Judge rejects expert witnesses gag order

Expert witnesses, social workers and doctors who treated a little boy who became involved in care proceedings in the family courts are not entitled to orders which will give them anonymity when the child’s parents speak to the media about their experiences, a senior family judge has decided.

Lord Justice Munby said rejected applications for injunctions which would have prohibited the publication of anything which would identify expert witnesses, social workers and medical staff involved in the little boy’s treatment.

“The claim in all three cases is, in reality, a ‘class’ claim, that is, a claim that any professional who falls into a certain class – and in the case of both the social workers and the treating clinicians the membership of the class is very large indeed – is, for that reason, and, truth be told, for that reason alone, entitled in current circumstances to have their identity protected, in plain language to have their identity concealed from the public,” he said.

That was “a bold and sweeping claim” which could be justified only by evidence and arguments more compelling than anything which had been put to the court, he added.

The anonymity applications came as Jake and Victoria Ward sought an order allowing them to publish various documents and use information and material from papers concerned with proceedings brought against them by Cambridge County Council in December 2005, after their son, William, who was born in April that year, was discovered in July to have a fractured right tibia in July.

The care proceedings were dismissed in December 2006, the judge finding that there was no evidence that the couple had injured William.

Mr and Mrs Ward subsequently applied to the High Court for permission to publish the judge’s decision, and then for permission to use various papers and information from the proceedings and from various files.

In response, two doctors who acted as expert witnesses, two NHS Trusts, and Cambridge County Council applied for anonymity injunctions to cover the experts, social workers involved in the case, and the doctors and medical staff who treated William in hospital.

By then, Mr and Mrs Ward had reached an agreement with the NHS Trusts that they would not do or say anything which would enable members of the public to identify any of the medical staff involved in William’s treatment.

Although Lord Justice Munby refused to make an order giving the medical staff anonymity, he held that the agreement with the NHS Trusts was valid and enforceable, and that Mr and Mrs Ward were bound by it.

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