Earlier this week, the Daily Mail published a story with the headline above, written by Michelle Goodman, a mother who had been in dispute with her child’s father about contact arrangements. (Michelle Goodman is not the author’s real name). We quickly recognised the case described as one we had written about in June, ‘Domestic abuse, incorrect principles applied – successful appeal’ when we’d seen the court judgment in Michelle’s successful appeal to HHJ Ahmed. In our blog post, we had focused on the poor treatment that Michelle had received in court by a deputy district judge, in stark contrast to statements being made elsewhere by senior judges that all judges in the lower courts know how to apply the correct procedures in cases of alleged domestic abuse. It was clear from the appeal judgment that the original judge had not followed the correct procedure and that Michelle had suffered an injustice as a result. Her fears about her child’s safety had been ignored. HHJ Ahmed set aside the contact order and said that a new finding of fact hearing should be held, in order to determine what is in the child’s welfare.
Now, the Daily Mail story gives us more details about Michelle, who was herself a family law barrister when she had the dreadful experiences she describes in the article, and which supplement the history and process explained by the judge in the appeal.
Because section 97(2) of the Children Act 1989 still applies, until the proceedings have ended, the child in this case must not be identified. The coverage here seems to us to safely anonymise her, and is why Michelle has to use a pseudonym. No doubt, Michelle will want to continue that protection for her child in the long term and is unlikely to ever identify herself. However, other automatic reporting restrictions imposed in family courts by section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 continue even after a court case has ended. Section 12 states that sharing any information relating to family court proceedings held in private may amount to contempt of court. As explained in the recent ‘Dispatches’ programme, section 12 makes it very difficult for the media to report on parents’ experiences of family court cases.
One of the difficulties with section 12 is interpreting what ‘information relating to proceedings’ actually means in practice, which has been subject to a number of court judgments, primarily Kent County Council v B  EWHC 411 (Fam) (see paras 81-82). So it is encouraging to see that, despite section 12 and subsequent guidance, the Daily Mail has managed to publish some of the background to this troubling case from the mother’s perspective. While her description fits well with the facts as outlined by HHJ Ahmed, her own story is more compelling than the version we can all see on BAILII, and is the type of reporting that can help promote transparency and public understanding.
The re-hearing of the fact finding has yet to happen; if any further judgment relating to this case emerges, we will provide an update.
You can read more about section 12 here: https://www.transparencyproject.org.uk/proposal-to-the-law-commission-for-transparency-reform/
Image: Thanks Leo Reynolds at flickr
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