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London Borough of Sutton v MH, RH and NH (No 2) [2016] EWHC 1371 (Fam)

Date posted: 25 January 2017

This case concerned a 16 year old boy with Zimbabwean and Canadian citizenship who was related to a ‘public figure’ in England. When he came to England last year he alleged that his mother had assaulted him. His mother conceded that he was ‘beyond parental control’ but refused consent to his continued accommodation.

 

The Local Authority obtained a preliminary ruling that the court had jurisdiction in relation to their proposed care proceedings by virtue of Article 6(2) of The Hague Child Protection Convention 1996.

 

The mother had a long history of disseminating confidential information and documents and therefore a reporting restriction order was made and later renewed by the present judge.

 

At the time of the present hearing, the boy was sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983. It was said that under pressure from his mother, he had signed an application asking, inter alia, for a discharge of the ongoing interim care order and for an order giving his mother full access to the court documents.

 

When he attended court with the escorts he managed to abscond and made his way to the Zimbabwean Embassy where he was joined by his mother. She prevented him from going back to the psychiatric unit, and instead they allegedly travelled to Zimbabwe, despite a port alert and collection order.

 

By May 2016, the Local Authority were satisfied that the mother had breached the reporting restriction order, there being material about the case on the internet.

 

The Local Authority then asked the court for permission to withdraw their application for a final care order and hear the application, purportedly from the boy, asking for the reporting restriction order to be set aside.

 

Held: the court granted permission to the Local Authority to withdraw their application for a care order; and agreed to vary the reporting restriction order so as to report the facts but prevent the boy’s identity and his relationships to the ‘public person’ from being revealed.

 

This case highlights the commonly known failures of the port alert system and those of the Zimbabwean embassy in granting travel documents contrary to a request from the High Court.

 

More interestingly, the acceptance of the somewhat dubious application from the boy for the discharge of the existing reporting restriction order must be noted. This Judgment emphasises that the right to freedom of expression in Article 10, besides being a ‘touchstone of all human rights’,  is important to both parents and children.

 

Here, the mother wanted to speak out on what she considered to be an injustice and the court clearly considers it important that parents involved in care proceedings are able to voice their grievances irrespective of the merits of the views expressed by their parent. At the same time, the court has clearly taken the view that a child like the boy in this case, who wishes to speak out about his or her experiences in the care system should be enabled to do so. Article 10 is significant in facilitating this and any decision to restrict this right, as was the result in this case, is an interference that has to be justified.