Press one of the expand buttons to see the full text of an article. Later press collapse to revert to the original form. The buttons below expand or collapse all articles.
Limited Disclosure in Britain
August 2, 2013 permalink
The British court system has promulgated new rules for publication of family court cases. The process will still be closed and parents will still be enjoined from speaking, unless specifically authorized by the court. Only the judge's opinion, without names of the parties, will be published. Christopher Booker expresses the view that the changes will do little to expose the abuses. In a second article, Sue Reid takes a more positive view of the changes.
In the view of fixcas, as long as the combination of the social services system and the courts can get its hands on large amounts of money (appropriated funds, father's child support payments, pensioner's assets) they will continue to do so and will continue to keep the public in the dark about their acts.
New family court guidelines won’t improve a rotten system for children
Lord Justice Munby's proposals won't change the fact that far too many children are taken into care for no good reason
Excitable coverage was given last week to new draft guidelines issued by Sir James Munby, the judge in charge of our family courts, which it was claimed would be a groundbreaking move towards lifting the blanket of secrecy that has allowed our “child protection” system to become such a national scandal. The welcome given to Lord Justice Munby’s draft guidelines to answer “the charge that we have a system of secret and unaccountable justice” – entitled “Transparency in the Family Courts (and Court of Protection)” – came from two opposing directions. On one side, two newspapers proclaimed it as a victory for their own campaigns to open up our family courts to greater public scrutiny. On the other was one of the chief cheerleaders for the system, Sir Martin Narey, now Michael Gove’s chief adviser on childcare, who wrote an article for The Times, “Family courts don’t take enough children into care”. The new “transparency”, he argued, would enable the public to see how desperately needed is the vital work our courts and social workers are doing.
All Lord Justice Munby is proposing, however, is that all judgments in these cases should be published, unless a judge finds “compelling reasons” otherwise. Just how confusing his proposals are can be seen from comparing section 21, where he says that “public authorities and expert witnesses should be named” in all published judgments, with section 24, which says “no person other than advocates or solicitors instructing them may be identified by name or location”. So, no naming of those “expert witnesses” or local authorities.
Far more important than this seemingly glaring contradiction, however, is that all Lord Justice Munby is saying is that the outside world should be allowed to see more judgments – still entirely at the discretion of the judge. To anyone familiar with the peculiar workings of these courts, this will leave 95 per cent of what is so shocking about what goes on in them as secret as ever. Still completely hidden will be the way all the normal rules of British justice can be suspended: as in allowing judges to accept damning hearsay evidence, however absurd, without it being put to any proper test; as in how parents whose children have been taken from them are too often not allowed to challenge untruths or the tendentious opinions of “hired gun” psychologists, who may not even be qualified; as in how too many parents find themselves facing the cruellest ordeal of their lives being treated by judges and all present like criminals, without being given any proper opportunity to plead their case.
Almost nothing of the ruthlessly enforced blanket of secrecy that has allowed our family courts to become so corrupted will be affected in any way by Lord Justice Munby’s proposals. Even the judgments he wants to see published cannot be properly understood by an outsider unaware of all that has gone on in the courtroom, and how what may well be a shockingly one-sided and selective judgment was arrived at. In words I have quoted before from a disillusioned family court barrister, who spent 10 years defending in vain the right of hundreds of families to stay together, the system is so rigged against the families that it is like “seeing lambs led to the slaughter”.
One of the more unfortunate consequences of the secrecy that hides the workings of this system from public view is that it makes it so easy for its defenders, such as Sir Martin Narey, formerly head of Barnardo’s, one of the largest beneficiaries of our lucrative fostering and adoption industry, to claim, as he did again last week, that only in “a very small minority” of cases are “children wrongly taken away by the authorities”. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests to those who follow these matters closely, such as John Hemming MP, of Justice for Families, or Ian Josephs, who advises thousands of families through his Forced Adoption website, is that, since the number of children being yearly taken into state care in England and Wales has soared to nearly 30,000, those being removed from their families for no good reason now run into many thousands.
