(Court of Appeal; Thorpe and Keene LJJ and Hedley J; 10 December 2008)
Care proceedings were brought in respect of a child who had recently arrived from India without his parents, and who had been met by an English man. The man was known to the child's family, having worked in India for a brief time as a teacher; it emerged that the man had offered to care for the child in England, and to arrange for his education. The local authority made enquiries, and discovered that the man had a history of dismissal from teaching posts for unacceptable behaviour towards students. There had been no specific allegations of sexual abuse, but the authority considered that there was evidence of 'grooming'. After various matters had been disclosed, the man wrote to the court, indicating that he intended to go abroad and would take no further part in the care proceedings. The child returned to his family in India. In the man's absence, the care judge heard evidence and recorded findings before making no order, going on to allow the authority's applications, made without notice to the man and without written evidence in support, for disclosure of the findings to 20 different bodies and agencies. When the man returned to England, he applied to set aside the findings and the disclosure order; the judge decided to review his order, and once again made certain findings and authorised disclosure of those findings to 5 different bodies (later reduced to 3 different bodies: the DCSF, the Home Office and the High Commission of India).
The original order for disclosure should not have been made without notice to the man; it constituted a fundamental breach of natural justice. However, at the subsequent hearing, in which the man had been involved, the judge had been entitled to make findings and to authorise disclosure of those findings to the DCSF. There was real and cogent evidence of a pressing need to disclose findings that painted a worrying picture of potential risk to other children or young people to the body responsible for maintaining List 99. However, nothing warranted going beyond the extensive statutory regime; the justification for disclosing the material to the Home Office and the Indian High Commission was not clear and disclosure should be confined to the DCSF. The matter was to be remitted to the judge to consider the precise form of the disclosure schedule. A consequence of this decision might be a greater readiness on the part of the court to disclose findings to the DCSF where such findings might have implications for children or vulnerable adults outside the family context.