Journalists banned from reporting details of woman's legal battle for custody of three-year-old

Journalists have been banned by a court from publishing details of a case in which a woman is seeking to regain custody of her three-year-old child.

The woman, who cannot be identified but is in her 30s, has been made the subject of injunctions barring her from publishing material about family court proceedings relating to her daughter, following hearings in the Family Division of the High Court in London.

Judges have also placed limits on what journalists can report about the youngster's case.

Mrs Justice Pauffley had initially made orders limiting what the woman could reveal – and what the media could report – at a private hearing in November.

The woman had then asked another judge, Mr Justice Hayden, to lift orders made against her.

But Mr Justice Hayden has refused, after a follow-up hearing – although he has slackened restrictions on journalists.

Mrs Justice Pauffley and Mr Justice Hayden had been told how Essex County Council had launched care proceedings and how the little girl had been placed with prospective adopters following a ruling by a local family court judge.

Social workers had raised concerns about the little girl's exposure to domestic violence, her mother's drug habit and her mother's involvement in crime.

The woman said she still hoped to persuade a family court judge not to make a final adoption order but to return the little girl to her care – and had launched an online petition.

Council staff were afraid that any internet campaign might lead to the little girl being identified – and to her human right to respect for family life and privacy being undermined.

Lawyers had raised those concerns with Mrs Justice Pauffley.

She had ordered the woman not to publish information relating to the proceedings, information which might identify the little girl as being the child at the centre of proceedings – including the names and addresses of any Essex County Council employee.

She had also barred journalists from publishing the name, address and image of the little girl – or other information relating to her – the names and addresses of her parents, the names and addresses of any individual having day-to-day care of the child and the names and addresses of any employee or legal representative of the council.

The woman had not been at the hearing before Mrs Justice Pauffley – but had been given permission to mount a challenge.

She had then asked Mr Justice Hayden to the lift the orders.

She told Mr Justice Hayden that she had not named her daughter when launching her petition.

She said the injunctions amounted a "gag" which unfairly prevented her from speaking to the media about her daughter's case and undermined her human right to free expression.

Mr Justice Hayden ruled against her.

He said publicity about her campaign might cause difficulties for the prospective adopters the little girl lived with. He said if the adopters were troubled there may be a knock-on effect on the little girl.

And he concluded that the little girl's right to respect for privacy and family life outweighed the woman's right to freedom of expression.

But Mr Justice Hayden did slacken restrictions on journalists after a reporter suggested that the orders Mrs Justice Pauffley had aimed at the media were too wide-ranging.

Mr Justice Hayden said journalists must not publish names and addresses of the little girl, her parents, carers or council staff only if publication led to the girl being identified as the child at the centre of the proceedings.

And he said journalists could name lawyers who represented the council. He there was no risk that naming lawyers representing the council would lead to the girl being identified.

he woman had addressed Mr Justice Hayden personally when asking for injunctions made by Mrs Justice Pauffley to be lifted. She said she could not afford lawyers' bills and had been unable to get legal aid. Barrister Nick O'Brien had represented the council.

 

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