The Guardian and the Whitby Gazette have featured a complaint by ‘a former Lib Dem MP’ about a family court judgment in which the judge, HHJ Anderson, specifically explains that she will not name the local authority or the social workers involved. The news stories we have seen do not link to the judgment itself on Bailii, which is here (Re C (A Child)  EWFC B201). However, they do quote from it extensively and accurately.
HHJ Anderson explains that she has chosen not to identify the social workers because there was no bad faith on their part – things had not been done properly because of workload pressures – resulting in the father’s human rights being breached. Naming individual practitioners will achieve nothing, she concludes.
This is unusual. The starting point is that professionals are named. Sometimes a judge will depart from the guidance because of risk of jigsaw identification of the family, or perceived risk to other people. This is not suggested here. Secondly, the President himself has declined to name individual social workers in a case early last year where he heaped opprobrium on upper management instead. However he did name and shame the local authority as a corporate entity. Neither of these situations apply in Re C. It is difficult to justify the departure from the guidance.
However, the news reports do not set out some other matters. The judge also notes that action and inaction by other agencies such as Cafcass and the court staff and judges contributed to the accumulation of mistakes. She is perhaps taking ‘collective responsibility’. She herself took nearly two months to find time to write her supplemental human rights judgment, after the decision on the child’s future was made in August 2015.
We have noticed a number of odd things about the reporting of this case. When we came across it in the Guardian on 10 January, we could not find it on Bailii. Now that we have found it, there is no link to a published report in August, and the October judgment appears to have been posted as late as 8 January 2016.
A bit of a non-story perhaps, if no-one is taking the matter up on behalf of the father, but perhaps this flurry of interest will lead more readers to the actual judgment with HHJ Anderson’s acknowledgement of the huge pressures the courts and local authorities are under. It is very sad that these led to this father’s rights being overlooked by so many people working in the family justice system.