Tower Hamlets Council has failed in its attempt to ban press reporting of the case of a five-year-old Christian child being fostered with strict Muslim parents. The girl who was at the centre of the care dispute was removed from her Muslim foster parents and reunited with her family by order of the East London Family Court.
Judge Khatun Sapnara ruled that it was in the girl’s best interests to live with a family member who could keep her safe, promote her welfare and meet her needs in terms of ethnicity, culture and religion.
In 2015 Her Honour Judge Khatun Sapnara was named British Bangladeshi Power & Inspiration (BBPI) Person of the Year for her outstanding achievement as the first person of British Bangladeshi origin in a senior judicial position.
Matters of legitimate public interest
Earlier this week Andrew Norfolk, chief investigative reporter for The Times who broke the original story, had initially been ordered to leave the East London Family Court building during the hearing of the case.
Her Honour Judge Khatun Sapnara stated that The Times had acted responsibly in raising “very concerning” matters of “legitimate public interest”.
According to The Times when Tower Hamlets Council was first informed of the story it tried to block any press reporting by contacting the court and informed Judge Sapnara that confidential court documents had been unlawfully leaked and publication of any press report would be an offence under law.
A senior family judge intervened after being alerted by the Ministry of Justice and members of the press were allowed access to the court.
Journalists cannot be banned from courts
A senior official at HM Courts and Tribunal Service later wrote to managers at all courts in London telling them that journalists must not be banned from buildings “under any circumstances”.
`The Times led a successful campaign for increased access to family court hearings in 2009.
Former Head of the Commission for Racial Equality Trevor Phillips, writing in The Sun newspaper, also criticised the actions of Tower Hamlets Council saying that “too often the first instinct on being found out is to prevent the truth being told.”
Tower Hamlets press statement
“We welcome the decision by the Family Court to publish the Case Management Order from yesterday. It supports our position that we always had the child’s best interests at heart and it was Tower Hamlets Council’s proposal to have the child moved to the care of her grandmother.
“It also gives other information about the case that we have been unable to provide in recent days due to legal restrictions to protect the child and foster parents from being identified.”
The Family Court Papers can be downloaded from the Judiciary website [PDF]
Debbie Jones, Corporate Director Children’s Services at Tower Hamlets Council, said that ““We are disappointed with the tone of some of the media coverage especially given the judge’s comments yesterday that reporting has been intrusive for both the child and the foster carer. “
Yet again the current Labour administration tries to block the press from reporting issues in a manner that would make Lutfur Rahman proud and makes a mockery of its own stated intention to be a ‘beacon council for transparency and openness.’
Today on visiting the Tower Hamlets Council news section of its website LW was very surprised to find – news. To be precise specific information concerning the fostering case.
Prior to this Tower Hamlets Council was using its legal duty to protect the identity of the child and the legal restrictions imposed on it as excuses for not providing any information apart from the briefest of statements (“We are unable to comment on individual cases or those that are subject to court proceedings….”)
Hard fact is Tower Hamlets Council that because of your recent history nobody in the media believes anything you say. The assumption is that you are always hiding something and not being straight with either residents or those who report news on their behalf.
Occasionally a council officer can be found who does their job properly and provides facts to the best of their ability without overly considering protecting the corporate image of the council. Those people are genuine public servants. But they are too few of them. (We know there are many more but they will not speak out for fear of the consequences.)
But the rule of thumb is that instead of taking a sensible and measured approach to the enquiries of journalists of the calibre of Andrew Norfolk the Council immediately raises the barricades and adopts a siege mentality and so turns a potential problem into a certain disaster.
Result? Firstly the fostering case becomes news world-wide, not just in the UK.
And as a consequence of that the London Borough of Tower Hamlets sinks a little deeper into a swamp of its own making.
Related Internet Links
- Judge rules child must leave Muslim foster home The Times [Paywall]
- The decision to put a five-year-old Christian girl into Muslim foster care is like child abuse and the council must pay The Sun
- Judge praises Times for ‘legitimate public interest’ reporting on Christian girl put into care with Muslim families Press Gazette
- Tower Hamlets Council Defends Handling Of Foster Case Involving Christian Child And Muslim Family Huffington Post
- Christian girl in Tower Hamlets Muslim foster case to live with grandmother following court ruling The Independent
- Her Honour Judge Khatun Sapnara Alchetron
- Family Court case papers Judiciary website [PDF]