A High Court judge has issued an injunction which bans publication of information on Twitter and Facebook.
The order, made by Mr Justice Baker in the Court of Protection - linked to the Family Division of the High Court - is thought to be the first to place a specific ban on publishing information on any “social network or media including Twitter or Facebook”, as well as in other media.
The normal orders issued by the Family Division judges to prevent identification of children and others involved in cases simply ban publication of specified information in “any newspaper, magazine, public computer network, internet website, sound or television broadcast or cable or satellite programme”.
Mr Justice Baker issued the order in a case involving a woman, who can be referred to only as “M”, who has been in “a minimally conscious state” since suffering from swelling of the brain stem, which caused serious damage and wasting to the brain.
M suffered the illness in 2003, when she was 43, and has been minimally conscious since.
Her mother applied to the Court of Protection, which deals with cases of those who are unable to make their own decisions on medical care or other issues, for an order that those who are looking after M could withdraw nourishment and medical treatment and allow her to die, while giving her the care and treatment she needed to suffer the least distress and maintain as much dignity as possible.
Mr Justice Baker had issued one injunction in the case which banned the media not merely from publishing information which could identify anyone involved in the case, but also from contacting a list of 65 people who were connected with it, including M’s relatives and care home staff.
The new order, attached to a judgment handed down yesterday, bans the identification of the parties and other people, and the care home or NHS Trust responsible for treating M.
It also prohibits anyone from making any attempt to contact a variety of people, including M’s mother, sister and husband, or going within specified distances of certain people and locations.
The specific ban on using Facebook or Twitter comes after a user of the American-based Twitter website used it to publish details of individuals who had allegedly obtained injunctions banning the media from publishing stories about their private lives.
But legal observers believe it could be difficult to enforce, as both Twitter and Facebook are run by companies in the United States, outside the jurisdiction of the English courts, which could make it extremely difficult to trace the identity of anyone who posted material.
The Court of Protection Rules specify that cases are normally heard in secret. But it does allow for exceptions in which cases can be heard in public, subject to reporting restrictions protecting the identities of the parties.
Recent cases in the court which have been reported included one about who took responsibility for the financial affairs of the blind and autistic prodigy pianist Derek Paravicini, and another involving allegations that the London Borough of Hillingdon breached the human rights of Mark Neary, a 20-year-old man with autism and learning difficulties, when it removed him from his father’s care and placed him in a care home.