Re J (A Child)

Family
In the October news (p 8) the case of Re J (A Child) was reported incorrectly. On 5 September the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, gave judgment in open court on an application by Staffordshire County Council for an injunction prohibiting publication including on the internet which would identify a child who was subject to care proceedings after his father posted material on Facebook including a film of the execution by social services of the emergency protection order.


In the course of his judgment, Sir James stated that: “There is a pressing need for more transparency, indeed for much more transparency, in the family justice system.” “We must have the humility to recognise – and to acknowledge – that public debate, and the jealous vigilance of an informed media, have an important role to play in exposing past miscarriages of justice and in preventing possible future miscarriages of justice.” Speaking generally, the “publicist” “may be an unprincipled charlatan seeking to manipulate public opinion by feeding it tendentious accounts of the proceedings. But freedom of speech is not something to be awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought undeserving”. Having considered the circumstances of the case before him, he concluded that the only justification for an injunction is if restraint is necessary to protect the child’s Article 8 rights and in particular his privacy and anonymity. Unless that basis is made out it cannot be granted “because of the manner or style in which the material is being presented on the internet, nor to spare the blushes of those being attacked, however abusive and justified those attacks may be”. Since the child was only five months old on the day of the judgment, Sir James was able to draw a “crucial difference” between restraining publication of his name and restraining publication of visual images of him. Without the name or other identifying details, it would be difficult if not impossible to locate anonymous postings on the internet. There were powerful arguments for asserting that the publication on the internet of the film without naming the child but “commenting on the operation of the care system and conveying a no doubt powerful and disturbing message should not be prevented merely because it includes images of the baby”. He struck the balance by restraining contra mundum the naming of the child and his parents but not restraining publication of his image. That would allow public debate to continue without the public knowing “who the anonymous child is whose image is on view”.

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