Bellamy’s Britain

A Bellamy Few people know that before becoming a prominent family judge His Honour Judge Bellamy could be found "wummaging awound in the undergwoaf" giving judgment on rainforests and the life cycle of moss and fungi. Few people know this because it is not true. ("Well, gwapple me gwapenuts!" I hear you mutter).

However, it is true that whilst engaged in a bit of undergwoaf wummaging myself I discovered a really interesting article in the March issue of Family Law by the other Bellamy - His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy: "Can The Press Be Trusted?" ([2011] Fam Law 260). It is the text of a speech given at the ALC conference in the latter part of last year, so many of you may have read / heard it before, but I had missed it until now. It puts in context the judgments in Re X, Y and Z (Care Proceedings: Costs) [2010] EWHC B22 (Fam) and Re S (A Child) [2010] EWHC B2 (Fam) (subsequently Re S (A Child) [2010] EWCA Civ 325 and Re S (Transfer of Residence) [2010] EWHC B19 (Fam)) and also the subsequent judgment in the case of Re L (A Child: Media Reporting) [2011] EWHC B8 (Fam) in which Bellamy was highly critical of the involvement of Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker.

Note: I have linked to many BaILII documents in this post - BaILII are appealing for funds so if you can give back a little please do.

Happily, the Association of Lawyers for Children are hosting the text of the speech on their website here, so even though some of us are still gnashing our teeth at the withdrawal of Family Law from our Lexis packages it can be accessed for free (I have uploaded the document here, out of an abundance of caution incase the link goes down in future).

Bellamy tracks the development of his views about press reporting of family cases in the context of his own judicial experience in the two cases cited above, and having quoted despairingly of some of the more inaccurate sensationalist international news coverage says that

"All of these headlines underline the point thatwhat the media reports will be retold -- and retold around the world. What comesout of the Family Courts stays out. In the report referred to above, Julia Brophy noted that:

'Almost all respondents said [that] children in cases will be fearful that very private, painful, humiliating, embarrassing and shameful information about their care and family will be placed on social networking sites. Children said anyone can download information from newspapers and post it on the internet. It will then be available forever -- to be 'googled', downloaded, added to blog sites and circulated by text and e-mail at any time throughout a person's life.'

The young people and children interviewed make a very valid point. We would be unwise to overlook the practical reality that in today's world the power of the internet is greater than the power of the courts."

 

Rather prescient as it turns out.

But what neither Bellamy nor Brophy acknowledge is that - regardless of what is permitted by statute, court rules or specific order - much of this material is out there ANYWAY, because there are so many out there who wilfully and flagrantly disregard the privacy rules and are dismissive of their purpose. If more responsible and accurate reporting can be permitted it will mitigate the damage done elsewhere. The more I ponder it the more I think it has to be a tandem approach - curtail the inappropriate and potentially harmful where necessary and justifiable, but be more ready to make permissive orders or give leave for certain classes of material to be published and for documents to be seen by the Press in order to facilitate better reporting (and thereby to deny those who use the restrictions as a smokescreen their excuse for sloppy journalism).

Bellamy goes on to conclude:

"I began 2010 as an enthusiast for greater openness and transparency in the Family Courts. I ended the year with questions and doubts. I hope that in 2011 I shall be allowed to retreat to the peace and tranquillity of my judicial bunker. But that still leaves the question raised in the title of my talk: can the press be trusted? I trust them not to give me a good kicking -- or at least, not without some justification. However, when itcomes to the reporting of family cases, whether the press really can be trustedto use their power responsibly is another question entirely. The jury is still out."

I wonder if Bellamy still trusts the press not to give him a good kicking? At least one journalist has had a pop, but not it seems to his face. The judicial bunker may not have been as tranquil of late as Bellamy had hoped.

The jury was out in October 2010. Is the verdict now in?