Campaigner slams Court of Protection anonymity ruling of council involved in rape victim’s care

A former MP has raised concerns after a judge in the Court of Protection ruled that the name of a London council overseeing the care of a woman with significant learning difficulties who has given birth after being raped must stay secret.

Mr Justice Poole, who also hears cases in the Family Division of the High Court, heard that the woman ought to have been “constantly supervised” and has described what happened to her as “disturbing”.

The judge was told she did not have the mental capacity to consent to sex and must therefore have become pregnant as a result of being raped.

He also heard that five months passed before anyone realised she was pregnant.

But he said the woman could not be publicly identified, because she is a rape victim, and has concluded that publishing the name of the council responsible for her care might create an information jigsaw which could lead to her identity being revealed.

The judge also said the name of the London NHS hospital trust responsible for her treatment cannot be revealed for the same reason.

Mr Justice Poole, who is based in London, considered the woman’s case at a recent public virtual hearing in the Court of Protection, where judges make rulings on what is in the best interests of people who do not have the mental capacity to take decisions for themselves.

The judge approved a plan, put forward by doctors, for the woman to have a Caesarean section.

He has now published a written ruling on the case, in which he said the woman has given birth.

John Hemming, a former Liberal Democrat MP who campaigns for improvements in the family justice system, raised concerns and said the council should be named.

Mr Justice Poole had originally said the public could only be told that the woman is in her 30s and lives in southern England.

The PA news agency mounted a challenge, saying that the reporting restriction order – technically known as a “transparency order” in the Court of Protection – was too wide, and arguing that the council, police force and NHS trust involved could safely be named, and should be named.

Mr Justice Poole, who heard counter arguments from lawyers representing the council, the NHS trust, the woman, and from a police officer, relaxed the original restrictions in light of that challenge.

He ruled that the public can be told that the woman lives in London, and that the Metropolitan Police force can be identified.

But he said the names of the council and NHS trust must not be revealed in media reports of the case.

Mr Hemming (pictured) said the public have a right to know the name of the council and questioned whether anyone would realistically be able to identify the woman armed only with the council’s name.

“If the name of the council remains secret, even the council members may not know it’s their council, let along the public,” said Mr Hemming.

“People, particularly taxpayers living in the council area, have a right to know the name of the council.

“How can lessons be learned if there can’t be proper debate and discussion?

“How can we be sure it won’t happen again?

“How do we know this hasn’t happened before or is happening now?”

He added: “And, realistically, how could a member of the public identify the woman simply by knowing the name of a London council? That’s a very, very, very difficult jigsaw.”

Mr Justice Poole was told that social services bosses had begun a “safeguarding investigation”, and that police are trying to trace the father of the unborn child.

He said “samples” could be taken from the woman to help police identify the father.

“It is indeed disturbing that a very vulnerable woman who is unable to consent to sexual relations, and who was or ought to have been constantly supervised, has had intercourse,” said the judge in his ruling.

“Not only that, but no-one caring for her realised that she was pregnant until she was already five months pregnant.”

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