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  • Estranged father's victory over family court blanket of secrecy
  • By Joshua Rozenberg, Legal Editor
  • Telegraph (UK)
  • 28/06/2006 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 61 articles in 2006 )
A small corner of the blanket of secrecy covering family cases was lifted yesterday when the Court of Appeal allowed an estranged father to discuss a ruling involving his daughter.

The outcome was a victory for Simon Clayton, from Hay-on-Wye, Herefordshire, who will be allowed to put pictures of his seven-year-old daughter, Esti, on his website and discuss the agreement he had reached with her mother for sharing their daughter's care.

However, the court banned him from involving Esti in a film he wanted to make about how he had abducted her to Portugal in 2003. Three appeal judges decided that, on matters affecting her welfare, the child's right to respect for her private life under Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention outweighed her father's right to freedom of expression under Article 10.

In an unusual move, Sir Mark Potter, who presided over the appeal, issued a press release saying that he and his fellow judges regarded their decision "as a small step towards greater transparency and rebutting the slur inherent in the charge that the family courts administer 'secret' justice".

Mr Clayton, who campaigns for fathers' rights in the family courts, said of the ruling: "Today the Court of Appeal has allowed me to speak freely."

He added: "I see the judgment as a big step forward. Until today I was not allowed to publish this information." Mr Clayton and his wife, Aneta, married in 1997 and separated in 2000, sharing the care of their daughter.

But when Mrs Clayton began court proceedings for contact and residence orders, her husband abducted Esti, living in a camper van in Portugal for five and a half weeks until he was arrested. He pleaded guilty to child abduction and spent six months in prison.

A BBC documentary about his case, Simon Says, was broadcast in January 2004. Three months later, Mr Clayton was allowed renewed contact with his daughter.

Mrs Clayton took out an injunction when she heard that her estranged husband was intending to discuss the case and revisit Portugal to make a film about their daughter's experiences.

Sir Mark said the practical effect of allowing the appeal would be that every court would have to justify continuing an order for anonymity after concluding a case. But he said this did not mean parents were free to "draw their children into an ongoing public debate about their welfare or other wider issues".

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