A previously unnamed local authority criticised for launching child care proceedings later dropped after the defence ran up a legal aid bill of £400,000 has been unveiled as Coventry City Council after the BBC challenged reporting restrictions.
Judge Clifford Bellamy issued a judgment allowing the authority to be identified after an application was sought by BBC Coventry and Warwickshire – though its barrister
Kate Wilson – so it could identify the council in its reports of the case.
In his original judgment in the case Bellamy ordered the council to pay £100,000 towards the family’s estimated costs of almost £400,000, which were being met by the Legal Services Commission.
The judge said such a figure was a “matter of concern” in a case where “at the 11th hour” the authority sought leave to withdraw its application for care orders.
The case related to Coventry City Council’s application for care orders in respect of three children, now aged 12, nine and eight, over allegations that their parents subjected them to unnecessary hospital admissions, medical examinations and tests and that this had been achieved by them lying about or exaggerating the children’s symptoms.
After re-evaluating the evidence the council, which issued its application for the care orders in June 2008, had concluded that there was “no, or very little, material” capable of satisfying the “threshold criteria” for the orders to be made.
It was a case in which something had gone “badly wrong”, said the judge, who ordered the authority to pay £50,000 towards each parent’s costs.
When the anonymised version of the judge’s decision was published the Press Association asked informally if the authority could be named. Bellamy responded by issuing a press release in which he explained his reasons for the anonymity and said that any request to identify the council must be made by way of a formal application to the court.
The Press Association decided against making such an application because of the costs involved, but the BBC subsequently went ahead.
Bellamy eventually rejected the argument put by Piers Pressdee QC, for the council, that identifying the authority would lead to the identification of the children – the risk was only “low”, he said.
Pressdee had also argued that if the local authority was identified then – even if the BBC gave it the opportunity to take part in any broadcast discussion of the court’s criticisms – it would be unable to respond effectively without referring to the voluminous documentation in the case, none of which was in the public domain.
Bellamy said: “I am not persuaded that that is a point of real substance. In the event that the local authority agreed to participate in any broadcast discussion of the court’s criticisms it would be unnecessary, in my judgment, for the local authority to descend to that level of detail in order to address the points.”
He added: “So far as concerns the population served by this local authority, there is a legitimate public interest in the local authority being identified.”