The president of the family division has defended the right of individuals aggrieved by the family courts process to post their grievances on the internet, even when expressed in ’vigorous, trenchant or outspoken terms’.
Giving judgement in Re J (a child)  EWHC 2694 (Fam) on 5 September, Sir James Munby (pictured) said ’there is a pressing need for more transparency, indeed for much more transparency, in the family justice system’. He also warned family practitioners defending themselves against allegations of secrecy by emphasising the word ’private’ is a ’semantic point… more attractive to lawyers than to others’.
The case arose from an attempt by Staffordshire county council to stop a father whose four children had been taken in to care from publishing information about the case on Facebook and other web services. A video of his fourth child, subject to an emergency protection order, being removed at birth was widely shared on YouTube after being published by a blogging site, UK Column Live.
Staffordshire applied in June for a reporting restriction order contra mundum (against the world at large) prohibiting the publication of information identifying the family, the local authority or any of its employees. The website UK Column Live, based in Plymouth, responded that reporting the council’s actions ’is of immense public interest’.
Munby granted an injunction preventing the publication of information identifying the child, to last until the date of its 18th birthday, but warned local authorities that the courts should not be used to silence parents’ grievances about care proceedings.
The fear of criticism, ’however justified that fear may be, and however unjustified the criticism, is, however, not of itself a justification for prior restraint by injunction of the kind being sought here, even if the criticism is expressed in vigorous, trenchant or outspoken terms,’ he said.
’The remedy, even if it is probably doomed to only partial success, is… more transaparency. Putting it bluntly, letting the glare of publicity into the family courts.’
The Daily Mail has posted the video on its website, with the faces of the individuals pixellated.
The full judgment is available here.