Practice and Procedure

RE G (A CHILD) (2003)

PUBLISHED July 28, 2003

An unrepresented father's appeal from an order of the court prohibiting him from disclosing documents relating to family proceedings was allowed as it was too general and imprecise and had the effect that he was unable to obtain legal advice on his case.Appeal from the order of HH Judge Hamilton on 2 May 2003 that the father was prohibited from disclosing documents filed in the proceedings to any expert or agency or organisation such as Families Need Fathers without the specific permission of the court. A penal notice was attached to the order. The father was a litigant in person in long running family proceedings and argued that this order had the effect of preventing him from obtaining legal advice on his case. The father submitted that: (i) given the wide-ranging restrictions provided by s.12 Administration of Justice Act 1960, s.97(2) Children Act 1989 and r.4.23(1) Family Proceedings Rules 1991 SI 1991/1247, additional provisions were unjustified; (ii) the two statutes prohibited publication but this did not extend to limited confidential exchanges to private individuals or organisations with whom a party had a proper interest in communicating; (iii) the list of bodies excepted from the prohibition imposed by r.4.23 was too narrowly drawn and acted to the prejudice of litigants in person who could not seek advice without either suffering a handicap or being forced to make an application to the court to be released from the order; and (iv) that the words of the order were too imprecise to be enforceable.HELD: (1) If the party to the proceedings was unrepresented then it was clearly open to the court to make a specific order applying the statutory restrictions to areas of the case that required particular protection. (2) Whether an oral statement by one individual to another amounted to publication depended on the surrounding facts and circumstances. This included communication between a party to Children Act proceedings and Families Need Fathers. Re M (2002) EWCA Civ 1199 considered. (3) Where a litigant in person wished to provide information about the case to outsiders a suitable form of order could be made by the court on the lines of the order made in Re G (2003) EWCA 489 (Civ). However, r.4.23(1)(b) did discriminate against the unrepresented litigant and the Rules Committee should consider the possibility of amending the Rules. In the meantime there was no objection for a litigant to provide non-identifiable information about a problem that affected himself and his family to those from whom he sought advice. (4) The drafting of the order was too general and imprecise to be acceptable. An order to which a penal notice was attached had to be clear and easy to understand, particularly for a litigant in person. (5) The relevant paragraph of the order would be substituted with an order prohibiting the father from disclosing documents or summaries of the case save in the course of seeking advice as to the conduct of his case the father could disclose a summary of any orders, the nature of any proposed applications, the issues to be determined and the position of the other parties or experts.Appeal allowed.

[2003] EWCA Civ 1055