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England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions
You are here: BAILII >> Databases >> England and Wales High Court (Family Division) Decisions >> X Council v B & Ors  EWHC 1622 (Fam) (06 July 2007)
Cite as:  1 FLR 482,  EWHC 1622 (Fam)
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LIVERPOOL DISTRICT REGISTRY
Strand, London, WC2A 2LL
B e f o r e :
| In the Matter of the B children
|- and -
|B and others
Crown Copyright ©
Mr Justice Munby :
"This judgment was handed down in private but the judge hereby gives leave for it to be reported in the form in which it here appears.
The judgment is being distributed on the strict understanding that in any report no person other than the advocates (and other persons identified by name in the judgment itself) may be identified by name or location and that in particular the anonymity of the children and the adult members of their family must be strictly preserved."
The judgment was subsequently reported as X Council v B (Emergency Protection Orders)  EWHC 2015 (Fam),  1 FLR 341. Hitherto, so far as I am aware, neither the family nor the local authority has been publicly identified.
"I know that the judgement is being used in other cases and that it is helping other families in many ways … but Justice Munby where does it help us … We cannot name and shame our local authority which is what we would want to do more than anything. Could you please explain to us what we can do with this damning judgement you handed down, because it seems of little use to us. Could you please explain to us why our local authority are protected from publicity …"
"You may recall this care case in which, on 16 August 2004, Mr Justice Munby handed down a judgment which was subsequently reported as X Council v B (Emergency Protection Orders)  EWHC 2015 (Fam),  1 FLR 341.
The children's mother, Mrs [B], has recently written to the judge (copy letter enclosed). The judge interprets Mrs [B]'s letter as an albeit informal request that the judgment and the local authority's name should no longer be anonymised.
Plainly the judge cannot give Mrs [B] advice, but it would be assist if, before he responds to her letter, you were able to indicate what the local authority's reaction is to her request. In this context he suggests that you may wish to consider Re B (A Child) (Disclosure)  EWHC 411 (Fam),  2 FLR 142, paras -, Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X  2 FLR 998, paras -, and British Broadcasting Company v Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council and X and Y  EWHC 2862 (Fam),  1 FLR 101.
I look forward to hearing from you in due course. I am sending a copy of this letter to Mrs [B]."
"As the Head of Legal and Democratic Services for Blackpool Council I have been asked to respond your recent correspondence in respect of this matter.
Firstly, I would wish to make clear that the local authority accepted the analysis of His Lordship in relation to practice and procedure in relation to the making of Emergency Protection Orders and derived considerable benefit from the very useful guidance given by him in his judgement. Following the judgement the local authority has highlighted the issue to staff and continues to ensure that Emergency Protection Orders are only sought in appropriate circumstances. However, the local authority maintains the view that it did not act inappropriately in seeking an Emergency Protection Order in the case in point.
Secondly, I would wish to confirm this local authority's general commitment to transparency and openness in proceedings. Of note in this particular case the names of the solicitors are contained in the judgement. As they are all based in the Fylde Coast and Blackpool is the only Borough Council in that area that deals with Children Act proceedings anyone so wishing could discern the identity of the local authority and it is accepted therefore that we could not resist the lifting of the anonymity of the local authority on this basis alone.
Whether or not the anonymity of the local authority is lifted in this case is entirely a matter for His Lordship, however I would wish to make the following observations:
1. The local authority was granted anonymity due to the unusual circumstances of the case. The court will recall that this was a case where the local authority took the most exceptional step of asking the court not to make any findings in respect of the Threshold Criteria as it believed this course of action to be in the best interests of the children. The court therefore heard no evidence and there was no factual determination of any of the matters leading to the proceedings. The full details of the case are accordingly not reported in the judgement.
2. The letter from Mrs [B] discloses an inaccurate, or at least incomplete, recollection of events … The local authority is accordingly concerned that if anonymity is lifted the family may misrepresent the facts of the case.
3. It is not clear why Mrs [B] is seeking to have the anonymity of the local authority lifted at this time. It is approaching 3 years since the Judgement was made. The purpose of the request is given only as to obtain justice, publicise the local authority as abusers and to name and shame the local authority. The local authority is concerned how Mr and Mrs [B] may use the judgement if anonymity is lifted … I am concerned that it may be the intention of Mr and Mrs [B] to castigate particular individuals involved in the case who may be personally placed at risk by this and who have no opportunity to put forward the local authority's position in respect of the case.
4. It would appear from her letter that Mrs [B] would not intend to keep the identity of the children confidential, and whilst the local authority do not share Parental Responsibility with the parents, it appears to the local authority that the children of the family could be adversely affected by publicity in respect of this matter. I do not know if His Lordship has sought the views of the other parties in the case but details can be provided if they would be of assistance.
I hope that this will assist His Lordship in his determination, however should he require any further information please do not hesitate to contact me at the above address. The local authority will accept whatever Order is made and awaits to hear further in this regard."
"I do not agree with Mr Howard, however, that the identity of the local authority needs to be protected. He says that there is no public interest in naming the local authority. That may or may not be so, but it is, I think, largely beside the point. It is for the local authority to establish a convincing case for an injunction to restrain the media publishing something which is prohibited neither by the general law nor by s 12 [of the Administration of Justice Act 1960]. It cannot establish such a case merely by demonstrating – even assuming it can – that there is no public interest in the identity of the local authority, for that is to put the boot on the wrong foot. His real case is that the local authority's identity needs to be protected in order to ensure that B's identity is protected. That argument, if it could be justified on the facts, might well weigh heavily in the balance. But, in my judgment, Mr Howard fails to make good the factual premise. I do not accept his argument that identification of the local authority is likely to lead to the identification of either B or her carers. I do not accept his argument that a combination of the disclosure sought and "tittle-tattle" will serve to identify B."
I subsequently adopted the same approach in Re X, Barnet LBC v Y and X  2 FLR 998 at para .
"Upon reading the judgment handed down on 16 August 2004
And upon reading letters from the mother dated 6 March 2007 and from the local authority dated 9 May 2007
And the judge treating the letter from the mother dated 6 March 2007 as an application that the local authority's name should no longer be anonymised
It is ordered that the rubric on the cover sheet of the judgment be amended by inserting the words "and the local authority" immediately after the words "the advocates"
And it is declared that there is nothing in the judgment or in any order of the court or otherwise to prohibit the identification of Blackpool Council as being the local authority involved in these proceedings."
"The ordinary experience of the family courts is of social workers and social services departments whose professional work is both valuable and appropriately targeted to meeting the particular needs of children and their families."
I agree with that view, which accords entirely with my own experience in the family courts. But too often this experience goes either unremarked or recorded in judgments where the local authority is not named. If local authorities which merit criticism are to be named then so too surely should those which deserve praise. If the public interest is a reason for naming the incompetent then surely the very same public interest requires the naming of the competent. Otherwise the public may have a seriously distorted impression of the family justice system – and that is very certainly not in the public interest.