Referral to social services not defamatory

The High Court has rejected a claim in defamation by a mother after hospital staff treating her four-year old daughter referred the daughter to social services following confrontational and erratic behaviour by the mother.

The judge considered that the hospital staff were genuinely concerned about the mother’s behaviour and its implications for her daughter’s welfare even though it was recognised upon closer investigation that the mother had a good relationship with her daughter.

There was a duty on a nurse or clinician to communicate such concerns to the appropriate people and there was a recognised channel at the hospital to deal with such situations.

In so far as such communication referred to an adult in a way which might be damaging to their reputation, it was likely to pass the test of being necessary and proportionate.

As the court had found that the allegations made against the claimant were substantially true, there was no reason to suppose that, when recording their impressions, the various staff members were not being honest and that malice was an issue.

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