Global Freedom of Expression

In Re Orphans From Syria

Closed Mixed Outcome

Key Details

  • Mode of Expression
    Press / Newspapers
  • Date of Decision
    November 22, 2019
  • Outcome
    Motion Granted, Administrative Measures/ Administrative Sanctions that restrict FoE
  • Case Number
    [2019] EWHC 3202 (Fam)
  • Region & Country
    United Kingdom, Europe and Central Asia
  • Judicial Body
    First Instance Court
  • Type of Law
    Civil Law, International/Regional Human Rights Law
  • Themes
    Access to Public Information, Privacy, Data Protection and Retention
  • Tags

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Case Analysis

Case Summary and Outcome

 The Family Division of the High Court of Justice ruled that the right to privacy of repatriated British children orphaned in war torn Syria outweighed the freedom of the media to name the children as guaranteed under articles 8 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights respectively. In October 2019, a British Court ordered the return of the children and reporting restrictions to protect the identity of the traumatized children. Despite the restriction, a journalist went to the homes of a number of the children’s relatives. In response, the Court issued a revised order reiterating that any misuse of confidential information would result in contempt of court. The Court stressed that the restrictions on freedom of expression were necessary due to the vulnerability of the children and the need to protect their privacy and family life.


In or about 2015 a British family left the UK for Syria.  Between the time of their arrival and October 2019, the children were orphaned. UK based relatives of the children wrote to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as well as charities operating in Syria to raise the case of the children. On 21st October 2019, an Application was made by one of the children’s relatives for the return of the children to their jurisdiction. On the application for safe return of the children by their relatives, the Court made an order for their return in cooperation with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The order was disclosed to the local authority along with a reporting restrictions order to protect the identity of the children. The schedule in the reporting restrictions order sets out all the confidential information.
However, the following day a journalist using the details set out in the schedule to the reporting restrictions order visited the homes of several family members in breach of the reporting restrictions order.
On 24th October, a revised reporting restrictions order was issued. It raised the penalties for misuse and established that any release of confidential information would result in charges of contempt of court.
On 29th October, the children returned to the UK and were placed in the safe custody of their family.

Decision Overview

The Honourable Mr. Justice Keehan delivered the opinion of the High Court of Justice, Family Division in public. A written summary of the opinion, which protected the identities of the children and their relatives, was also published.

The Court held that in light of the emotional and psychological trauma the children experienced, their article 8 right to privacy “significantly outweighed” the media’s article 10 right to freedom of press.

In the opinion, the Court documented the great lengths which were taken to ensure the safe return of the children. The Court, upon application by the childrens’ relatives, made the children wards of the state in order to have them repatriated with the assistance of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. In order to protect the identities of the vulnerable children, the Court also issued a reporting restrictions order, which was subsequently violated by a reporter.

In response, the Judge issued a revised reporting restrictions order establishing that any violations of that order would constitute a contempt of court.

Decision Direction

Quick Info

Decision Direction indicates whether the decision expands or contracts expression based on an analysis of the case.

Mixed Outcome

The opinion contracts expression insofar as it upheld the right of children to privacy and family life over the right of journalistic freedom of the press and expression. The Judge balanced the competing interests and due to the complexity and sensitivity of the present case, he felt that balance had to favor the childrens’ right to privacy in order for them to recover from their traumatic experiences. The Judge also raised the penalty and added additional protections for the well being of the children by establishing that any violation of the reporting restrictions order, especially by journalists, would result in contempt of court.

Global Perspective

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Global Perspective demonstrates how the court’s decision was influenced by standards from one or many regions.

Table of Authorities

Related International and/or regional laws

Case Significance

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Case significance refers to how influential the case is and how its significance changes over time.

The decision establishes a binding or persuasive precedent within its jurisdiction.

Official Case Documents

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