Southend Borough Council’s attempts to have a petition protesting care plans removed from the Internet amounted to interference with the parents’ right to freedom of expression a High Court Judge has ruled.
The children’s mother was opposed to plans to have her two youngest children taken into care and placed for adoption. Her petition originally featured full details of the case, including the identities of the children, information about their disabilities, photographs of them, and various allegations about the social workers employed by Southend Borough Council in Essex. At a hearing in May, the parents agreed to remove these details, but declined to remove the petition in its entirety. The Council insisted that complete removal was necessary to prevent identification of the children.
In the High Court Mr Justice MacDonald was asked to rule on the issue. The Council sought an injunction forcing the removal of the petition, insisting that it would cause “ongoing embarrassment” to the children, hindering efforts to have the younger ones adopted and raising the risk of emotional harm to the couple’s older children, who have already been taken into care and are living with foster families.
But the Judge was not convinced. He declared:
“It cannot be said in this case that compelling the parents to take down their petition… represents a proportionate response to the risk to the psychological integrity, personal development, development of social relationships and physical and social identity of the children.”
The parents had a right to freedom of expression under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
“The importance of the Article 10 right in this context remains irrespective of the merits of the views expressed by the parent, even if their expressed views and opinions may be misconceived, ill-thought out or misguided.”
Southend Borough Council were criticised for having written to various members of the family, claiming that they were not allowed to sign the petition while their application proceeded to court. The Judge said this letter gave the impression that it was an official court order.
“It is a matter of very grave concern that a local authority would seek to pass off an order of this court as something that it is not. There must be no repeat of this.”
Read Southend Borough Council v CO & Another here.