Essex County Council v Mirror Group Newspapers Limited
Reference:  1 FLR 585;  2 FCR 831;  Fam Law 270
Court: Family Division
Judge: Connell J
Date of judgment: 27 Oct 1995
Summary: Children - newspaper publication - local authority application for disclosure orders - leave to apply - s100 Children Act 1989
A 15-year-old boy with a history as a sexual abuser was placed by a local authority in a foster home with other children, without disclosure of his history. In 1994 the authority obtained an injunction prohibiting identification of the boy, his carers or the home. The Daily Mirror then published an article which complied with this injunction but criticised the authority for non-disclosure of the boy’s history when placing him. The authority later learned that the boy’s mother had disclosed court papers to the newspaper. It applied to the county court for injunctions and disclosure orders against the paper and the mother. These were granted, but without jurisdiction. The authority then applied to the High Court for orders that the newspaper disclose what care documents it had and its source(s), and deliver up documents. By the Children Act s100 leave of the court was required to seek such orders. The newspaper opposed the application for leave.
Whether the authority should have leave to apply for disclosure and delivery up.
(1) To obtain leave the authority had to show that there was reasonable cause to believe that without the orders sought the boy was likely to suffer significant harm, and that the intended result could not be achieved without the orders sought.
(2) These criteria were not satisfied. It was already known what documents had been disclosed and by whom. If the article had caused harm to the boy, who was now 17, that harm was in the past. The injunction had been in place for 14 months, had not been breached, and continued to protect the boy. Section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 also afforded some protection. The fact that the authority had taken 5 months to apply for the orders indicated that it did not view the risk of harm as a significant one. The real mischief in the case was the disclosure of confidential information by a party to the care proceedings, but the authority had not sought to take action against the mother.
‘Some local authorites are too ready to seek orders ostensibly for the protection of children, without sufficiently analysing the grounds. This decision emphasised the need to focus on the statutory criteria, which – when correctly applied – act as a welcome filter to prevent ill-thought-out applications against the media from proceeding.’