A High Court judge has taken the unprecedented step of revealing details about ongoing care proceedings after the Times asked for a declaration of how far it could go in reporting the case following the conviction of one of the parents involved.
Sir Mark Potter, president of the High Court Family Division, took the step in the wake of press reports acclaiming the parents concerned as ‘heroes’after they prevented Medway Council from ‘stealing’their child, and fighting the ‘secret justice’meted out by the courts in family cases.
He said that publication of the fuller story, rather than the partisan story published previously, would ‘enable the public to form its own view whether the actions of the council or the decisions of thecCourt to date have been fairly characterised”.
The judge approved the publication of a summary of facts from previous court rulings in the wake of an application by Times Newspapers for a declaration of how far it could go in reporting the case, following the conviction of the stepfather for child abduction.
The stepfather, who cannot be named in order to avoid identification of the child, was sentenced to 16 months in prison in 2007 and was referred to only as M.
The mother and the child, known only as S, remain at large after leaving the country for France.
The judge approved the naming of Medway Council, though orders remain in place preventing the identification of S.
Setting out the summary of facts, the judge said: ‘I set it out in some detail in the light of the criticisms of ‘secret justice’ which have been raised in relation to the proceedings, which have been long drawn out and are not yet complete.”
Ruling that the facts of the case referred to in his judgment should be made public, he said: ‘I consider that the level of interest created in this case by the imposition of a prison sentence upon M, the resultant publicity, and the suggestions made that the actions of M were in some way heroic and those of the council were ‘child ruination not child protection’, make a very strong case for the background to be made more widely known.
‘Such publication will enable the public to form its own view whether the actions of the Council or the decisions of the Court to date have been fairly characterised.”
Describing the history of the case, the judge said articles published in Daily Mail and The Times earlier this year had criticised stepfather M’s sentence as excessive.
He also mentioned a Mail on Sunday article, published in February, which was headlined ‘How do you judge a court held in secret?”
The article was critical of the fact that while the case and the appearance of the stepfather at the criminal court raised a host of questions about the care proceedings and the role of the social services, those questions could not be properly judged in the light of the fact that what had passed in the care proceedings was not available to the public.