Family Law Update: "Reporting restrictions: when are they useful?"

Tuesday 2 April 2019

Re X (A Child) (No 5) [2018] EWHC 3442 (Fam)

This case concerns the making of a reporting restrictions order in relation to the birth parents of a young child.

The history of the matter is lengthy - the initial fact-finding hearing took place in 2013. At that hearing, findings were made in relation to non-accidental injury. An adoption order was made in March 2015.

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In October 2015, during criminal proceedings in relation to charges of child cruelty, new expert evidence was obtained and the jury was directed to acquit on the basis that there was no case to answer. The birth parents consequently applied for permission to appeal and, following submissions, the local authority applied under the court’s inherent jurisdiction for reconsideration of the findings of fact made in 2013. 

In the interim, the parents took their case to the media on the basis that they had suffered a miscarriage of justice. They were described as having been ‘bombarded’ by requests for interviews as a result. The names of the parents were therefore already in the public domain by the time of the rehearing in 2016, at which the original findings were upheld: see Re X (A Child) (No 4) [2018] EWHC 1815 (Fam), which is also of interest for its analysis of the competing medical evidence. Re X (A Child) (Care Proceedings: Rehearing) [2016] EWHC 2755 (Fam) sets out the procedure when parents seek to withdraw from a hearing. 

A reporting restrictions order (RRO) was first made in early 2016. The RRO was predicated on the basis that there was a need to protect X and the adoptive parents from the ‘enhanced glare of publicity’ that the publication of the birth parents’ names and photographs would have brought about. In June 2018, there was an application from the local authority, the adoptive parents and the Press Association to discharge the RRO in relation to the birth parents. There was no application to discharge the RRO in relation to the adoptive parents or X. 

Sir James Munby pointed to the need to balance the birth parents’ private interests, protected by Article 8, against various public interests protected by Articles 6 and 10. It was determined that a ‘constellation of essentially public interest arguments’ outweighed the birth parents’ arguments. Some sympathy was expressed for the parents, described as ‘vulnerable young people’ who hadn’t appreciated ‘the dangers of encouraging the uncontrollable media tiger’. Sir James Munby determined however that, as argued by the Press Association, publicity is a ‘two-edged sword’. The RRO was not extended for either of the parents. 

Lyndsey Sambrooks-Wright is a member of the Garden Court Family Team.

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