The High Court has allowed “limited, controlled disclosure” of a case involving the death of a child to the media.
The child was one of six in her family. Following her death, the other five were taken into foster care.
During proceedings to decide the best course of care for the children, a fact finding hearing took place in relation to the death. The findings were not made public because the judge wanted to “avoid prejudice to any criminal proceedings”.
The hearing also noted “alleged shortcomings in the investigation”, but did not make findings on that point. The legal team who represented the five children also produced a document which outlined these shortcomings, a so-called “Schedule of Failings”.
The local authority in the care case applied for an order restricting reporting on this case. This would conceal the names of the family members, the child who died, the agencies concerned and the geographical area the events to place in for 15 years.
While Mr Justice Peter Jackson initially granted a reporting restriction order, he did so “in narrower terms” than was requested, but eight media organisations objected. A lawyer representing all eight argued that access to the fact finding hearing and the Schedule of Failings should be granted to the media’s legal advisers. This, the lawyer claimed, was because the media would need to know the facts as the case developed in case they wished to apply for revisions to the reporting restriction.
The judge noted that no objection had been made to the media’s application on behalf of the children but opposition to the application had come from the local authority and the parents. He added that “the balance falls in favour of disclosure”, but only for the finding of fact. He said that it was “not necessary or appropriate” to disclose the Schedule of Failings to the media.
However, he specified that access would only be allowed to the finding of fact judgment under a strict set of rules. Failure to comply with these rules, he added, “will be a contempt of court giving rise to criminal penalties”.
To read the full judgment, click here.