Transparency in the Family Court: judge allows publication of article about children in care
26 October 2015
Tickle v Council of the Borough of North Tyneside and others  EWHC 2991 (Fam) (19 October 2015) – read judgment
Before the court were cross applications by a journalist and the local authority regarding care proceedings which the former wished to report. The individual in question was a mother (representing herself in these proceedings) who had had a number of children taken into care in the past. Her life had been “blighted” historically by serious mental health problems which have at times made it unsafe for her to care for her children. At the time of this application, it seemed, those times appeared to be behind her. Be that as it may, she and her children had been through the care system on a number of occasions.
She had shared this experience on social media sites, and had described, in particular, how she fought for her youngest child (a child who was removed at birth) and how she eventually succeeded in having that child live with her. Bodey J, who had read some of her online articles, found them “balanced and responsible”.
They recognise her own failings in the past. They are in some respects critical of some professionals in the care system, but over-archingly are written to help others in the care system by sensible, practical and sensitive advice to people in times of need.
The freelance journalist opposing any reporting restriction order wished to interview the mother and to write an “in depth report” into the care system, for publication in a serious broadsheet newspaper.
Whilst relying heavily on the new(ish) ‘transparency’ within the family justice system (as championed by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, in a number of well-known cases) she has equally wanted to remain within the law in what she reports. She has made a number of sensible ‘concessions’ about how she would prepare her article, for example as to anonymisation and as to how she would deal with the ages of the children and so on, to avoid “jigsaw” identification.
She had drafted a consent order regarding publication which the local authority did not oppose; however it had to be authorised by the court since whichever order the judge made would be contra mundum. The judge therefore granted a reporting restriction order along the limited terms sought by the journalist, allowing publication of the essential details but forbidding the disclosure of any material that might lead to the identification of the parties.
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