A landmark High Court ruling allowing a family in a live child protection case to be named could have dangerous repercussions for children and practitioners, child care professionals have warned. Mr Justice Munby last week took the unprecedented step of allowing the identification of a family challenging a care order taken out by Norfolk social services on their five month-old son, Brandon.
Mark Webster, 33, and his wife Nicola, 26, had already spoken to the media under a pseudonym to protest their innocence but were banned from doing so at a hearing in June.
Munby overturned that ruling but retained a ban on naming the couple’s other children (see The Websters) along with any social care workers involved in Brandon’s care, or experts who had given evidence in previous proceedings.
Liz Goldthorpe, a member of the Association of Lawyers for Children’s executive committee, said it was now inevitable that other families would seek to speak to the press and warned against the possibility of one parent using the threat of publicity against the other.
Alison Paddle (pictured), chair of guardian’s association Nagalro, said professionals could be put off from working with Brandon due to the likelihood of further media attention.
The ruling goes further than the Department for Constitutional Affairs’ proposals to allow the media into the family courts but forbid them from naming families.
Nushra Mapstone professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, said that the media had presented the Webster’s case in a “polarised and simplified way” indicating that the DCA’s proposals would do little to improve the public’s understanding.
Although the Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service had supported the DCA proposals, its head, Anthony Douglas, warned against a “headlong stampede into openness”.
The Websters insist that the fractures are a result of a history of brittle bone disease. The council has released documents saying there was “no evidence” of the disease.
The Websters and their baby have been assessed at a residential care home since he was born but will now be monitored by social services at home until a care hearing next year.