Letters from the Official Solicitor to a newspaper publisher seeking to restrict a journalist's right to make social visits to an elderly woman involved in Court of Protection Proceedings have been criticised by a senior judge.
Sir James Munby, President of the Court of Protection, said he did not understand the basis on which the letters were written, and added that there was "no foundation" in law for any allegation that the journalist's conduct was somehow improper.
The point arose in a judgment in which Sir James rejected as "misconceived" an application by Associated Newspapers Ltd, publisher of the Daily Mail, to be joined as a party in Court of Protection proceedings involving G, a vulnerable 94-year-old woman who is now banned from having contact with the press.
In March the case was being dealt with by Mr Justice Cobb, who had issued a judgment after a hearing at which he had made an interim order forbidding C, who was G's live-in carer, "whether by herself or instructing or encouraging others, from taking G or involving G in any public protests, demonstrations or meeting with the press relating to any aspect of these proceedings".
Mr Justice Cobb's order also included contained interim declarations as to G's lack of capacity to make decisions about "her … contact with others, including the press" and that "it is not in G's best interests to communicate with the press at this stage, and until further order."
But on 2 April, solicitors acting for the Official Solicitor wrote to Associated Newspapers raising the issue of contact between G, a former NHS midwife, and Daily Mail journalist Sue Reid.
The letter said that after the March hearing before Mr Justice Cobb Ms Reid was heard telling G outside the court that "as the judge had stopped Ms Reid contacting her, Ms Reid would have to make social visits to G instead".
The letter went on: "Clearly this would be completely inappropriate in view of the judgment of Cobb J", and sought to "to clarify that Ms Reid will not seek to circumvent the Order of Cobb J by making social visits to G".
On 8 April, following a reply from Associated Newspapers, the Official Solicitor's solicitors wrote again, noting that no assurance about social visits by Ms Reid had been given, and asking whether there had been any or whether any were intended.
Sir James said: "As I remarked during the hearing, I do not understand the basis upon which these letters were written.
"The complaints they contain are made by reference to Mr Justice Cobb's judgment. But nothing that Ms Reid was alleged to have done amounted to a breach of anything contained in Mr Justice Cobb's order.
"If the basis of complaint was that Ms Reid's conduct was somehow rendered improper by the terms of the declarations which Mr Justice Cobb had made, there is in law no foundation for any such contention."
The Official Solicitor is part of the Ministry of Justice and acts for people who cannot handle their own affairs because of mental incapacity.