Full case report

In re S (FC) (A Child) (HL)

Reference [2004] UKHL 47; [2005] 1 AC 593; [2004] 3 WLR 1129; [2004] 4 All ER 683; [2005] EMLR 11; The Times 29 October 2004; The Independent 2 November 2004
Court House of Lords

Judge Lords Bingham, Nicholls, Steyn, Hoffmann & Carswell

Date of Judgment 28 Oct 2004


Summary

Family law – Reporting restrictions – Inherent jurisdiction – Injunctions – Human rights – Privacy – Article 8 ECHR – Freedom of expression – Article 10 ECHR


Facts

A mother is due to stand trial charged with murdering one of her sons. An application was made to the High Court on behalf of her surviving son seeking to invoke its inherent jurisdiction to enjoin reporting of the mother’s trial insofar as that would identify him which, it was contended, would cause him harm. The surviving child was not involved in the criminal proceedings. Balancing the child’s rights under Article 8 ECHR against against the media’s rights under Article 10 Hedley J declined to grant the injunction. The Court of Appeal dismissed the child’s appeal from this decision. The House of Lords granted him leave to appeal.


Issue

(1) Whether the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court should be used to prevent reporting of a criminal trial where to do so would interfere with the privacy of a child who was not directly involved in the proceedings;

(2) The approach to be taken by the Court in such cases.


Held

Dismissing the appeal:

(1) The approach taken by Hedley J had been correct. There was “a general and strong rule in favour of unrestricted publicity of any proceedings in a criminal trial”. Granting an injunction which had the effect of preventing such reporting in favour of a person not directly concerned in the proceedings, whether a child or an adult, would almost certainly be “a step too far”.

(2) Since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act the inherent jurisdiction to restrain publicity was of only historical interest. Applicants should simply invoke their rights under the Convention.

(3) The Court’s approach to such applications would be guided by that set forth in the House of Lords’ decision in Campbell v MGN Ltd.


Comment

A true triumph for the press. This decision should make it difficult for applicants seeking restrictions on the reporting of court proceedings in situations which fall outside those specifically provided for by statute. Furthermore, the House of Lords has effectively jettisoned the byzantine inherent jurisdiction line of authority, in favour of the simple and well known test for the grant of interim injunctions in confidence/privacy.


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