Media will add to a child’s trauma

Parents can harm their children in a whole host of ways. But a
recent decision by the Court of Appeal shows that courts allow
society to add to that harm in the name of freedom of speech.

The Court of Appeal considered whether the court could restrain the
publication of the identity of a defendant mother and her victim,
her child, in order to protect the privacy of a surviving sibling
who was the subject of care proceedings.1 But the court
held that there was a clear and proper public interest in knowing
the name of the defendant. The acknowledgement that the publicity
would be painful for the surviving seven-year-old child was

Historically, the courts have exercised wide powers to protect
their wards, who could be children. But in a landmark case in 1994
it was held that the courts should not erode freedom of speech. It
was decided that “the principle that the press is free from both
government and judicial control is more important than the
individual case.” This included cases where a child could be harmed
as a result of the publicity given to an individual case.

However, in the more recent case, the Court of Appeal had to
consider this principle in the context of the Human Rights Act 1998
and its implementation in 2000 of the European Convention on Human
Rights. Article 8 states that “everyone has the right to respect
for his private and family life” and must be balanced with Article
10 that states that “everyone has the right to freedom of

We can be sure that the Press Complaints Commission will take no
steps to rein in its members who wish to publish sensational
stories. The courts prefer freedom of expression, and this case
gives judicial support for the principle that the press has a right
to publish stories for their readers’ titillation, regardless of
the potential damage it could cause to a child’s welfare.

It may be that in this specific instance it was unrealistic to
think that the child could be protected from the inevitable
publicity surrounding a prosecution for murder. But what grates is
that in the name of freedom of speech, the courts uphold the right
of the press to pander to the public’s lust for details about
others’ misfortunes, so that both can benefit from the misery of
the child.

1 Re S (A Child) [2003] EWCA
Civ 963, 10 July 2003

Richard White is a partner at children’s law solicitors
White and Sherwin.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.