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My 'victory’ over secrecy in the family courts has a nasty twist
My one fear in reporting last week that The Sunday Telegraph had won a historic victory in the High Court by persuading a judge to lift an unusually draconian reporting order he had imposed on me, barring me from ever again mentioning a particular family case, was that there might be a nasty twist to the tale.
This was a story I had reported on several times, involving a devoted mother of two small children who, for two years, has been fighting a horrendous battle against an array of social workers, lawyers and judges, fearing that their real aim was eventually to find some excuse for removing her children from her.
I had been accused by Mr Justice Mostyn, without evidence, of every kind of inaccuracy in my attempts to tell this disturbing saga, and of giving “only one side of the story”, and was told that I should have come into court to hear the other side. When Mostyn agreed to lift his order on me, he also obtained an assurance from the local authority’s barrister that Sutton Council would answer any questions I put to them, so that I would be able to give their side of the case.
It was obvious that the lawyers for the other side were not at all happy with the outcome of this hearing, although it left me in the absurd position that, while I was being encouraged to tell their side of the story, I was barred from ever speaking again about it to the mother.
So I was, in effect, being told that I was free to continue reporting on the case one-sidedly, but only so long as it was from the council’s point of view.
I was already aware that the story was about to come to its climax with a final hearing in the High Court before another judge, Mr Justice Coleridge.
So last week The Sunday Telegraph sent a reporter to the court to listen on my behalf to all that was being said, exactly as Mr Justice Mostyn had said should happen.
My colleague was told that in no way could he enter the court. One judge seemed now to be saying the very opposite of what his fellow-judge had said only the previous week.
My real fear has been that the children could be removed even though they had lived happily since they were born.
On Friday, therefore, in accordance with Mr Justice Mostyn’s wishes, I put to Sutton Council’s press office three questions: could the council confirm whether or not it was intending to ask for removal of the children? If so, on what grounds, and could they tell me the outcome of the case?
The council’s reply was that, although it wishes to operate a policy of transparency, since this particular case is now “at a very delicate stage”, on the orders of the court, “I’m afraid we cannot answer your questions at this stage”.
So I still do not know the case’s outcome; and even if I did and was to report it, I might well risk being charged with criminal contempt, for which I could be sent to prison.
Despite all those protestations of how important it is that our family courts should be properly reported, the wall of secrecy that surrounds them seems to be more impenetrable than ever.
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