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Lord Justice Munby Ruling: Public need to know more about the reality of child protection but this is not the way

A landmark legal ruling allowing a father to publish a video online of social workers and police removing his child under an emergency protection order has prompted the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) to express serious concern about the judgement’s implications for social work professionals and care proceedings. 

The recent ruling in Re. J (A Child) [2013] EWHC 2894 (Fam) by president of the family division Lord Justice Munby concerned a case brought by Staffordshire County Council to prevent a father publishing details and video footage online concerning social workers and care proceedings relating to his children.

In his judgement in the case Lord Justice Munby highlighted the “pressing need” for increased transparency within the family justice system, and “important questions about the extent to which the public should be able to read and see what disgruntled parents say when they speak out about what they see as deficiencies in the family justice system.” He recommends family courts adapt to “the realities of the internet, and in particular social media.”

BASW has long campaigned against the practice of “naming and shaming” social workers on "hate sites" on the internet, and is seeking advice on what Lord Justice Munby’s ruling will mean both for members and employers.

 Commenting on the judgement, BASW Chief Executive Bridget Robb said: “While we agree that the public should be better informed about what social workers do and the decisions they take to protect children, this is not the way.

“Posting emotive footage of emergency care orders being undertaken is always going to be hugely distressing, but such images do not tell the whole story of the work done by many professionals which result in a child's removal from their parents.

“However, this footage does show what a difficult a job being a social worker is. Social workers regularly have to put their own safety on the line to protect children.

“Most social workers will be familiar with the anger, distress and aggression which is sometimes apparent during removal of children.  Parents who are vulnerable often want to take action which they believe will prove the social workers wrong. However, they may not fully understand the long-term consequences for themselves and their children of making public their private family difficulties.

“There is a world of difference between greater transparency in Family Courts and the exposure of distressed families to the media.

“If the public want children to be protected, they have to get behind social workers, understand that removal of a child is not a decision taken lightly by them alone and stop this demonising of social workers who are trying to work in accordance with the law.”