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Court of Appeal orders release of family court judgment in Ellie Butler murder case

C (A Child) [2016] EWCA Civ 798

The facts were that Ben Butler had been convicted for the murder of his six year-old daughter Ellie in June 2016.  In June 2014 King J had been required to make findings of fact about the case by Sutton Children’s Services who wanted to make a decision on the future of Ellie’s younger sibling.  Following his conviction, media organisations applied for the release of King J’s judgment in the family court. 

King J found that Butler had caused Ellie’s death, her mother had failed to protect her and the younger sibling had been the victim of physical and emotional abuse.  Pauffley J in the family court refused to release the judgment as it might prejudice Butler’s right to a fair trial, if he were to appeal.  It seemed likely at the time that he would. 

The Court of Appeal disagreed.  It held that the court had power to retain the judgment even though there were no active criminal proceedings and that Article 6 was potentially involved in the absence of current proceedings.  However, it took the view that little weight should be given to Butler’s fair trial rights in those circumstances.  Butler would only appeal if the Court of Appeal set aside his conviction and ordered a re-trial and the chance of prejudice was so negligible that it should have been given little or no weight in the balancing exercise.

Read Inforrm article here.

ECHR Art. 6, Right to Fair Trial