Sir Martin last week told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that it was “a myth” that “social workers and local authorities intervene unnecessarily to take children into care”. He went on to say dismissively that this “myth” had arisen only through “misunderstandings” over “attachment theory” (ie, that there is some kind of special bond between children and their parents); over “the human rights of parents” (ie, Articles 6, 8 and 10 of the Convention on Human Rights that guarantee “a fair trial”, “respect for family life” and “freedom of speech”); and “the myth that care can make things worse”.
Not the least terrifying feature of the system Sir Martin so blindly defends is the mountain of evidence to show that children taken into care can too often be subjected to physical and emotional abuse far worse than anything alleged against the parents from whom they have been removed. Of course, where fostering and adoption are genuinely necessary and work, they are admirable and can save children from a life of misery and neglect. But too often the very reverse is the case. On the very day Sir Martin was being deferentially interviewed by the Today programme, I received two more handwritten letters, smuggled out to her family from her foster home, by a bright 13-year-old girl who has now, for quite ridiculous reasons, been in state care for more than two years.
In one she wrote: “I miss you sooo much and I love you even more, I’m so sad and I don’t want to live any more, I can’t take it any more, I have so many scars, I’m so scared, Daddy, please help me! I’m so sorry I’m so scared. I should be brave!” In the second letter she writes: “I’m so scared, my heart is shattered to pieces. I love you infinity itself, and miss you infinity itself.” This is an articulate, utterly distraught girl, who was never harmed by her family, who has been repeatedly ill-treated in foster care and who has been repeatedly refused her right under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to put her own case to a court.
Her story is just a tiny part of the reality of what goes on behind that wall of secrecy that our child-protection system has erected – way beyond anything it is authorised to do by Parliament – not to protect the children, but simply to protect itself. Lord Justice Munby’s guidelines will do not a jot or tittle to change it.
Source: Telegraph (UK)
For years I fought against secret courts breaking up families. At last there's hope
For a long time now, thousands of British families of every class and background have been secretly torn apart by this country’s child protection system in one of the biggest scandals of our age.
Children have been dragged off by the State into the care system and, despite the pleas of their parents, often given to adoptive families.
This has been happening increasingly frequently in a process overseen by a network of Family Courts, which operate in secrecy in every town and city in the land, violating the principle of openness which has underpinned British justice for centuries.
As a result of the decisions of these courts, as many as 12,000 children and babies are forcibly taken into care in England each year, the equivalent of 230 or so every single week.
Some are newborns seized by social workers (invariably, flanked by police) in the hospital ward while the mother is breast-feeding or having her first cuddle with her baby.
Many children are removed on the basis of flimsy accusations by social workers: that the parent might shout at the child when he or she becomes a teenager (potential emotional abuse); that the mother has taken a sickly child to the doctor too often (fabricated illness syndrome); or — extraordinarily — simply because the mother has been in the care system herself or suffered depression as a teenager.
In one appalling case in a quiet corner of England, a middle-class mother is currently being threatened with having her children forcibly adopted after she was raped by her husband, who was imprisoned for his crime a few weeks ago.
Social workers say that, despite the fact that her husband has been sentenced to six years and the couple are about to divorce, the wife allowed herself to be raped and therefore cannot protect their children in the family’s home.
It is bad enough that such cruel decisions are being made at all. The fact they are happening in courts where rulings are made in secret is chilling.
Of course, the family courts have an unenviable job — often asked to rule on the most challenging of cases. And some of the parents appearing before them are certainly cruel to their children and ill-equipped to raise a family.
Equally, too many mistakes have been made in a system which can be stacked against the innocent. And the reality is that without transparency, no one will know the truth.
A parent who publicly talks about the hearings (even to a neighbour over the garden fence) or gives documents from the case to their MP, risks prison for contempt — and many have been incarcerated for such ‘crimes’.
