‘Private matter’ boy shared with social worker should be withheld from parents, judge rules

Court finds sharing "very private" information against wishes of boy involved in care proceedings could damage his trust in professionals

The court weighed up the boy's human rights, and the possibility of harm from disclosure, against his father's right to a fair trial Picture: Fotolia/Gordon Hall

Personal information a “very vulnerable” 15-year-old shared with a social worker should be withheld from his parents in line with his wishes and to avoid damaging his relationship with professionals, a High Court judge has ruled.

Mrs Justice Roberts was told the boy, who is at the centre of family court proceedings, did not want the “very private matters” to be shared with his father and stepmother.

The boy’s father argued disclosure was required to meet his rights to a fair trial, as he wished to use the information in forthcoming care proceedings.

The boy’s social worker and guardian argued that the child’s relationships with professionals may be damaged by disclosure of information he wished to keep private.

The local authority involved in the boy’s care asked the court for a decision, a move the judge said was “absolutely right” in the circumstances.

Balancing exercise

The judge found there was a “compelling” case for non-disclosure of the information and said it was “entirely necessary” that the boy’s “confidence and privacy in this information is maintained”.

After weighing up the evidence, she found the information the boy wished to be kept private had “very little, if any” relevance to the forthcoming care proceedings. As a result she dismissed the father’s claim that the information was required for a fair trial.

The boy’s right to a private and family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights also took precedence over his father and step-mother’s Article 8 rights, the judge found.

Risk of harm

Disclosure of the information would risk “significant harm” to the boy, the judge added. This was because over-ruling his wishes on “these very private matters” could compound fears he may have about placing trust and maintaining a relationship with professionals responsible for his wellbeing.

The judge said: “I am satisfied that there is a clear risk that the consequences of disclosure of this material may well result in [the boy’s] disengagement from the professionals who have provided him with guidance and support since his reception into care.

“He has been damaged by his experience of family life in recent years…If his current support structure were to be put at risk for any reason, he may well withdraw and internalise issues thereby putting his happiness and future wellbeing at significant risk.

She added: “I bear in mind, too, that whether or not the trial judge makes a final care order at the conclusion of these proceedings later this month, any prospect of repairing the relationship between I and his father will inevitably have to involve some form of therapeutic input from an appropriate professional or professionals.

“In this respect, it is essential that I believes that he can repose trust and confidence in those professionals and the care and support they will be providing.

“It would be harmful to him, and significantly so, if the chance to restore some form of relationship between parent and son in future were jeopardised because of a disclosure now of information which he regards as confidential.”

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