(Family Division; Sumner J; 20 June 2006)
Care proceedings had been instituted in respect of three children following the discovery of serious non-accidental injuries to the youngest child. In police interviews the father had admitted that he had been violent towards the child and he had eventually been charged with child cruelty. During the course of the local authority investigation, documents obtained by the authority (medical reports, a statement from mother alleging that the father had been violent, a statement from father admitting violence to the mother but denying violence towards the child, and a statement from the father withdrawing his confession) were disclosed to the police child protection officer by a social worker. The officer, who was also involved in the criminal investigation, applied to the court for clarification as to whether the documents could be used and whether or not permission for such use was required under the Family Proceedings (Amendment No 4) Rules 2005 (the 2005 Rules).
Under the 2005 Rules, once the police had obtained information produced in relation to family proceedings in the form of a document, they could use that information for child protection purposes, however, confidential information and documents produced for family proceedings could not otherwise be used without the court's express permission. A distinction was to be made between information and documents; the police could use information contained within disclosed documents for child protection purposes, but not the documents themselves without express permission. Using a short quotation from a document would not be using a document and acting in the protection of children was to be given a wide interpretation. When social workers were handing on information to the police it would be helpful if they (i) indicated to the police the source, unless it was confidential and (ii) at an appropriate time informed all parties to the proceedings about the information disclosed. Unopposed applications by the police to use such documents could be considered as paper applications to avoid the time and cost of a court hearing and could be made by the local authority on a directions hearing where use was not contentious and the court had all the relevant information. The 2005 Rules did not permit disclosure to a defence lawyer without the permission of the court; such permission could be sought through a party to the care proceedings, provided notice was given in writing to all parties, the application identified all the documents concerned, and was supported by a letter from the defence lawyer; the court reserving the right to hear argument directly from the lawyer. There was no irregularity in child protection officers becoming involved in the resulting criminal investigations. Permission was granted in the instant case.