And it is not just British parents who have suffered at the hands of secret family courts.
Two weeks ago, representatives of 34 countries, including four ambassadors, gathered at the House of Commons to voice their grave concern to a sympathetic MP, John Hemming, over the astonishing rate that children of foreign families living in the UK are being taken into foster care or sent for adoption.
And last Friday, foreign parents marched to Downing Street to protest about the 6,500 children born here to overseas families who have been taken into care.
Now, after a decade-long campaign against the secrecy of the family courts by this newspaper, there has been a landmark decision by Lord Justice Munby, the most senior family judge in England and Wales.
The veil is to be lifted and light shone onto the 95,000 hearings held each year which decide the lives of so many children.
For the first time, judges’ written reports (or judgments) on custody battles, care orders and the question of whether a child should be re-homed will be published after each hearing — though not including the families’ names — unless there are ‘compelling reasons’ not to do so.
Parents found innocent (or even those who believe their children have been wrongly removed) will be able to apply to speak publicly and tell their story when the hearing is over.
Local councils running the child protection teams forcibly adopting or putting children in care will have to be named in the published judgments.
Also, the medical ‘experts’ hired at a cost of many thousands of pounds by the councils to produce psychological or health reports on the families, will lose their anonymity.
Many of these experts have long ago given up their ‘day jobs’ in the NHS or private practice to live off their lucrative court work. Sometimes, they produce a report on a family without even meeting them.
And what of the social workers? They are accused by campaigners of distorting evidence against parents to make a stronger case to take children for adoption, thereby winning brownie points with their council bosses. With more openness in the courts, it will be harder for a rogue social worker to push his or her own agenda based on fiction or fabrication.
The new guidance will also extend to cases which affect the welfare of vulnerable adults in the equally shadowy Court of Protection.
Here, life-or-death decisions such as whether to turn off a life-support machine or whether a woman should be forced to take contraception, are also made by a judge in closed hearings. And those who speak publicly about the case are also threatened with imprisonment.
The UK is the only country in Europe to allow adoption against the will of parents — except ‘possibly Portugal’, according to Baroness Hale, Britain’s most senior female judge, who spoke on the issue in the House of Lords.
In extreme cases of abuse on the Continent, children are given to long-term foster carers or placed in a specialist children’s unit, but the whole ethos is to support troubled families and try to keep them together.
In contrast, parents in Britain — most of whom are never convicted of a crime — are punished with what amounts to a life sentence by losing their children.
Yet despite the huge number of children seized here, a fifth never go to an adoptive family — there are simply not enough to go round. They spend their childhoods inside the care system, living either in children’s homes or with frequently changing foster parents.
While this new guidance is an important step in helping to redress some of these wrongs, there is one crucial area it does not address. In the criminal courts, the accused is presumed innocent until found guilty by a jury. In the family courts, this cornerstone of justice does not exist. Guilt is decided on the balance of probabilities.
Campaigners want to see this changed. As one family court lawyer told me recently: ‘Parents accused of harming their children would rather face a criminal trial with a jury, and have their guilt or otherwise decided on proper evidence given under oath, than take their chances in the family court, where it is a complete lottery as to whether you lose your child or not.’
Jean Robinson, a director of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services, who has witnessed scores of babies being taken from their mothers by social workers at birth, says the system is stacked against the innocent.
‘This same group of child protection “professionals” go round the courts,’ she explained. ‘The council social workers know the so-called medical experts and are paying them to give evidence to bolster their case. The judges know them all. It is far too cosy and secretive.’
Lord Justice Munby has rightly declared his determination to alter the public’s view that these family hearings are ‘a system of unaccountable justice’.
His changes — currently in draft but expected to be implemented imminently — are long overdue.
Too many innocent parents are still being dragged through these closed trials with no one to hear their voices.
But the truth is that nothing will turn back the clock for the generations of children who will never know, or have long ago forgotten, what a happy family life means.
Source: Daily Mail