In re F (otherwise A ) (A Minor) (Publication of Information): CA 1977

An allegation of contempt was made in proceedings related to the publication by a newspaper of extracts from a report by a social worker and a report by the Official Solicitor, both prepared after the commencement and for the purpose of the wardship proceedings.
Held: What was published was ‘information relating to [the] proceedings’ within the meaning of section 12. The Court drew a distinction between publication of information about a child (a ward), the publication of which was not of itself a contempt at common law, and is not a contempt under section 12, and, on the other hand, the publication of information relating to proceedings about the child (ward), which is in principle a contempt if the court has been sitting in private.
Section 12 of the 1960 Act does not mean that every newspaper report about award of court will be in contempt.
Scarman LJ said: ‘[The judge] construed the statutory words ‘information relating to proceedings before a court sitting in private’ as having a wider meaning than information relating to an actual or imminent hearing. Indeed, he construed the words so as to include information about the ward irrespective of whether the information related to a hearing or not. He accepted that there was no reported case at common law which went further than to declare an account of the proceedings (or of the order made) to be a contempt; but, bearing in mind the nature of wardship, he interpreted ‘proceedings’ as meaning ‘a continuing state of affairs for as long as the wardship lasts . . I do not so interpret the section. I think the judge . . gave too wide a meaning to ‘proceedings’ . . Prior to 1960, as the judge recognised, no court is known to have treated as a contempt anything that was not an account of legal proceedings. By retaining the word ‘proceedings’. Parliament must have intended to maintain the relationship between contempt of court and a court’s proceedings. As I read the section, what is protected from publication is the proceedings of the court; in all other respects the ward enjoys no greater protection against unwelcome publicity than other children. If the information published relates to the ward, but not to the proceedings, there is no contempt; as North J commented in Martindale’s case [1894] 3 Ch 193, 201, there would have been no contempt in that case had the newspaper confined its report to the fact of the ward’s marriage’. And
‘The words, in their context, need mean no more than that there is a contempt in the absence of a defence recognised by law. If Parliament had intended to treat publication of information relating to proceedings before a court sitting in private as a contempt irrespective of circumstances, I would have expected express provision to that effect. Circumstances can and do arise in which Parliament must have intended the old law to continue, for example, where the court authorises publication or where by the passage of time ‘the rule of publicity [is] resumed’ (Lord Shaw of Dunfermline, Scott v Scott [1913] AC 417 at 483). Similarly, if, as I believe, the pre-existing law recognised a defence that the publisher neither knew nor ought to have known that the information published related to proceedings before a court in private, one would have expected express provision if such a defence was to be taken away.’
Lord Denning MR said: ‘There is no suggestion anywhere that it was a contempt of court to publish information about the ward herself, be it favourable or adverse, helpful or injurious to her. But there are cases to show that it was a contempt of court to publish information relating to the proceedings in court about a ward . . When the court . . sat in private to hear wardship proceedings, the very sitting in private carried with it a prohibition forbidding publication of anything that took place, save only for the formal order made by the judge or an accurate summary of it.’
As to section 12 ‘the prohibition would, I think, apply, not only to information given to the judge at the actual hearing, but also to confidential reports submitted beforehand by the Official Solicitor, or social workers, or the like.’
Geoffrey Lane LJ asked: ‘what is meant by ‘proceedings’? Obviously a report of the actual hearing before the judge or part of it is included. But the words must include more than that; otherwise it would have been unnecessary to use the expression ‘information relating to proceedings’ . . The object is to protect from publication information which the person giving it believes to be protected by the cloak of secrecy provided by the court. ‘Proceedings’ must include such matters as statements of evidence, reports, accounts of interviews and such like, which are prepared for use in court once the wardship proceedings have been properly set on foot.’
Lord Denning MR said: ‘The existence of wardship does not give the ward a privilege over and above other young people who are not wards. It does not give her exemption from comment on her activities, be they favourable or adverse, be they helpful to her or injurious. The remedy for defamatory remarks about a ward is the law of libel, not of contempt of court.’


Scarman LJ, Lord Denning MR, Geoffrey Lane LJ


[1977] 1 All ER 114, [1976] 3 WLR 813, [1977] Fam 58


Administration of Justice Act 1960 12(1)


England and Wales


Appeal fromIn re F (otherwise A) (A Minor) (Publication of Information) FD 1976
. .
CitedScott v Scott HL 5-May-1913
Presumption in Favour of Open Proceedings
There had been an unauthorised dissemination by the petitioner to third parties of the official shorthand writer’s notes of a nullity suit which had been heard in camera. An application was made for a committal for contempt.
Held: The House . .
CitedIn re Martindale 1894
Miss Martindale was made a ward of court on 11 April 1894. Knowing that she was a ward of court a young poet and novelist named Ford Madox Hueffer – later known as Ford Madox Ford – married her in May 1894. On 1 June 1894 North J granted an . .

Cited by:

CitedAttorney-General v Leveller Magazine Ltd HL 1-Feb-1979
The appellants were magazines and journalists who published, after committal proceedings, the name of a witness, a member of the security services, who had been referred to as Colonel B during the hearing. An order had been made for his name not to . .
CitedRe S (A Child) CA 10-Jul-2003
The mother of the child on behalf of whom the application was made, was to face trial for murder. The child was in care and an order was sought to restrain publiction of material which might reveal his identity, including matters arising during the . .
CitedIn re S (A Child) (Identification: Restrictions on Publication) CA 10-Jul-2003
An order was sought to protect from publicity a child whose mother faced trial for the murder of his brother. The child was now in care.
Held: The court must balance the need to protect the child with the need for freedom of the press. The . .
CitedKent County Council v The Mother, The Father, B (By Her Children’s Guardian); Re B (A Child) (Disclosure) FD 19-Mar-2004
The council had taken the applicant’s children into care alleging that the mother had harmed them. In the light of the subsequent cases casting doubt on such findings, the mother sought the return of her children. She applied now that the hearings . .
CitedX v Dempster FD 9-Nov-1998
The columnist Nigel Dempster had written that the mother in forthcoming proceedings relating to a child was a bad mother.
Held: The article was a contempt of court. Such an allegation required proof to the criminal standard. At common law the . .
CitedGreene v Associated Newspapers Ltd CA 5-Nov-2004
The claimant appealed against refusal of an order restraining publication by the respondent of an article about her. She said that it was based upon an email falsely attributed to her.
Held: ‘in an action for defamation a court will not impose . .
CitedNorfolk County Council v Webster and others FD 1-Nov-2006
The claimants wished to claim that they were victims of a miscarriage of justice in the way the Council had dealt with care proceedings. They sought that the proceedings should be reported without the children being identified.
Held: A judge . .
CitedDoctor A and Others v Ward and Another FD 8-Jan-2010
Parents wished to publicise the way care proceedings had been handled, naming the doctors, social workers and experts some of whom had been criticised. Their names had been shown as initials so far, and interim contra mundum orders had been made . .
CitedKelly (A Minor) v British Broadcasting Corporation FD 25-Jul-2000
K, aged 16, had left home to join what was said to be a religious sect. His whereabouts were unknown. He had been made a ward of court and the Official Solicitor was appointed to represent his interests. He had sent messages to say that he was well . .
CitedRe A Ward of Court FD 4-May-2017
Ward has no extra privilege from Police Interview
The court considered the need to apply to court in respect of the care of a ward of the court when the Security services needed to investigate possible terrorist involvement of her and of her contacts. Application was made for a declaration as to . .
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.

Children, Contempt of Court

Updated: 29 April 2022; Ref: scu.182819