In family cases, particularly those involving children, it is understandably routine that reporting restrictions are imposed, forbidding identification of those involved. As a High Court case concerning a desperately ill teenager in search of a kidney donor showed, however, there are occasions when publicity can be beneficial.
The boy suffered from steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome and was in end-stage renal failure. The NHS trust that bore responsibility for his care took the view that a kidney transplant would not be in his best interests. His mother, however, asserted that there was a reasonable prospect of a transplant producing a good long-term outcome. Pending a trial of that issue, a judge imposed a reporting restriction that prevented identification of the boy, his mother, the trust and treating clinicians.
In arguing that the restriction should be varied, the boy’s mother said she wished to publicise her son’s case in the hope that an altruistic kidney donor would step forward. Her application was supported by her son, who said that he wanted media coverage if it meant he would receive a new kidney. He added, however, that he did not want publication of photos of him at home or when undergoing dialysis.
The BBC pointed out that the boy’s story, including photos of him and his family, were already in the public domain before the reporting restriction was imposed. The matter was of great public interest and had received a good deal of publicity. That itself gave rise to a risk of so-called ‘jigsaw identification’ which would all but rule out any reporting at all of the underlying case if the reporting restriction remained in place.
In considering the matter, the Court balanced the boy’s human right to respect for his privacy against his, his mother’s and the media’s countervailing right to freedom of expression. Given the boy’s expressed wishes and his mother’s reasons for seeking publicity, the Court found that it was proportionate to vary the reporting restriction so as to permit identification of the parties to the proceedings.