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CARE/DISCLOSURE: Re X Children [2007] EWHC 1719 (Fam)

Date:29 JUN 2007

(Family Division; Munby J; 29 June 2007)

The local authority brought care proceedings in respect of the children. Following an incident in which the principal social worker was stabbed, the father was charged with attempted murder; he had not yet been charged with offences against the children, but such charges were expected to follow in due course. The CPS sought disclosure of documents in the care proceedings; the local authority applied for a reporting restriction order. Notwithstanding the vulnerability of the children, the balance in this case plainly came down in favour of disclosure, albeit initially limited disclosure subject to appropriate conditions designed to protect the privacy and other interests of those, particularly the children, who might otherwise be prejudiced. The family court must be involved in any decision to put any of these documents (or the information contained in them) into the public domain. Letters from the father to the mother and children were to be disclosed (disclosure had not been challenged by the mother or the children's guardian), notwithstanding the private and sensitive nature of such documents. Other documents would be disclosed, notwithstanding the father's argument that they were inadmissible in criminal proceedings as statements or admissions within Children Act 1989, s 98(2): such documents could be used in a police enquiry; could be put to a witness to challenge his evidence or attack his credibility; and it was in any event ultimately a matter for the Crown Court judge, not the family court, to decide whether they fell within s 98(2). These were exceptionally vulnerable children, needing a greater degree of protection from media intrusion than was normally afforded by the law. This untypical case justified an order protecting and keeping confidential the children's identities beyond the conclusion of proceedings. However, for a number of reasons, not least that the media had already named and identified the father, there would be an 'open court' proviso, qualified only in respect of: the precise family's address (notwithstanding that this information was already in the public domain); the children's names; or the fact the children were involved in care proceedings.