Yesterday I had a commitment in London and was determined to do a bit of legal blogging whilst in town. I had skim-read the lists for the Family Division and Court of Appeal at the Royal Court of Justice before getting on the train, and planned to make my way there to arrive during the lunch break, when I hoped to catch a hearing that was starting at 2pm. In fact, whilst en route, I was alerted by a tweet to something interesting enough to have brought the press out in force in Court 50, so I made a beeline there. I arrived out of puff and slightly windswept at about ten to two, having forgotten that I had to navigate the court security queue to reach my destination. I just had time to scrawl the necessary information on a FP301 form, throw that and my passport and practising certificate at the court usher for the benefit of the judge, and breathlessly and gracelessly introduce myself to the many, many lawyers assembled outside Court 50 for the hearing to resume.
Happily, nobody was bothered about my appearance (those who were objecting to publication of information being far more concerned about the row of press and broadcasting media representatives on the press bench and their assembled legal team than little moi, insignificant legal blogger).
I found myself sitting on the press bench alongside reporters from the BBC and Press Association (and others). I’d managed to send in a quick message to the judge asking if I could look at some specific documents that one of the lawyers had told me would help me understand the position on what I could report, to which the answer was – yes. Although there wasn’t actually time to get hold of them before the hearing resumed, a helpful journalist sent them on to me after the hearing.
The hearing I attended was part-way through and the judge sat late to conclude it. However he has reserved (put off) his judgment until another day and, because one of the main issues is what can and can’t be reported, I will have to be very circumspect about what I can say. I can say that the hearing I attended was this one (also here), and therefore that the issue concerned both child abduction and what can be reported by the media (and by extension me) about the case. As reported by The Times, the left behind father is actively seeking publicity in order to ‘persuade’ the mother to return the children from the Ukraine. She says that won’t work so it shouldn’t be done.
I can tell you that ranks of big name lawyers were assembled, that the media got together and sent their own legal team to argue that they should be allowed to report the hearing, and that I counted at least four Queen’s Counsel (leading barristers), including multiple Queen’s Counsel representing a single party! …and that much erudite lawyering was done, with many references to tab thirteen paragraph 154 etc, and this, that and the other authority from the House of Lords and ECHR – and that I counted about 35 heads at one point, including the press and lawyers.
I can tell you that some of the legal argument covered some really interesting points of law on questions of privacy and freedom of speech – and whether or not the children’s welfare is the only, most important or just one of many things to take into account when making decisions of this sort (though the arguments were rather more longwinded and sophisticated than that condensed summary suggests!). These are important issues that have been waiting for the right case so that they could be decided. However, it’s not clear yet whether they will be decided by this case (whether by this judge or on appeal) or whether they will remain interesting but be sidestepped on this occasion. If I had to guess – this case will probably end up on appeal, which means that any decision about what can be reported will almost certainly be yet further postponed. I am assuming we will see some more in the mainstream media in due course – how much more and when remains to be seen.
I can also tell you that the tiny microphones suspended on strings from the very high ceiling (to record what is said during the hearing), sway almost imperceptibly but hypnotically, when you focus your attention on them, and that the view from the press bench is rather good, apart from the fact that the judge’s face up high on my left was obscured by a file rack. This accounts in part for the fact that I did not immediately react when, just as I was mid-nose scratch, Mr Justice Mostyn suddenly said ‘Are you the legal blogger’? Indeed I was. And everyone was looking at me and my itchy nose. After confirming I knew there were restrictions on what I could report, everyone carried on where they had momentarily left off, and I slunk back out of sight.
There may be a little more I can report in due course, but I need first to digest the material I’ve been provided with to make sure I am the right side of the line. And see what decision the judge makes.
The Transparency Project will be hoping to follow future hearings, and to write more about this case if and when it is permitted .
What I’m most looking forward to is being able to see whether what I might choose to write about is different from what other journalists present may choose to focus on. This will be a useful opportunity to evaluate the role of the legal blogger.
For those lawyer readers who are thinking about going to try this legal blogging thing out, or who are secretly worried it might catch on and they might encounter a legal blogger or journalist unexpectedly at one of the hearings they are instructed in, do check out our legal bloggers information page and a training event that might help on 29 January – booking essential.
Feature Pic courtesy of Chris Blakeley on Flickr (Creative Commons) – thanks!