This is the view of the Sunday Times in its editorial today, ‘The Sunday Times view on public transparency: A secrecy fixation shrouds decisions that affect us all’, which features a report by Emily Dugan, ‘Our baby was taken from us for months – for a skull fracture that didn’t even exist: A Cardiff couple endured a nightmare after tiny bruises on their son’s legs led to an inquiry into suspected child abuse’. Both these pieces are behind a paywall. We anticipate a court judgment to be published on BAILII shortly, when we will be able to write about the case.
The case concerns a misdiagnosis of a fracture in an eight-week-old baby that led to an application for a care order and his being removed from his parents and older brother for three months. The article sets out details of a serious miscarriage of justice and traumatic experience that directly resulted from a mistake made by a hospital paediatrician. It is understandable that the Times says that knowledge of such matters is in the public interest. However, as Emily concludes: ‘Even when parents have been exonerated by the court and had parental responsibility restored, they are not free to talk about what happened to them. A review of transparency in the family court by its president is under way. Change cannot come quickly enough.’
The editorial comments that the publisher had to make a court application and incur significant legal costs to allow Emily’s article to be published, even though the family supported her and were not to be identified. Nevertheless the Cardiff and Vale University Health Board ‘spent taxpayers money’ trying, through the courts, to stop the publicity. [EDITED 17.05.2021. For clarification, the Health Board did not oppose publication in general but wanted a further costly hearing about identifying individual professionals, a hearing which the judge refused, but the article does not name them in any event.]
The parents would have been prevented by section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 from telling a journalist what happened in the court proceedings, or showing her the court papers. Even if they did, she would have not been able to write about it publicly if the section 12 order had not been lifted or partly lifted by a judge – this would be the expensive court process to which the editorial refers. We recently published Sir James Munby’s submission to the Transparency Review, in which he examines the damaging effects of section 12 on public confidence in family justice.
More explanation should be possible when we see the judgment. In the meantime, Emily’s report is notable not only for having seen the light of day, but also for its depth and balance.