Secret Courts


There has been a lot in the news about super-injections and hyper-injunctions with the Press attacking this most obscene threat on our (their) freedom of speech. Perhaps I’m too lackadaisical about our first amendment   rights to a free and open press or perhaps it is seeing the way that the press push in when it is their own issues that are at stake but to be honest, I don’t really care to know which TV celebrity or footballer is having an affair with which model/ex-big brother contestant.  I presume granting of the said injunctions relate to the protection of children in general being identified rather than the celebrities themselves (although knowing absolutely nothing about the legal processes, that is an assumption of mine so feel free to correct me!)

I think there has been a blurring of the lines and issues between the reporting of these kind of ‘kiss and tell’ mega-hyper-super injunctions and the type that have also been targeted in relation to Family Court and Court of Protection decisions and there needs to be a greater understanding and separation of the issues between the two types of cases. It is a separation that I have seen little appreciation, understanding and knowledge of in the press who seem to be lumping these ‘secret courts’ in with the other injunctions when in fact, the issues and the roles of protection of individuals’ identities are different.

I think there are issues about having more open judgements in the Court of Protection – the Court that deals with issues for people who lack capacity – not least because the decisions of that court relate directly to my practice when working with the Mental Capacity Act every day at work (which I do). Decisions can be made public without any need to necessarily name individuals. Names can be redacted. Sometimes they don’t help themselves. Although I have no experience of Family Courts, I presume the issues are similar regarding identification.

The problem is that without clear reporting of the facts of a case, those who feel wronged by the courts (rightly or wrongly) have free rein to use Facebook/Sympathetic MPs willing to break these injunctions through Parliamentary privilege to cast the details of the ‘travesty of the court’ in their own terms.

Yesterday, I did a little basic research on a name that came up in one of the discussions about a name that is subject to one of these ‘hyper-mega-super injunctions’ – a name that came out on the social networking sites. I’m not going to link any further information here because it’s all ‘out there’  and the details are not the issue but the sites that I found and the language that I found did not seem to amount to a reasoned and level-headed information source of what the truth might be. The language was very histrionic, there were no holds-barred relating to naming young children and making accusations that can never be more than unsubstantiated unless another party in the case chooses to ‘go public’.  That isn’t to say a major injustice might not have been done. It could have been  but it is hard to know without the details that the Court itself was privy to.

So the Courts remain ‘secret’.

Perhaps I have too much faith in the ‘system’? I can’t help but admit that my job relates to my views on this matter.  I’ve been  involved in a case that was open to major misinterpretation in the press because we could never ‘go public’ about the abusive family dynamics and circumstances which meant that they (the family) couldn’t ‘care for granny’. All that was apparent was ‘granny being ‘held’ as a ‘secret prisoner’ in a care home’.

I know that I run the risk of being too trusting of the Court processes and am the first to admit that mistakes can and are made – certainly social services departments are far from always right –  but I also know that there seems to be so little understanding and knowledge of the Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards the area of the ‘secret courts/secret prisoners’ that I do know reasonably well for me to be sceptical of any newspaper reporting of it.

Wrong decisions are made and social workers should not be above the scrutiny of the press but it is  hard to make judgements about the truth of the decisions being made when only part of the story is known is that of the ‘wronged party’.

Conversely I also know there is a lot of misunderstanding of the Deprivation of Liberty safeguards and defensiveness  within local authorities too but I’m not sure the pages of the press are the best places for these misunderstandings to be ironed out.

Better the Courts actually allow more redacted reporting, perhaps, so that some of the more complex issues that social services, social workers and ‘secret’ courts deal with can be understood.

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