Court backs local authority attempt to disclose sex assault conviction to girl

The case of R (on the application of J and another) v West
Sussex County Council (22 May, 2002) concerned a divorced mother
who had a daughter and four grandchildren, aged eleven and

She began a relationship with a man, who had been convicted of
indecent assault on his stepdaughter and imprisoned for three and a
half years. He maintained his innocence, and had not received
treatment. In August 2001, a social worker visited them and asked
the mother to inform her daughter about the conviction, and advised
her that if she did not do so, then the social services department
would contact the daughter directly.

The couple claimed that such disclosure would be in breach of
article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The authority
responded that in light of the seriousness of the offence, the fact
that the second claimant continued to deny the offence and the
degree of risk involved, there was a pressing need to disclose the

On judicial review of the local authority decision the
application was dismissed.

The court held that the social services department had carried
out a balancing exercise and had determined that the man was a
potential risk. They had been entitled to rely on the man’s
conviction, the fact that neither he, nor the mother accepted that
he had committed the offence; the fact that there was no
reassurance that he would take steps to prevent any potential risk,
the age of the children and the fact that the man was an untreated
offender. It was plain that the department had not adopted a
blanket approach, but had carefully considered the matter on its
own facts and applied the appropriate test.

For cases in the law reports see also Re EC (disclosure of
material) [1996] 3 FCR 556, Re V and Re L (minors)(sexual abuse:
disclosure) [1999] 1 FCR 308, R v Local Authority and Police
Authority in the Midlands, ex p LM [2000] 1 FLR 612 and R v North
Wales Police, ex p Thorpe [1998] 2 FLR 571.

Richard White

White and Sherwin Solicitors

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