A High Court Judge was wrong to refuse access to unpublished ruling on the murder of a six year-old girl by her father, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
In a 2014 judgement, the now retired Mrs Justice Hogg ruled that Ellie Butler should be returned to her father Ben. She after had previously been sent to live with her maternal grandparents after he was convicted of shaking her and jailed. The conviction was later quashed but the London Borough of Sutton and the girl’s grandparents took the case all the way to the High Court in a bid to prevent the six year-old being sent back to live with her father.
Less than a year later, Ben Butler murdered his daughter and was jailed for life.
Following the sentence, a group of seven media organisations applied to see a ruling made in the Family Division by Mrs Justice Eleanor King. Issued before Butler’s conviction in a criminal court, this declared him responsible for Ellie’s death. But they were refused access by Mrs Justice Pauffley, on the grounds that publication might prejudice any retrial if Butler ever appealed his conviction.
The media organisations – the BBC, ITN, The Daily Mail, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph, The Times, and the Press Association – appealed, arguing that the case was no longer active and any appeal by Butler might not happen for years.
Their arguments were accepted by the Court of Appeal. Mrs Justice Pauffley had reached the “wrong conclusion”, said Master of the rolls Lord Dyson, the second most senior judge in the country. He declared:
“Even if there is a retrial, there is no real possibility that the publication of the [ruling] will prejudice the rights of Mr Butler to a fair trial.”
Read the Court of Appeal judgement and the redacted judgement of Mrs Justice King (now Lady Justice King) here.