Re J (A Child)

JurisdictionEngland & Wales
CourtFamily Division
JudgeSir James Munby
Judgment Date05 Sep 2013
Neutral Citation[2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam)
Docket NumberCase No: UN13C00044

[2013] EWHC 2694 (Fam)



Royal Courts of Justice

Strand, London, WC2A 2LL



Case No: UN13C00044

Re J (A Child)

Mr Alistair MacDonald QC and Ms Julie Moseley (instructed by the Director of Democracy, Law and Transformation) for the local authority (Staffordshire County Council)

Ms Laura Slater (of Nowell Meller) held a watching brief for the children's guardian

Hearing date : 27 June 2013

Sir James Munby President of the Family Division:


This case raises important questions about the extent to which the public should be able to read and see what disgruntled parents say when they speak out about what they see as deficiencies in the family justice system, particularly when, as here, their complaints are about the care system. The case also raises important questions about how the court should adapt its practice to the realities of the internet, and in particular social media. For these reasons I am giving this judgment in open court.

The facts


The essential facts are shortly stated.


The mother and the father have had four children: L, born in November 2002, C, born in November 2008, W, born in April 2012, and J, born in April 2013. All four children have been the subject of care proceedings. The proceedings in relation to L and C were commenced in October 2010 and concluded with the making of care and placement orders in May 2011. Both children have since been adopted. W was made the subject of an emergency protection order on the day of birth. Care and placement orders were made in November 2012. J was made the subject of an emergency protection order on the day of birth. The care proceedings have not yet concluded but are likely to do so shortly.


Although the present application relates only to J, I must briefly refer to events in relation to L, C and W. The father has posted much material about them on the internet, including their names and photographs. The day after W's birth the father posted on Facebook photographs of W and of a social worker, who was named, taken the day before in the hospital delivery suite.


A feature of these postings was the use by the father of language which on occasions was abusive, insulting, threatening and, indeed, highly offensive. Images of L and C posted in February 2012 were accompanied by the comment that each was worth £200,000 to the forced adoption system. The image of W posted in April 2012 was accompanied by text referring to the child as having been "snatched from the delivery suite by Staffordshire County Council." The image of the social worker was accompanied by the caption "This is the picture of [name] social worker waiting in delivery suite to snatch child." A copy of a letter written by the local authority to the father was posted by him on Facebook in May 2012; the accompanying text referred to the social worker in these terms:

"Waiting in the corner, in the shadows lurks a vampire-ish creature, a wicked, predatory social worker who is about to steal the child from the loving parents. Caught on camera — [name] of Staffordshire social services creeps in the corner like a ghoul, like a dirty secret, like a stain on the wall … You are a wicked, wicked woman [name] — God knows exactly what you have done, you must be very afraid, now! You WILL suffer for this."


On 14 June 2012 Hedley J made a contra mundum reporting restriction order in relation to W. It remains in effect until 2030.


J was born at home on 4 April 2013, the local authority says against medical advice. The father announced J's birth on Facebook. It included these words: "SS banging on the door we're not answering" and "ss gone to get epo". I very much doubt that 'SS' was here being used as an innocent acronym for the local authority's social services. The internet is awash with strident criticism of local authorities, described as "the SS" or "SS", where it is quite clear from the context that the reader is meant to link the activities of the local authorities being criticised with those of Hitler's infamous SS. The comparison is grotesque and is, and I have little doubt is intended to be, offensive and insulting — grossly so. I make no such finding against the father in relation to this particular publication but I am willing to proceed on the assumption, though without finding, that the father's intent was indeed to encourage readers to make the comparison.


