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Hemming in Parliament
March 27, 2013 permalink
John Hemming speaks in the British parliament on the difficulty of reforming the secret family court system. Showing the failures requires examination of individual cases, yet secrecy prevents discussion of individuals. Broad studies of the system as a whole are useless because they are made by, and serve the interest of, the persons benefiting from the current system.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I refer the House to my declaration of interest as the chairman of the Justice for Families campaign.
I remain concerned about cases in all the secret courts in the UK. The more secret the court, the more the system acts against the rule of law. Narrow freedoms of speech are at least as important as broad access to publicity—reporting wrongdoing to regulators and asking for advice are important narrow freedoms. Without academic scrutiny, nonsense can be spouted and experts can lie for money with impunity.
Care proceedings are an area of difficulty. I remain of the view that around 1,000 children a year are wrongly forcibly adopted in the UK. Gradually, I am getting more Government support in this area—sadly, still not from the UK Government. Last week I spoke at the Polish embassy, at a conference about care proceedings. Concerns have now also been raised by Nigeria, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Latvia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Spain and Turkey.
For the avoidance of doubt, my concern is that a material proportion of care proceedings go way beyond being plainly wrong and hit the threshold of “totally nuts”. I must stress, however, that I see the appointment of Sir James Mumby as president of the family division as a positive step. I also welcome judgments such as  EWHC 521 (Fam) of Mostyn J.
When the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) apologised to the children who were forcibly sent to the Commonwealth, I asked what confidence he had that such an apology would not be issued in the future for what we are doing today. His response was to ask me to send details of individual cases. I have, of course, sent many individual cases to UK Ministers. The standard response is “It’s nothing to do with us, guv”. The fact is that, according to our constitution, the UK Government must publicly accept judicial decisions, although in practice they often criticise them—except in the family division.
More recently, Australia has apologised for forced adoption. The question was put by Florence Bellone to Professor Eileen Munro about whether in the future we may see an apology in the UK. Her response was:
“I would not be surprised if a future generation looks back and thinks how horrific the quality of our work was and the damage that we did to families.”
What we have developed—this is mainly through a mathematical error in the use of the number of children in care for the denominator of the adoption target—is a care system that is obsessed with adoption. It is so obsessed with adoption that it does things that objectively have to seen to be irrational. I will not go into the details of Angela Wileman’s case, as I have referred to it before and I do not have time. I was pleased to hear that the arrest warrant was removed from Susan McCabe, the daughter of Councillor Janet Mockridge, who has been living in France with her two children for over five years. The attempts to remove her son for adoption in England, whilst leaving her daughter, gave the message of a system more concerned about winning than about the best interests of the child.
In another recent case, I read a note about the effect of the proposal for a child to be adopted out of her family. The report said:
“Since being told about the adoption, A’s mood has changed, she is clearly concerned and upset by this move, which perhaps is to be expected. However, she has nightmares most nights and is not getting adequate sleep, two weekends ago she vomited 5 times in one night.”
This case is not unique. There are even international cases where the system has taken children from people visiting the UK and refused to give them back, even though the system clearly does not have jurisdiction. That is damaging to the children, and I am prevented by the sub judice rule from giving more information here.
The international cases are particularly interesting as the assessments in England can be compared against assessments from professionals in other countries. Professionals in other countries wonder why such strange things are done—things that cause serious psychological damage to children in the UK. Working with Slovak politicians, I have managed to establish an inquiry by the Human Rights Commissioner in the Council of Europe. However, it remains the case that a problem that arises basically in secret courts is constitutionally difficult to fix, because it needs scrutiny to fix it. There is an additional challenge in that the people affected who are UK citizens are generally poorer people and less articulate. Hence, although stories about people who are foreign citizens maltreated in the UK get substantial coverage in the foreign media, there are only a few journalists such as Sue Reid, Christopher Booker and Ted Jeory who are willing to report on these cases. The speech of Denise Robertson, “This Morning’s” agony aunt, at the justice for families conference in Birmingham last December should be broadcast on TV to explain the truth.
What we actually have is a failure of democracy. In the same way as the cover-up over Hillsborough and the failures at the Mid Staffordshire hospital, we have a system that is going wrong in a large number of cases and maltreating families. In maltreating families, it is maltreating the children and the adults. It is reasonably well known that this is going on. However, the Government deny it. The inquiries that occur in Parliament do not look at the individual cases. Without looking at the individual cases, we cannot see the things that are going wrong. Inquiries such as the family justice review are dominated by the people who run the system, and hence are unlikely to recognise the failures of the system.
I put forward proposals in my private Member’s Bill, but it was squeezed out by the Government, who have still not explained why in detail. I have had a conversation with the Minister with responsibility for children, but I have no hopes from that. I have very little time left. I would like to give a much fuller speech, as a lot more needs to be said, but I will end by saying Happy Easter.
Source: British Parliament