December 9, 2005
Social workers fail in bid for anonymity
No expectation of privacy for experts in family cases
Mr Justice Ryder yesterday rejected an application by two social workers for an injunction to restrain them from being identified in a BBC documentary.
The application was brought after the BBC revealed that it planned to name the social workers in a documentary about false allegations of satanic child abuse in Rochdale in 1991.
The judge in the 1991 wardship case had held that the pair, whom he did not name, carried out interviews of the alleged child victims so incompetently that the information received from the children was “valueless”. The children had been removed from their families during the case but were ultimately returned home. Some, now adults, had been interviewed by the BBC for the documentary and wanted the social workers to be named.
The social workers argued that if identified their careers would be seriously damaged and they and their families would suffer press harassment. They also claimed to have a reasonable expectation of privacy arising from their anonymisation in 1991, and that permitting identification of social workers in such cases would exacerbate problems of recruitment in this field.
Rejecting the application, Ryder J held that no expert witness in Family Division proceedings could normally expect anonymity. He referred to the increasing recognition of the need to permit openness in Family Division proceedings and ruled that the strong public interest in the subject matter of the broadcast would not be reflected by a requirement that the broadcast be in ‘disembodied’ form, i.e. that certain individuals be anonymised.
Click here for the 5RB case report and judgment.