Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre and the paper’s publisher, Associated Newspapers, today won their challenge to private prosecutions launched against them alleging breaches of the 1989 Children Act.
It was claimed that a piece published on 22 May 2007 was likely to identify a child which was at the centre of contested family court proceedings.
Dacre and Associated challenged the refusal of District Judge Purdy on 15 May last year to stay the prosecutions brought by the child’s mother.
They claimed, among other things, that Judge Purdy failed to take into account the principles relating to the responsibilities of a private prosecutor and failed to properly assess the motives and bona fides of the prosecutor.
They said the conclusions he had reached were “manifestly unreasonable” and that he had misunderstood some of the evidence.
However, today, branding the private prosecution proceedings at the centre case were “an abuse of the court” Lord Justice Latham and Mr Justice Bennett stayed the prosecutions.
In doing so Lord Justice Latham said Judge Purdy had been entitled to come to the conclusion that the prosecution was being brought with mixed motives and that that, in itself, did not amount to an abuse of process.
He said he had also been entitled to conclude, on the facts, that the mother was reticent about identifying her husband and the child and the details of the underlying dispute.
However, he said he considered that the judge had failed to grapple with the undoubted fact that the mother had provided material willingly and deliberately which was “likely, indeed certain, to identify her child as being the subject of proceedings” at least to one section of the public.
He sad the fact that the Daily Mail may have been in breach of section 97 of the Children Act did not mean that she could properly complain.
“It seems to me to be a clear case where the court’s conscience is offended by the fact that the prosecution is brought by a person who by her conduct was likely, if not certain, to identify the child as being the subject of proceedings to which section 97 applied,’he said.
“I would accordingly allow the claim, quash the district judge’s decision and stay the prosecutions as an abuse of the court.”