Judge praises Press Association reporter for 'responsible journalism of a very high order' after raising anonymity concerns

A High Court judge praised Press Association journalist Brian Farmer for "responsible journalism of a very high order" after he raised issues connected with anonymity in judgments and publications bans.

Farmer pointed out to Mr Justice MacDonald that an anonymised judgment he had published, in a case in which he ordered that a man could no longer exercise parental responsibility in respect of his children, or even see their school reports, contained enough information to allow the family involved to be identified.

The man, currently serving a life sentence after having been convicted of offences against his family and others, was said to have demonstrated a "persistent desire" to harm his former partner.

The criminal proceedings against the man were widely reported at the time, and coverage was available on the internet.

Farmer had raised two concerns – the risk that information in a judgment might lead to the individuals involved in the Family Division proceedings being identified and their whereabouts discovered, and the danger that restrictions on reporting the judgment itself could also restrict the media's ability to refer in future to matters which were already in the public, such as earlier coverage of the father's criminal trial.

As a result of Farmer's concerns the judge produced a second decision in which he explained why he was keeping the first judgment in its original form, and also commented on the need for judges carefully to consider the wording of the rubric they put at the top of such decisions making clear what may or may not be published, particularly in cases in which there have also been criminal proceedings.

Farmer, he said, had contacted his clerk to alert him to his concerns.

He added that he agreed with a comment by John Tughan QC, who represented the mother and argued, unsuccessfully, that only a redacted version of the original judgment should be published, that the steps Farmer had taken to alert the court to his concerns "constituted responsible journalism of a very high order".

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