High Court judge 'powerless' to stop Slovak mother talking to foreign media about her child in care

A Slovakian woman whose 12-year-old son has been placed into the care of a British local authority following hearings in the High Court in London can tell her story on the internet – as long as she does not use the English language, one of Britain's most senior judges has ruled.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court, said the identity of the youngster – who has a British father and has lived in the UK all his life – should not be revealed in order to protect him.

He said his order restricted what could be published in the "English" print and broadcast media.

But Munby – the most senior family judge in the jurisdiction of England and Wales – said he had no power to "control" foreign newspapers or broadcasters.

The judge said the woman could "publish whatever she wants" in "the foreign print or broadcast media".

And he concluded that his reporting restrictions could only also apply to internet services "using the English language".

"The mother can publish whatever she wants in the foreign print or broadcast media or, so long as it is not in the English language, on the internet," said Sir James, in a ruling handed down in London.

"The only restriction on the mother's freedom to publish her story is that she must not do so in the English print or broadcast media or, using the English language on the internet, in such a way as to identify (the boy)."

Munby said any attempt by an English court to control "foreign media" would be impermissible.

And the judge referred to a 1938 novel about an English journalist working abroad – Scoop by Evelyn Waugh – to make his point.

He asked what English journalists would think if a judge in "Ruritania" made an order against the "Daily Beast" – the London newspaper featured in Scoop.

"In relation to foreign media, the English court must proceed with very great caution. As a general principle, any attempt by the English court to control foreign media, whether directly or indirectly, is simply impermissible," said Munby.

"In the first place, what justification can there be for the courts in one country seeking to control the media in another?

"If the media in a particular state are to be controlled, that must be a matter for the relevant authorities in that state.

"For the courts of another state to assume such a role involves an exercise of jurisdiction which is plainly exorbitant, not least as involving interference in the internal affairs of the other state.

"What would we think, what would the English media think, if a family judge in Ruritania were to order the Daily Beast to desist from complaining about the way in which the judicial and other state authorities in Ruritania were handing a case involving an English mother?"

Munby said the case had become "extremely sensitive" and a "focus of attention" in Slovakia. The judge said a media and social media campaign had been started.

He said the boy's mother had a "compelling claim" to be allowed to "tell her story to the world". But the boy's welfare also demanded that he should not be identified. Munby said a balance had to be struck.

The judge said he had approved a "care plan" for the boy following a final court hearing in December. He said the boy would be placed in the care of a local authority but live with a relative.

He said a member of the Slovak embassy had been given permission to be present at hearings.

Munby said family courts in England and Wales dealing with cases involving children being taken into care did not have jurisdiction "merely" because a child was "present" in England and Wales.

The judge said the key legal point was that jurisdiction depended on "habitual residence".

He said the boy was "habitually resident" in England and Wales and no-one had suggested that the English court did not have jurisdiction.

 

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