Social workers in care cases can be identified online, rules High Court

Courts should balance child's right to privacy with people's right to freedom of expression, rules Munby after Staffordshire tried to block names, images and videos of staff

Picture credit: Rex Features
Picture credit: Rex Features

Family courts should not prevent parents, the media and websites from identifying social workers once care proceedings have ended, the High Court has ruled.

The decision relates to Staffordshire council’s bid to stop the publication of names, images and video footage of social workers involved in the case of Child J, who was subject to an emergency protection order after being born in April this year.

On the day Child J was removed from his family, the father posted a comment on Facebook comparing social workers involved in the case with the Nazis’ SS paramilitaries, a comparison the judge, Sir James Munby, described as “grotesque”.

Child J’s father then posted secret video footage on the internet, which showed social services taking the baby away. The footage was later uploaded to YouTube by the website UK Column Live, which followed this by publishing a video interview with the parents that named the child.

The father had taken similar action in the past. In April 2012, when one of Child J’s three older siblings was removed from the family at birth, the father used Facebook to post photos of the social worker in the hospital delivery suite. The social worker was named and described as “a vampire-ish creature, a wicked, predatory social worker who is about to steal the child from the loving parents”.

Staffordshire council wanted the court to impose an injunction that would prevent the publication of the names and addresses of Child J, the parents, the local authority and its staff and the children’s guardian. The injunction would also have prevented the release of the video footage and other images.

But in his judgment Judge Munby, president of the family division, said injunctions that prevented the identification of the children’s guardian, the council and the social workers should only be granted if there were compelling reasons.

The need for open justice means that courts should not gag those with objections, founded or otherwise, to the family justice system, he said. Instead courts should balance the child’s right to privacy with people’s right to freedom of expression.

This meant that while the restrictions preventing the publication of the names and addresses of Child J and his parents should be applied, the video footage should not be subject to such constraints. Without other identifying information, the baby could not be identified and it would be difficult for anyone to find out who the child or family was by searching the internet, Munby said.

He also rejected Staffordshire’s request for the reporting restrictions to apply to itself, the social workers and the children’s guardian.

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