Sir Mark Potter’s decision came as he rejected an application for an injunction, which would have prevented the press and media from identifying a couple and two of their children who died, in reports of the inquest into the death of one of the children.
His ruling comes at a time when the Government is consulting on proposals to give coroners the right to ban identifying the victims in inquests under the draft Coroners Bill – which is out to public consultation until 8 September.
The case arose after Mr Justice Charles found in Family Division proceedings that a mother’s ill treatment had caused the death of her daughter, who was almost four years old, in February 2004.
A younger brother, aged seven months, had died in August 2003. No cause of death was ascertained.
But the mother also had a third child – a girl, known only as LM – who is five years old and now in foster care, and for whom adoptive parents were being sought.
A local authority, supported by the parents and the guardian of the child had applied for an injunction banning the media from identifying not only LM but any of the family members involved in the inquest, including the parents and their deceased children.
It was argued on behalf of the authority, LM and the parents that publicity in which any family members were named would have an adverse impact on the child, and could affect the chances of her being found an adoptive placement.
Guy Vassall-Adams, representing a media group led by Times Newspapers and the BBC, said the media agreed that LM herself needed to be protected from direct publicity.
But the media’s view was that that protection should be limited to LM, and should not prevent the media identifying the parents, and the deceased children, when reporting the inquest.
This case involved an inquest into the killing of a child. The application for the injunction was made because of the fear of harm to a child who was not concerned with the investigative process.
In his ruling, Potter said he did not believe that the case would provoke long-term publicity, once the publicity surrounding an inquest or criminal proceedings had subsided. It was, he said, not comparable to other sensational cases which had continued to attract the attention of the tabloid press over the years.
Potter said that fears that publicity might adversely affect LM’s chances of adoption were ‘entirely speculative”, and it was apparent that what had discouraged potential adopters so far was the general nature of LM’s problems.
He added: ‘In the circumstances, I am not satisfied that the Article 10 rights of the media in this case are outweighed by the Article 8 considerations relating to LM’s unhappy position.
‘In a situation where a child has suffered from a homicide within the family, there are inevitable difficulties which require to be faced in respect of the disturbance to that child’s life and the issues which he or she must face and overcome.
‘In the light of the weight generally to be attributed to the rights of a free press and the interests of open justice, the question whether the circumstances are sufficiently unusual or exceptional to justify a restriction on those rights must be viewed in that context.”