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(Family Division, HHJ Clifford Bellamy, sitting as a High Court judge, 25 July 2013)
The adoptive placement of the 16-year-old girl broke down after 8 years. Due to her challenging behaviour she was accommodated by the local authority but had since been subject to a sexual assault, she had been arrested for a serious assault on a member of staff and the local authority had been granted a final care order. Following a hearing in the Court of Appeal a wardship order was granted as being more appropriate in the circumstances. The parents now wished to be able to discuss the case in the media and applied to the court for permission to do so.
Articles discussing the case had been published in several newspapers but when the BBC contacted the court the judge made an order prohibiting the parties from discussing the case with the media without an order of the court. The parents applied for the order to be discharged in order to publicise their charity which focused on reactive attachment disorder, they also wished to discuss the local authority approach to the case as well as joining the debate on transparency of the family courts.
The local authority opposed the application and reported that when the girl found out about the newspaper articles her behaviour deteriorated significantly but the parents pointed to other factors which might have caused the deterioration. The judge proceeded on the basis that the publicity was at least a contributory factor.
As the girl was a ward of court the only statutory prohibition on publication was s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960. The application engaged the girl's Art 8 rights under the European Convention as well as the parents' Art 10 rights.
The welfare of the girl was not the paramount consideration but it was one of the issues to be taken into account. The case raised wider issues including delays in the adoption process and the shortage of prospective adopters as well as the need to provide adopters with sufficient information about the child's background. These issues were issues of genuine public interest. The balance fell in favour of permitting the parents to discuss the case with the media but the order prohibiting publication would remain in place until the girl reached 18 in January 2014 and nothing should be reported which would lead to revealing the identity of the girl and her parents.
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