Re L (a minor)

Reference: [1988] 1 All ER 418

Court: Family Division

Judge: Booth J

Date of judgment: 3 Jul 1987


Ward of court - Protection of ward - Freedom of publication - Jurisdiction - Contempt - s.12(1) Administration of Justice Act 1960

Appearances: Desmond Browne CBE KC (Defendant) 

Instructing Solicitors: W Warren & Co for the Applicant


L was a girl of 12 who had been involved in the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster, in which she lost her parents and grandmother. She was made a ward of court on the application of the local authority. Her plight attracted media attention, and in order to protect her privacy, an order was made requesting the police to warn journalists that no information about the ward could be published. The Daily Mail, apparently unaware of the order, published an article about the ward’s relatives funeral, describing her demeanour, naming her and referring to the fact that she was a ward of court.


Whether the publication amounted to a contempt of court.


Neither s.12(1) Administration of Justice Act 1960 nor the common law constituted an absolute prohibition on the publication of information relating to a ward. The court did have power to make an order restricting publication of such information, but having regard to the freedom of the press, such an order must be clear and precise in its terms, the boundaries of the restraint had to be identified and the persons against whom the order was intended to be effective had to be identified. Here, the order was not one restraining the world at large, the article had been published without notice of the order, and it did not contain information referring to or arising from the wardship proceedings. The article was not a contempt of court.


An early decision relating to the inherent jurisdiction of the court to protect children.