Re B (A Child) (Disclosure)
Reference:  EWHC 411 (Fam);  2 FLR 142;  Lloyds Rep Med 303
Court: Family Division
Judge: Munby J
Date of judgment: 5 Mar 2004
Summary: Family Proceedings - Publicity - s.12 Administration of Justice Act 1960 - s.97 Children Act 1989 - Rule 4.23 Family Proceedings Rules 1991
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Adam Wolanski QC (Respondent)
Instructing Solicitors: BBC Litigation Department
In 2003 B was the subject of the care order removing her from her mother. Her mother claimed to be the victim of a miscarriage of justice and wished to tell her story in public as well as make a complaint about the doctors concerned to the GMC. The mother’s solicitor provided documents from the case to a number of MPs, including her sister the Solicitor General. The mother applied to the court for an order permitting her to make disclosure of information and documents from the case both to the GMC and publicly. The local authority resisted the application. The local authority also applied without notice for an injunction restraining the BBC from broadcasting any interview with the mother without giving notice to the local authority. It later abandoned this application but sought a contra mundum order prohibiting publication of information that may identify the child or the doctors concerned.
(1) Scope of s.12 Administration of Justice Act 1960 and the meaning of “publication” in that section; (2) whether mother’s solicitor was in contempt of court; (3) whether the mother should be permitted to make disclosures to the GMC and/or the public; (4) whether the local authority had been entitled to apply for an injunction against the BBC in the terms sought; (5) whether a contra mundum order should be made prohibiting identification of the child or doctors.
s.12 prohibited publication of information or documents from child cases to individuals who were not professionally engaged in child protection, including MPs, Ministers of the Crown, the DPP and the police. The mother’s solicitor was therefore in contempt. Neither s.12 nor any other provision prohibited the publication of the fact that a particular named individual had given evidence on behalf of a party in child proceedings. The mother should be allowed to disclose materials from the case to the GMC in connection with a complaint against doctors who had been involved in the case. The mother should also be permitted to provide a limited amount of information about the case in public. There should however be a contra mundum order prohibiting publication of material that could identify the child or the doctors involved. The injunction sought by the local authority against the BBC was without foundation in law, and amounted to an attempt at censorship.
Munby J acknowledged that public confidence in the family court system was at risk of being undermined. He said that too relentless an enforcement of the privacy of family court proceedings may therefore be counter productive and the courts should perhaps in future be more willing to allow matters from such proceedings to be put into the public domain. The decision therefore provides encouragement for those who wish to see greater openness in the family court system.