Not Saussure

October 30, 2006

Charlotte Wyatt and reporting restrictions

Filed under: Law, press, UK — notsaussure @ 11:43 pm

I’m blogging this because the story’s suddenly started popping up all over the place, and some bloggers seem to have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. I’ve no particular axe to grind, but I do get irritated when people completely misunderstand what a court here is trying to do. Let’s see whether Technorati tags have any effect and people searching for further and better particulars find this.

The story concerns Charlotte Wyatt, the prematurely-born daughter of Darren and Debbie Wyatt. She was the subject of a “do not resuscitate” order and was at the centre of a prolonged legal battle to have this order lifted.

The context is, as Google Blogoscoped reports, that

The Blogger blog has been removed by Google due to a legal request a couple of days ago. On their new homepage, the writers of the blog say:

[W]e’ve been evicted from our old home at blogger without notice

They claim they got the following alert from the Blogger Team (after the removal?):

We’d like to inform you that we’ve received a court order regarding your blog In accordance with the court order, we’ve been forced to remove your blog.

Google in the meantime states:

We received a court order to take down a blog and have complied, as we do with all valid legal processes. The author of the blog has been notified and can challenge the court order through established legal processes.

Some additional background: The order is valid whilst legal proceedings in relation to the children mentioned on the blog are ongoing. Once the case is over, the order will/should be lifted and the blog can be reinstated

Understandly, many bloggers — particularly American pro-life bloggers, I think — have jumped to the mistaken conclusion that this is some sinister machination on the part of the hospital authorities to do with the ‘do not resuscitate’ controversy.

It isn’t. Here’s what UK Press Gazette – has to say about it:

A High Court judge has banned the parents of Charlotte Wyatt, who was at the centre of a right-to-life battle, from talking to the media about their children or each other – but they can discuss their daughter’s medical condition.

The move came as lawyers for Portsmouth City Council sought an injunction in the Family Division of the High Court to protect possible foster placements for Charlotte.

Social workers are seeking foster parents to care for severely disabled Charlotte, currently in St Mary’s Hospital, Portsmouth, after recovering from a life-threatening viral lung infection she caught in February.

Charlotte’s parents, Darren, 34, and Debbie Wyatt, 25, from Portsmouth, split up in January.

The couple had fought a legal battle to prevent doctors withdrawing ventilation from Charlotte, who was born three months premature, weighing just one pound, and suffering serious brain, lung and kidney damage, if her condition worsened.

The latest legal moves over Charlotte came in the Family Division on Thursday October 19, when Mr Justice Hedley issued an injunction intended to protect Charlotte – who was three years old on October 21 – and other children.

The judge, who gave his judgment in open court, noted there was already wide public knowledge of Charlotte’s case, and an order intended to stop her father talking to the press.

There was also intense media interest as Charlotte’s third birthday was then approaching. Other proceedings were also due to take place.

Although this was a family law case, and confidence was implied by statute, a great deal of information was already in the public domain – neither parent had been shy of publicity, though Mrs Wyatt now appeared to have changed her view. Neither parent objected to an injunction being issued.

There were also many indications, including an article which appeared in the Daily Mail on the day of the hearing, that if there was no injunction, there was a serious risk that the integrity of the family proceedings would be compromised, and that the chances of social workers being able to find a foster home for Charlotte would be severely reduced.

Mr Justice Hedley said that although there was a great deal of lurid information about the case in the public domain, by contrast the reports about Charlotte’s health had been more moderate – and this was relevant to deciding the proper balance to strike a necessary and proportionate interference of the media’s Article 10 rights that might not afford the fullest privacy rights to the family.

He was also satisfied that a prohibited steps order was not adequate to deal with the sources of information available to the press, and discharged that on Mr Wyatt. Instead, he issued two free-standing injunctions which banned both Darren and Debbie Wyatt from disclosing information about Charlotte which was not already in the public domain to anyone other than those on an approved list. In effect, the orders ban the couple from discussing each other or their other children with the press and media.

The judge also issued an injunction restricting future publication of material about Charlotte and other children, but permitting publication of certain information already in the public domain.

Mr Justice Hedley stressed that it was his intention to allow information about Charlotte’s health to be published, but nothing relating to the on-going family proceedings relating to her future care – and warned that he would regard any breach which might affect the ability to find a foster home for her as a grave contempt.

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