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Jail for Democrats
April 17, 2011 permalink
If you live in a country with an elected government, you probably think your ultimate appeal from wrongdoing is to your elected representative. He can advocate for your case or craft corrective policies. Well, don't try that in England. According to Christopher Booker talking to your MP can get you in jail even during pregnancy. It is one more example showing that child protectors have the kind of power that allows them to scoff at elected politicians.
A mother is threatened with imprisonment for talking to her MP
The high-handed power of social workers and the courts, working in tandem, threatens even the privileges of Parliament, writes Christopher Booker.
Last week a heavily pregnant woman, whose name is known to millions but whom I am forbidden by law to identify, was summoned to the High Court at very short notice to show why she should not be imprisoned. The charges against her, brought by a local authority I cannot name, were that she might or might not have been in breach of a court order restraining her freedom to speak about a matter which, again, I am prohibited from identifying.
One of these charges was that she attended a meeting, held last month in Westminster Hall, of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on family protection issues, at the invitation of John Hemming MP. He has been campaigning for greater justice and transparency in our highly secretive family protection system, on behalf of families torn apart by social workers for what appear to be no good reasons.
The main speaker at the meeting, the theme of which was transparency in the family courts, was Anthony Douglas, the chief executive of Cafcass (Children and Family Courts Advisory and Support Service), the state body which purports to represent the interests of children. When the woman raised concerns over the conduct of her case – which, as she understood it, was the meeting’s purpose – it was reported back to the council concerned. This contribution was listed among her alleged breaches of a court order which dictates that she must say nothing about her case to anyone outside the system.
In open court last week, it was stated that the local authority had agreed not to demand her imprisonment, providing that she also obeyed new conditions that forbid her to speak about her case to the media or to any “other persons as the parties may think fit”.
In addition, as I learned from John Hemming, a letter “agreed by all the parties” was sent to him by the woman’s solicitors, requesting him not to make any reference to her case in Parliament. By ancient parliamentary privilege, MPs are entitled to raise in Parliament cases where they believe that the conduct of authorities or the courts has been so questionable that normal rules of secrecy should not protect them from public disclosure. Mr Hemming replied to the lawyers that they were “clearly seeking to influence what I say in Parliament. The case already has aspects which are in contempt of Parliament” and their letter added a further element which “I am inclined to ask should be referred to the Standards and Privileges Committee”.
It is difficult to believe, he continued, “when a mother has been threatened with imprisonment for talking to me, that an agreement come to in a court is come to willingly by all parties. It strikes me as an agreement arising as a result of duress.” Mr Hemming went on to say that, before referring to the Speaker a letter which he saw as being “in contravention of the law of Parliament”, he wished the lawyers to explain why he should “feel comfortable that this is something your client should have agreed to without having been threatened with imprisonment and/or the removal of her child at birth”.
He emphasised that he had no intention of disclosing any “information relating to the care proceedings which could be linked to your client or the child”. But from long experience of such cases, he saw the letter “as an attempt by the system to bully your client in an attempt to influence proceedings in Parliament”. He concluded that he would be entitled to “debate the constitutional issues raised simply by naming your client and raising the issues of her treatment by the police and the authorities’ attempts to punish her for her comments to the All-Party Parliamentary Group” .
The mention of the police referred, inter alia, to a recent episode where the mother, who is seven months pregnant, was arrested and held on and off in police cells over a period of 60 hours. Three times she was rushed to hospital in serious distress due to complications in her pregnancy. She was then dragged from her hospital bed after midnight to spend several more hours in a dirty cell, before finally being released.
As Mr Hemming sums the situation up: “There are many very disturbing aspects of this case, about which I cannot yet say as much as I would like. But it appears to be a very extreme example of the lengths to which the family protection system will go to hide its activities from responsible scrutiny by Parliament and the media.”
Source: Telegraph (UK)
Addendum: John Hemming used parliamentary privilege to identify the pregnant celebrity as former jockey and horseracing expert Vicky Haigh.
MP uses privilege to name woman council tried to gag
A Liberal Democrat MP yesterday used Parliamentary privilege to name a woman he said a council tried to jail for speaking in Westminster.
John Hemming, who previously used privilege to name former Royal Bank of Scotland Sir Fred Goodwin as the subject of a High Court super-injunction, has spoken out again about the use of injunctions, censorship and creeping privacy laws.
Hemming told MPs: "Vicky Haigh, who is a horse trainer and previously a jockey, was the subject of an attempt by Doncaster Council to imprison her for speaking at a meeting in Parliament.
"There was some discussion earlier today about whether that case was sub-judice. An application was made to the court, a copy of which I have provided."
Hemming said the court ordered she should not be jailed, adding: "I assume therefore the case is not sub-judice."
The MP did not give any further details about why Doncaster Council tried to have Ms Haigh imprisoned, or the subject of her controversial Parliamentary speech.
Speaker John Bercow urged Hemming to speak to him privately, telling the MP: "I don't intend to have a discussion on the floor of the House.
"One of my duties is to uphold the resolution of the House with respect to sub-judice. As far as this particular matter is concerned, I am perfectly prepared to discuss the issue privately."
Hemming later raised another point of order about injunctions in the Commons, addressing temporary gags which prevent certain issues being aired in public.
He said: "There is a tendency for people to issue injunctions on the basis of a claim they intend to issue proceedings, but not actually to issue those proceedings.
"One would presume therefore that never becomes sub judice."
Bercow again silenced Hemming saying: "The issue is one for consideration at our private meeting."
Meanwhile, in the Lords Tory ex-Cabinet minister Lord Tebbit sought clarification on whether injunctions could prevent people discussing matters with MPs, peers, the police or the security services.
Justice minister Lord McNally told himin a written reply that "to protect the interests of justice" the courts could prohibit the disclosure of information to anyone other than the defendant's legal advisers.
The Liberal Democrat minister added: "The defendant is always at liberty to apply for the order to be made in different terms (if he or she is represented at the hearing), or subsequently for the terms of the order to be amended (for example to permit disclosure to specific individuals or bodies for specific purposes)."
Source: Press Gazette