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Secret Jails Thrive
November 7, 2013 permalink
While top British judge James Munby issues rules against the practice, family courts have secretly jailed many parents.
Why do judges in our family courts ignore the law?
Sir James Munby's guidelines are being breached
It is a basic principle of British justice that no one should be sent to prison except in open court, so that their name can be known and why they have been jailed. But this has long been one of those basic principles that are routinely ignored in our ultra-secretive family courts.
In a parliamentary answer given by Harriet Harman in 2006, she said that some 200 people had been jailed in secret by the family courts in 2005, and that her government now wanted to open up the courts to ensure that this scandal did not continue. Last May and July, following publicity given to a case in which a woman was secretly sentenced to 12 months in prison for rescuing her father from a care home, where he was being mistreated, the new head of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir James Munby, issued guidelines reminding his fellow judges that this was against the law, as clearly restated in the Rules of the Supreme Court as long ago as 1965.
In recent years, I have come across many cases of judges continuing to break the law in this way. In one instance, a father who had already lost his two teenage sons because they were held to be “at risk of emotional abuse” from their mother, from whom he had separated, was before a judge who wanted to order the removal for adoption of his third son, aged four. When the father left the courtroom in disgust, the judge ordered his arrest for contempt.
While he was in custody, his new partner, still at home and fearful that the little boy might also be removed, panicked and took him to a secret destination. The judge summoned the father back to court to ask where they had gone. Since his partner’s flight was on the spur of the moment, the father explained, truthfully, that he had no idea. Refusing to believe him, the judge angrily sentenced him in secret to 12 months. The police tracked down the woman, who was convicted of kidnapping the boy but let off with a caution. The father was released after six months in prison, but given a penal notice forbidding him to have any further contact with his boys, all now in foster care, whom he had brought up and who loved him.
In another recent case, a couple whose son had repeatedly run away from a care home were secretly jailed for not disclosing his whereabouts. In October, months after Munby issued his guidelines, three judges in the Court of Appeal upheld their sentencing. Also last month, John Hemming MP protested that the sentencing of a woman to 28 days by another High Court judge, Mrs Justice Theis, was yet another example of “secret justice” in breach of Munby’s guidelines and the law, because, although her court had been technically “open” for the brief period of the sentencing, the case was not advertised and no one was allowed to know the woman’s name or why she was imprisoned.
It seems that Lord Justice Munby has a battle on his hands to persuade judges that it is their duty to obey the law of the land.
Source: Telegraph (UK)