(Family Division, Baker J, 22 July 2013)
In a case which attracted world-wide media attention the two children survived an attack on their family while on holiday in France in which their mother, father, grandmother and a passing cyclist were shot and killed. The orphaned girls had to be accommodated by the local authority due to the line of police investigation concerning possible involvement of family members.
The girls had been in foster care for 10 months but two members of the extended family now sought to have the children placed in their care and were, accordingly, joined to the proceedings. The police investigation had led to the arrest of a paternal uncle who had been formally identified as a suspect due to a dispute between the brothers over their inheritance.
A succession of reporting restriction orders had been made during the proceedings and apart from the very first, due to exceptional circumstances, the media had been on notice of the hearings. The Chief Constable of Surry was joined to the proceedings. Prior to the substantive hearing a freelance journalist for The Times contacted the police and was informed that it would be seeking to exclude the media from future hearings in reliance of Arts 2 and 8 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950 and due to the need to maintain judicial secrecy of the proceedings in France in accordance with the French penal code. Evidence was not filed in support of the application.
While there had been in the aftermath of the attack a manifestly real and immediate risk to the lives of the children, they had since been subject to a comprehensive protection plan and, therefore, the question for the court was whether media presence at the hearings would give rise to a materially increased risk to their lives and whether that increase raised the risk to one of a real and immediate risk to life.
The Chief Constable's application was refused. It had not been demonstrated that a media presence would increase the risk to the lives of the children. The FPR 2010 equipped the court with extensive powers to review media attendance throughout the hearing and to determine which members of the press could attend. In response to the Chief Constable's concerns about leakage of information it was important to remember that Parliament had deemed it appropriate to trust accredited media professionals to observe hearings which they were not permitted to report on. Media attendance at family hearings provided a vital watchdog to proceedings, particularly so in light of the need for transparency and given the level of public interest in the case.
Family Procedure Rules 2010 Practice Direction 12 I placed no requirement on an applicant to file evidence in support of the application unless directed to do so by the court, although when giving notice to the media the applicant should outline the reasons for the application. The Chief Constable's course of conduct had been fully compliant with the Practice Direction.