Journalists praised for sensitive reporting of care proceedings for children orphaned after Annecy shooting

A judge dealing with welfare issues relating to two children who were aged four and seven when their parents and grandmother were shot dead while on holiday in the French Alps 14 months ago has praised journalists for their "responsible and sensitive" reporting.
 
Reporters had "respected" the welfare of Zainab and Zeena Al-Hilli, said Mr Justice Baker in a written ruling following hearings in the Family Division of the High Court in London.
 
He said: "I would like to thank the press and broadcasting and media for the responsible and sensitive way in which they have respected the court's orders and the girls' welfare in the way they have reported this matter.
 
"It is good to see the family courts and the media working together to ensure that the right to freedom of expression, and the right of the girls to private and family life, are both respected."
 
The girls' father Saad, mother Ikbal, Mrs Al-Hilli's mother Suhaila al-Allaf and French cyclist Sylvain Mollier were shot dead by a gunman on a remote mountain road near Annecy in September 2012.
 
Zainab, then seven, was badly hurt and Zeena, then four, escaped without injury after apparently hiding behind her mother's skirt.
 
The girls and their parents had lived in Claygate, Surrey.
 
Mr Justice Baker has said the girls can be named in media reports but he has ruled that any detail of their whereabouts must remain secret.
 
He made comments about the media in a ruling in which he said he had made orders appointing two relatives as the girls' "special guardians".
 
In July, Mr Justice Baker had ruled that, despite objections from police, journalists could attend a private High Court hearing where care arrangements for the two sisters were discussed.
 
He said reporters could be present at the hearing in the Family Division of the High Court even though reporting restrictions designed to protect the girls prevented any coverage of the proceedings.
 
Mr Justice Baker dismissed an application by Surrey Police for journalists to be excluded after The Sunday Times newspaper argued that there was a "strong public interest" in the "bracing effect" of the press being present.
 
Police had argued that exclusion of the press was necessary for the "safety and protection" of the girls and their carers and said the presence of journalists would impede or impair justice.
 
They said the girls' lives could be at risk and argued that the presence of journalists at the High Court hearing would increase that risk.
 
Senior officers also said there was a risk that "leakage" from the hearing might jeopardise the investigation into the killings and any trial in France.
 
Times Newspapers – publisher of The Sunday Times – said police had failed to provide evidence to "merit the exceptional step of excluding the press from the hearing".
 
Mr Justice Baker refused to grant the police application for press exclusion.
 
The judge said the circumstances in which journalists should be excluded from attending family court proceedings was an "important issue" – whether or not reporting was allowed.
 
"Although the rights of the media do not extend to a right to report …
it must not be thought that they are any less important," he said.
 
"Open justice has two components – the right to attend as well as the right to report – and the fact that the second is subject to legal restriction does not undermine the importance of the first.
 
"On the contrary, it could be argued that what has been called the 'watchdog' role of the press (acknowledged and endorsed by the courts on many occasions) is even more important where the right to report is restricted.
 
"As watchdog, the press scrutinises not merely the decisions reached by the courts but also the process by which they are reached."
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