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Court of Appeal hears appeal by journalist over access to court documents from public law children case

The Court of Appeal is today (4 March) hearing an appeal from a journalist over a judge’s refusal of her application for permission to access court documents in relation to public law proceedings concerning a child.

The proceedings concluded in October 2018. In Newman v Southampton City Council & Ors [2020] EWHC 2103 (Fam) Mrs Justice Roberts only allowed the journalist, Melanie Newman, access to a limited number of documents.

The background to the case – as set out on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website – was that the child was made the subject of a placement order by HHJ Hess when she was four years old.

The Court of Appeal quashed the order on 20 February 2018 with the judgment of the Court holding that the judge had failed adequately to engage with the central allegation advanced by the local authority namely that the child was at risk of physical or emotional harm in her mother’s care.

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The matter was remitted to the Family Court but no retrial took place. Instead, the local authority no longer sought orders separating the child from her mother and with the result that the child returned to live with her mother where she remains to date.

Ms Newman is seeking to investigate the case and in particular to look at how events unfolded which led to a local authority seeking permanently to separate a young child from her mother by way of a placement order, but who, a year later following the quashing of the placement order by the Court of Appeal, withdrew its application for a placement order and allowed the child to return to the care of her mother where she remains.

The case, M (A Child), was being heard by the Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, Lady Justice Macur and Lady Justice King. It is being livestreamed.

In its decision to grant the appellant permission, the Court of Appeal noted: “The appeal raises a matter of significant public interest, namely the balance as between Article 8 and Article 10 where a responsible journalist seeks access to court papers; this includes consideration of the approach of the court to the Article 8 interests of a young child where a person with parental responsibility wishes to consent to full disclosure of all the court papers on behalf of the child, the subject of the proceedings.”

Anya Proops QC of 11KBW acts for the appellant, together with Zac Sammour of 11KBW and Kate Temple-Mabe of 7BR. They are instructed by Elizabeth Morley of Howard Kennedy.

Heather Rogers QC of Doughty Street Chambers and Sarah Earley of Pallant Chambers are appearing for Southampton City Council.

Deirdre Fottrell QC of 1GC is acting for the Children's Guardian.

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