Subsequently the father posted on Facebook what the local authority says was the "covert" filming of the execution of the emergency protection order later the same day. J was referred to by name. The next day, 5 April 2013, it was picked up by a website called UK Column Live, which published it via You Tube. It has subsequently been much 'shared' on Facebook. Two days later, UK Column Live filmed an interview with the father which it uploaded to You Tube on 11 April 2013. The father and the mother are referred to by name. On 12 April 2013 the father gave an undertaking to remove all the material posted on the internet and within his control that would identify any of the children as being or having been subject to care proceedings. On 1 May 2013 he further undertook to use his best endeavours to secure removal of such material from the internet. Footage of an interview with the parents in the precincts of the court on that occasion was subsequently put on the internet by UK Column Live. W and J were identified by name. Further orders were made on 10 May 2013.


On 20 May 2013 the local authority wrote to the Chief Constable of Staffordshire alerting him to the material available on the internet in breach of section 97 of the Children Act 1989 (which creates a criminal offence). I understand that the police have indicated that they will not be pursuing the matter any further.


On 22 May 2013 committal proceedings were issued against the father alleging breaches of the order made by Hedley J and of the undertaking he had given on 12 April 2013. On 19 June 2013 the father appeared before His Honour Judge Orrell (the details can be found on BAILII). He admitted breaches of the order and undertaking and was sentenced to six weeks' imprisonment for each breach. The sentences were ordered to run concurrently but were suspended on condition that he complied with the various orders and undertakings.


I need not go further into the facts. Unchallenged evidence from the local authority shows that, although some of it has been removed (in part by the father), material about J, as also about the other children, remains on the internet. Of particular concern to the local authority are two sites: Facebook, which is based in California, and UK Column Live, which is based in Plymouth.

The application


In these circumstances the local authority applied on 11 June 2013 for a reporting restriction order, an injunction, contra mundum in essentially the standard form. The application relates only to J. It is proposed that the order should have effect until J becomes 18 in 2031. Paragraphs 3 and 4 of the draft order put before me contain the core of what is sought:

"3 This order prohibits the publishing or broadcasting in any newspaper, magazine, public computer network, internet website, social networking website, sound or television broadcast or cable or satellite service for the purposes of preventing the identification (whether directly or indirectly) of the child of:

(a) The names and addresses of:

(i) The Child, whose details as set out in Schedule 1 to this order;

(ii) The Child's parents ("the parents"), whose details are set out in Schedule 2 to this order;

(iii) Any individual having day-to-day care or medical responsibility for the Child ("a carer");

(iv) The Local Authority named in Schedule 3 of this order;

(v) Any employee of the Local Authority named in Schedule 4 of this order;

(vi) The Child's Children's Guardian named in Schedule 5 of this order;

(vii) Any venue at which the parents have contact with the child.

(b) Any picture, image, voice and/or video recording of and including the child, the child's parents, any employees of the Local Authority as specified above and the Children's Guardian.

(c) Any other particulars or information relating to the child

IF, BUT ONLY IF, such publication is likely whether directly or indirectly to lead to the identification of the child as being:

(i) A child subject of proceedings under the Children Act 1989 or the Adoption and Children Act 2002; and/or

(ii) A child who is or has been the subject of allegations of abuse; and/or

(iii) A child who has been removed from the care of her [sic] parents; and/or

(iv) A child whose contact with her parents has been prohibited or restricted

No publication of the text or a summary of this order (except for service of the order …) shall include any of the matters referred to in this paragraph.

4 This order prohibits any person from seeking any information whether directly or indirectly relating to the child or the parents or a carer from any of the following:

(a) The child;

(b) The parents;

(c) A carer."


Schedule 1 of the draft order names the child as being J. Schedule 2 names the parents as being the father and the mother. Schedule 3 names the Local Authority as being Staffordshire County Council. Schedule 4 reads as follows:

"Allocated Social workers for the child: [name], [name] and any future allocated social worker and/or team manager.

Any contact workers and/or family support workers for the child.

The allocated legal representative for the Local Authority, (currently [name]) in respect of the child's proceedings."

Schedule 5 names the Children's Guardian as being [name] of Cafcass.


The application was supported by a witness statement, with accompanying documentation, by J's social worker dated 6 June 2013.


On 14 June...

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