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August 6, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:29am

Judge rejects journalist’s application for family court evidence

By PA Media Lawyer

A High Court judge has rejected a freelance journalist’s application for “wholesale disclosure” of a file of evidence relating to a girl who was at the centre of private family court proceedings.

Melanie Newman has asked Mrs Justice Roberts to allow her to examine documents produced by council social services staff.

Mrs Justice Roberts, who considered the application at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London earlier this year, has refused to allow “wholesale disclosure” of the court filed.

But she said Newman should be entitled to see “limited aspects” of material in the file.

Journalists covering private family court hearings are not normally given access to court files and Newman’s application was thought to be the first of its kind.

Social services bosses at Southampton City Council had raised concerns about the girl’s care and the case has been considered by family court judges in Southampton and Portsmouth, Hampshire.

Court of Appeal judges have also overseen hearings and three written rulings have been published online.

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A judge in Southampton had ruled that the girl should be placed for adoption. Appeal judges over-ruled that decision after the girl’s mother mounted a challenge.

Newman said a child was nearly taken from a “perfectly proper” parent and she hoped to write an “in-depth report” on the case.

She said the published rulings ”alone” did not provide ”sufficient insight” into the case to allow her to write an in-depth report.

Newman only asked to be allowed to read documentation and would need to make a further application if she wanted to report any of the material in the file.

Mrs Justice Roberts said the family at the centre of the case could not be identified in media reports.

“I am not deciding matters of general principle,” said the judge in a written ruling.

“This is a targeted and fact-specific exercise which has involved a careful balancing exercise of all the competing rights involved as between the individual parties to this particular case.

“I have rejected Ms Newman’s application for wholesale disclosure of the court file but I have agreed that she should be entitled to see limited aspects of the material it contains.”

The girl’s mother had given her consent to disclosure.

Mrs Justice Roberts said that was an “important factor” but added: “…this does not mean that in every case where an aggrieved parent supports media access to material generated in children’s proceedings, journalists should be encouraged to make applications.”

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