On Friday, Mrs Justice Roberts lifted a ban on naming Miss Olive Howell, who she jailed for contempt of court for seven days last Tuesday.
Mrs Justice Roberts originally granted the reporting restriction on Tuesday last week during an open hearing for the committal of Miss Howell following her failure to comply with a court order for the delivery up of her and her child’s passport to court officials. In coming to this conclusion, the judge balanced the child’s right to privacy under article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights with the press’ right to freedom of expression under article 10 of the Convention and found it appropriate to impose a restriction to prevent the child being identified publicly.
The judge’s attention was subsequently drawn to Practice Guidance issued in May 2013 by the then Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, and the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, which states that, even in circumstances where a committal application is heard in private, once a person is found in contempt of court, the court must state in public the name of that person, the nature of the contempt and the punishment being imposed. The guidance specifies this to be “mandatory; there are no exceptions”.
At a further hearing on Friday, Mrs Justice Roberts stated that she had considered the Practice Guidance again and decided that the scope of the reporting restrictions imposed was “too wide”, and that the press should be entitled to identify Miss Howell. This effective u-turn demonstrates the importance of the principle of open justice in our justice system and in particular, transparency regarding the serious issue of committal to prison.