Re Ward; sub nom Dr A & Others v Ward & Ward
Reference:  EWHC 16 (Fam)
Court: Family Division
Judge: Munby J (now Munby LJ)
Date of judgment: 8 Jan 2010
Summary: Care Proceedings - Anonymity - Expert witnesses - Contra mundum injunctions - Publication of information relating to the proceedings - s.12 Administration of Justice Act 1960 - Article 8 - Privacy
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Instructing Solicitors: Medical Defence Union for the 1st and 2nd Applicants; Mills & Reeve LLP for the 3rd and 4th Applicants; Mr and Mrs Ward in person; in-house solicitors for the other parties and for the BBC (an interested party)
The 1st and 2nd Applicants sought injunctions preventing the identification of professionals who had particpated in care proceedings involving the Ws’ son. The Ws, who wished to speak publically about their experiences of the child protection system, cross-applied to disapply s.12 AJA 1960 in order to allow them to use documents which had been included in the court file. They had brought proceedings against the fifth applicant local authority who had instigated the care proceedings. The judge found in their favour. There was no objection to publication of the judgment but there was a dispute as to the anonymity of professionals, including Dr A, social workers and clinicians, involved in the proceedings. The court had given directions in Re Ward permitting the identification of parties to the proceedings, while granting an interim injunction preventing the identification of the professionals.
(1) Whether and to what extent s.12 AJA 1960 applied not only to the types of documents, including affidavits, witness statements and reports, but also to the information in such documents;
(2) Whether s.12 applied to documents which, although included in the court file, had not been prepared for the purpose of the proceedings;
(3) Whether professional witnesses in care proceedings should be granted anonymity.
(1) A document was only brought within the scope of s.12 when it was “information relating to [the] proceedings”. One had to distinguish between the mere publication of a fact, which might not be a breach of s.12, and the publication of that fact linking it to the proceedings, which would be.
(2) There was much material contained in the care trial bundles, the publication of which would not involve any contempt of court under s.12 unless the material was published in such a way as to link it with the care proceedings.
(3) The arguments put forward in favour of preserving the anonymity of the professionals did not suffice to counter-balance the arguments in favour of openness and did not establish a pressing need for protection not conferred by the general law or by s.12. The W’s private interests and other interests involved came down in favour of disapplying s.12.
The only basis for any expectation of anonymity was the fear or risk that if identified the professionals would be subject to targeting, harassment and vilification, leading to a drain on the already diminishing pool of experts prepared to do child protection work. Those generalised risks were not such as to demonstrate the ‘pressing need’ which alone could begin to counter-balance the very powerful arguments, founded in the public interest, for denying expert witness anonymity.