, the – what has been achieved by the responsible bringing of this appeal, as I see Miss Tickle’s action being, is to flag up the need for this to be given far greater prominence for judges up and down the land to understand if they get one of these it has to be dealt with properly, and in accordance with a, a route map. The scales have to be brought out on each occasion.
MR BOWEN: Indeed.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: You know, so it is—-
MR BOWEN: And perhaps, perhaps for all the judges to be issued formally with a copy of Transparency in the Family Court, by Doughty, Reed and Mcgrath.
MR BOWEN: I am not on a commission. I just repeat that again.
MR BOWEN: My Lord, my Lady, unless there is anything else I can assist you with?
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, that is very helpful.
MR BOWEN: Those are my submissions. I do not know if Mr Wolanski wants to add anything to that.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Mr Wolanski, do you have—-?
MR WOLANSKI: No, three is nothing substantial. But on the – the court has the point – on the application by Mr Messling for a reporting restriction which somehow binds some information in the Court of Appeal judgment, it is not a (inaudible).
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: No, no. Thank you.
MR WOLANSKI: Just on – as a final point, on the question of what happens when an application is made to relax reporting restrictions, in most cases there will not need to be an additional reporting restriction made when that happens, because the automatic reporting restrictions already prevent the reporting of pretty much everything, certainly in a child case.
MR WOLANSKI: So if a journalist says, “I would like to report some of the case,” and the judge says, “Yes, you can, you can report what happened today,” there is no need for a reporting restriction because other than what the judge has allowed, reporting is prohibited.
MR WOLANSKI: So in most cases we would anticipate that there will not be a need for additional reporting restrictions when an application to relax is made. Every case is different but in the majority of cases it would be—-
MR BOWEN: My Lord, my Lady, it would be very helpful if we could have a ruling on Mr Messling’s application because then we can agree the terms of the order to circulate
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Well you need to have a rule on Mr Messling’s application.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: So what I propose we do is we will retire for a very short time, just to clarify whether there is to be a hearing in March on the, the welfare of the child issue.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: And to determine Mr Messling’s application. Those, those are the two things I think we have to consider.

(A short break)

(For judgment, see separate transcript)

MR BOWEN: My Lord, my Lady, thank you. What I propose, unless any of my colleagues disagree, is that we will formulate a final version of the order that is agreed—-
MR BOWEN: –that reflects the order that your Lordship and your Ladyship have made, and similarly the – His Honour Judge Hess’ judgment, come up with a final version of that.
MR BOWEN: Hopefully there will not be any disagreement between us about any of the details, and then we will forward the redacted version and the unredacted version of His Honour Judge Hess’ judgment plus the final version of the draft order to your Lordship and your Lordship’s clerks.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: That seems to me very sensible and we are grateful to you, that is if everyone else agrees. I do not think we have your skeleton electronically. Could you also send us an electronic copy of your skeleton?
MR BOWEN: Of course, I will. Would you prefer that in pdf or in Word?
MR BOWEN: Certainly, my Lord.
SIR ANDREW MCFARLANE: Once again we are very grateful to you and indeed to Miss Tickle for raising this matter.
MR BOWEN: Thank you, my Lord.
(12.26 p.m.)

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