Having resisted commenting on the whole super injunction ferrago so far, the latest twist is hard to ignore. It will be recalled that MP John Hemmings used his position in Parliament to publicise information about cases in which the media, the parties and anyone else had been gagged using so-called ‘super injunctons’ – that is, interim orders which. Not all of these cases were about the very rich seeking to keep their bedroom antics off of the front page. One involved serious claims of sexual abuse made by a 7 year old child and her mother against the child’s father. Moreover, if the mother’s claims were true the case involved not only sexual abuse but rank incompetence and mendacity by social services and the legal profession. No wonder Mr Hemmings considered it in the public interest to highlight the attempt by Doncaster social services to use injunctive relief to keep their own failings under wraps. Except that Vicky Haigh’s quite extraordinary claims about her daughter’s abuse have now been judged by the High Court, for the third time, to be a complete fabrication – Re X (A Child) (2011). The full judgment has yet to be released, but in a press release from the Judicial and Tribunals media office, the President of the Family Division has stated that:
“The first judge found that allegations of sexual abuse made against the father of a young child were not just untrue but manufactured by the child’s mother, who then caused her daughter to repeat them. Because the mother was wholly incapable of fostering a relationship between her daughter and the child’s father, refused to accept the judge’s findings and continued to assert that the father was a paedophile, a second judge found that her mother had caused the child significant harm. The child’s mother is wholly unable to accept the court’s verdict and, with the misguided assistance of Elizabeth Watson [a private investigator and campaigner working with Vicky Haigh, who was gaoled by the court for contempt] has unlawfully and in breach of court orders put into the public domain via e-mail and the internet a series of unwarranted and scandalous allegations about the father and others. She has repeated the untruth that the father is a paedophile and – without a scintilla of evidence – has attacked the good faith of all the professionals who had had any contact with the case”.
Exceptionally the President decided that it was also in the interests of justice to disclose the names of the parents, though the name of the child was not disclosed:
“I have come to the conclusion that … I should … give a public judgment in which I explain, having read all the papers in the case, that I have reached the same conclusion as the two previous judges. These proceedings have had a serious effect on the life of the father and have threatened the stability of the child. Her mother’s actions are wholly contrary to her interests. The father is entitled to tell the world, and the world is entitled to know, that he is not a paedophile, that he has not sexually abused his daughter and that the allegations made against him are false.”
The Haigh case was widely taken up across the print and online media. A large number of websites, including victims united supported the mother’s cause, with (with a few honourable exceptions) all the fervour of a Mississippi lynch mob. A number of those disclosed the name of the mother. Others deliberately disclosed the father’s name. The impact of this whole sorry episode on father and daughter is hard to imagine, and the whole process will have done little for Vicky Haigh’s credibility, let alone her long term relationship with her daughter.
It is important that injunctions are no wider than the merits of the case demand and widespread use of so-called super injunctions would be deplorable (though as a number of commentators have observed, their use has been both less extensive than often portrayed – as the Neuberger Committee noted in its May 2011 report, partly because of the media confusion between genuine super injunctions and more limited anonymised injunctions – and has declined as clearer guidelines have been developed as regards their use and duration. But it is important to remember that the whole point of an injunction may be, as in this case, to protect the interests of the vulnerable, and to ensure that no one is subjected to trial by media rather than by due process of law – values that one would hope our legislators might respect. (And indeed Parliament’s own sub judice rules exist to enable Parliament to limit the scope of debate to avoid the appearance of political interference with the administration of justice). The case is a sobering reminder of our capacity to lose objectivity in the face of highly emotive claims of child abuse, and, one hopes, an equally sobering reminder to Mr Hemmings that with power comes responsibility.