A local authority has abandoned a bid to send grandparents to prison for alleged contempt of court.
The couple’s two grandchildren, via their son, were taken into care and placed for adoption last year. The family appealed but their arguments were dismissed at the Court of Appeal in February this year.
Not long afterwards a document was circulated, reportedly by the grandparents. Entitled Public Notice Order, it presented details of the two grandchildren, now aged four and three, and criticised the behaviour and decisions of various individuals involved in the decision to take them into care, including the judges and social workers. At the High Court Mr Justice Holman explained why Central Bedfordshire Council took legal action against the couple.
“Of course, anybody in a free society is fully entitled publicly to complain about the manner in which local authorities and/or the legal system operate, but the concern of the local authority was that, by actually naming and identifying the children concerned, and indeed by referring to them as their own grandchildren, the activities of [the couple] might tend to undermine the placement of the children with their prospective adopters.”
The Council therefore applied for a reporting restriction order , which would prohibit the grandparents from encouraging the publication of any identifying information about the two children, “if, but only if, such publication is likely … to lead to the identification of any one of the children as being a child who has been the subject of care or adoption proceedings … or has been removed from the care of his parents…”
The order was granted and personally ‘served on’ (delivered to) the couple. But in August, the council then became aware of material apparently posted on social media by the couple. The authority alleged that the couple had broken the order and should therefore be committed to prison.
Examining the contentious posts, Mr Justice Holman noted that:
“…nowhere in the material exhibited [in evidence] … is there any reference at all to the name or address of either child.”
However, there were photos of the grandchildren, accompanied by the caption;
“My two wonderful [grandchildren] stolen from loving grandparents by Central Bedfordshire Social Services for forced adoption…”
Consequently, the couple had clearly identified the youngsters shown in the photos as their grandchildren, stating that they had been placed for adoption.
Central Bedfordshire Council said they “deeply concerned” about the potential impact of this on their children and their prospects for adoption.
Appearing in court, the grandparents said they wished to firmly oppose the application but had been unable to secure legal aid in order to pay for their defence. They also insisted that they themselves had not posted the photographs, and in any case, they had since removed them from social media. They stressed that they would ensure the material did not appear again.
In court, Central Bedfordshire Council conceded that the photos had indeed been removed, and as a result they no longer wished to pursue their application to send the couple to prison.
The Judge said that, had this not been the case, he would certainly have adjourned the case and allowed the couple to continue their search for legal aid “in relation to so grave a matter as an application to commit them to prison for contempt of court.”
But since the council had abandoned their application, he continued:
“…it is obviously right and appropriate that this present application is brought to a complete end today.”
Mr Justice Holman concluded by stressing the importance of a “clear and hard line” being drawn to prevent any further applications for committal to prison in the future. Representatives of the council were therefore invited to ensure, on the day of the hearing itself, that there was no further material on social media that might spark further legal proceedings.
When the representatives confirmed that there was none, the Judge declared:
“Accordingly, I will add an additional provision to my order that the Central Bedfordshire Council cannot issue any further application to commit either [of the couple] to prison for contempt of court which relies upon any act done or omitted to be done by him or her respectively earlier than 1 p.m. today.”
He warned the couple, however, that they would face fresh proceedings and the possibility of prison for any future breaches of the reporting restriction order.
The full ruling is here.
Photo by Master OSM 2001 via Flickr