If your children were taken into care, and you protest, could it infringe their rights? What about your right to object? It’s a balancing act of our rights, which has recently been thrown into the spotlight at the High Court.
The parents of four children recently taken into care were not happy about it and believed that a social worker had lied about them during the proceedings. They protested by setting up a petition, demanding that Parliament considered the issue. It was signed by 160 people. The page had names and photographs of the children and complained about the “lies” the parents thought the social worker had told.
The local authority demanded that the names and faces be removed, and the parents did so. They refused, however, to take down the petition itself, because they felt they had a right to protest about what they saw as unjust treatment by the government. Some other people had commented on the petition and mentioned the children’s names.
Why is this an issue?
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Children are usually granted anonymity in legal cases – their names might be read out in court, but reporters are forbidden from identifying children in their reports. That’s why lots of cases which make it into the papers don’t name the child, but refer to them by letter – the distressing case of ‘Baby P’ for example. This is to protect the child (or its memory) from the harm that can come from publicity.
Under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention, everyone has certain rights to privacy and family life, and the local authority believed that naming the children was against this right. They thought that it might prevent the children from being placed with adoptive parents or foster carers and that it might cause them emotional harm. They applied to court to have the petition removed.
So they took the petition down, right?
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Wrong. The parents claimed that they had rights too. As they saw it, the government had taken their children away from them and they had a right to protest about this. The right to free speech is covered by Article 10 of the Human Rights Convention, which is all about the freedom to express yourself. It usually doesn’t matter whether what you are saying is true or fair, or that everyone would agree with it.
Often, however, it can conflict with other rights, especially the right to privacy. For example, politicians have rights to privacy, but the papers have a right to report when they mess up, either publicly or in their private lives. So it’s often a balancing act – whichever way the court decides, there will be interference with someone’s human rights.
So what happened?
In this case, the court decided that the interference with the rights of the parents to free speech outweighed the possible interference with the rights of the children.
There was no evidence before the court that the children would actually be upset by their names being mentioned or that the information would stop them getting adopted or fostered. They already knew about their parent’s disagreement with the decision to take them into care. So the parents were told that the petition could stay up.