On 22 August 2011 the President of the Family Division, Sir Nicholas Wall (pictured), gave two judgments in cases involving Vicky Haigh, who had been named in the House of Commons by John Hemming MP on 26 April 2011, on a point of order.  We have previously posted about these judgments and about some of the background.   The two judgments are now available on the invaluable Bailii site.

The judgments are Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Haigh [2011] EWHC B16 (Fam) and Doncaster Metropolitan Borough Council v Watson [2011] EWHC B15 (Fam).

In the first judgment  Sir Nicholas Wall deals with what he describes as the “in my experience, unprecedented” application to put aspects of the care proceedings into the public domain [2].  He briefly explains the findings of fact in relation to Ms Haigh’s claim that her child, X, had been sexually abused: in essence that the child “was coached by the mother to make a false allegation of sexual abuse against the father, which originated in the mind of the mother“.  The judge then goes on to explain

“What renders the case unique, however, is that Ms Haigh, aided and abetted by one Elizabeth Watson, is not only unable to accept the judges’ findings but has put into the public domain the false allegations that she has not had justice and that X, contrary to both judges’ findings, has been sexually abused by her father. Those allegations have been posted on the worldwide web and are in the public domain. In addition, the mother has circulated the allegations to the parents of X’s school and to Mr. Tune’s fellow employees at his place of work. All this, of course, has been done illicitly and in breach of orders of the court“. [12]

The judge was clear that it was necessary to set the record straight

“How is this to be achieved? It is, I think, trite law that I have the power to release information into the public domain. …. There is … a need to put material into the public domain. It is important for the world to know that two judges have found that Mr. Tune is not a paedophile and that it is in the interests of his daughter to live with him. It is also important for me, having examined the record, having read all the papers in the case, to state that I have reached the same conclusion”. [37]

The question of Mr Hemming’s conduct was raised by the local authority.  The judge dealt with it in this way

the skeleton argument counsel for the local authority referred to the fact that parliamentary privilege has been invoked in this case:

 “A member of parliament has, on the basis of inaccurate and misleading information supplied to him, deployed parliamentary privilege to highlight the case. We would respectfully encourage the court to deprecate the use of parliamentary privilege in that way in circumstances where there is inevitably incomplete material available and the privacy of a child is threatened.  ….

 I have, of course, considered that submission very carefully, but I do not think it would be appropriate for me to become involved in matters which (a) are not my province, and (b) are not necessary for the proper resolution of the case before me. [29-30]

The second judgment ([2011] EWHC B15 (Fam)) deals with the application to commit “investigator” Ms Watson for contempt of court.  This sets out the unfortunate background and concludes that Ms Watson should go to prison for 9 months.  In passing the judge notes Ms Watson’s earlier contention

“that none of us, Victoria of the Haigh family and her daughter [who is named] nor myself, are in any way answerable to you or to HMCS

This curious point – made by “Elizabeth of the Watson family” – that persons not using their ordinary names are not subject to the jurisdiction of the court is discussed in an interesting post on the “Head of Legal Blog”, “Self-styled outlaws“.

Note: thank you to Benjamin Pell for drawing these two judgments to our attention.