The High Court has been asked to make an unprecedented order to allow a journalist to see all court papers in a flawed adoption case. The application comes as the family justice system faces heightened pressure to be more transparent.
Melanie Newman, a freelance journalist, asked the court to make an order allowing her to see the full court file relating to an adoption order regarding a four-year-old girl, known as R. Judges said the order had been made on the ‘slimmest of evidence’. Even if successful, Newman will not be able to publish any of the information in the documents without a further court order.
Anya Proops QC, acting pro bono for Newman, told the court that the girl’s mother, as well as R, now aged seven, supported the application. She read an email from the mother that said: ‘My hope now is that lessons can be learned from the systematic failures of this case and spare others from the unimaginable trauma that [R] and her family has endured.’
Proops said the application was being made to reveal the ‘full picture of the evolution and origin’ of the local authority’s decision-making process and allow the media to perform its crucial ‘social watchdog function’.
Media scrutiny was ‘fundamental to maintain the integrity of the care system’, Proops said.
Lawyers for the local authority and the child’s guardian stressed that they recognised the benefit and necessity of transparency in the family justice system and the role played by journalists, but opposed the application, although they agreed to disclosure of some of the papers.
For the local authority, Heather Rogers QC said the ‘unprecedented’ application went beyond anything ordered in other courts. To give a third party the right to see the requested documents, which include medical records, was an intrusion into privacy rights that required ‘proper justification’.
She told the court that the journalist’s right to freedom of expression was not more important than the privacy rights of others.
For the child’s guardian, Deirdre Fottrell QC said the child’s best interest should be considered before balancing the rights of the press to scrutinise the care process. She urged the court to protect R’s privacy.
Judgment was reserved.