Absolutely Transparent

Transparency in family justice is an issue that cannot be swept under the carpet – it ain’t going away. This week Christopher Booker wrote a piece in the Telegraph (bluntly titled “Australia’s scandal of forced adoption is happening here in Britain“) in which he drew a parallel between the forced adoptions in Australia, for which Prime Minister Julia Gillard recently apologised, and the child protection system in this jurisdiction, remarking that “Our own forced adoption scandal is a tragedy just as terrifying as anything that happened in Australia all those years ago“. Reading that article the uninformed might not appreciate that there are some pretty important distinctions between the scandal in Australia decades ago and the child protection system here and now. Like a legal and regulatory framework. Like judicial scrutiny and sanction. You cannot snatch forcibly remove a baby from the care of his parents in this country without a court order, except in very limited circumstances and then only for a matter of hours in case of emergency. You cannot do so on ground of the marital status or financial means of the mother (or father). But of course the privacy that comes with our family justice system allows these hysterical versions of reality – with vicious unaccountable social workers and wanton child snatching – to be perpetuated, and to spread fear and to corrode public confidence. (A slight aside – for an example of a child snatching myth busted, see the judgment of Cobb J reported this week in LM (A Child), Re [2013] EWHC 646 (Fam) wherein the notion that catching a ferry to Ireland before delivery of a baby will avoid the child protection process.)

But things are changing and have been for a while, notwithstanding the utter failure of government to grapple effectively with this thorny problem (see Children Schools & Families Act 2010). Just take as three examples the recent case of Bristol CC v C & Ors [2012] EWHC 3748 in which an injunction was lifted to enable the naming of a social worker by The Sun, the widely reported case wherein Mostyn J lifted reporting restrictions in a case of interest to Mr Booker (which I blogged about here), and this week, reports of the High Court allowing named reporting of a local councillor’s conviction for being drunk in charge of her toddler daughter in a supermarket on public interest grounds (it appears from the report in the context of reporting restrictions arising from criminal rather than family proceedings), although in that case the facts were not run of the mill, since the Mother was a public official.

Sir Nicholas Wall retired on 1 Dec 2012. By February 2013 the new President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, had promised to make changes in the area of transparency. In his speech to the Family Law Bar Association in February for example, he said this of transparency:

I am determined to take steps to improve access to and reporting of family proceedings. I am determined that the new Family Court should not be saddled, as the family courts are at present, with the charge that we are a system of secret and unaccountable justice. Work, commenced by my predecessor, is well underway. I hope to be in a position to make important announcements in the near future.

So, whilst we wait with baited breath – what’s the Munby solution going to be?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot – it troubles me. In principle transparency is something we should strive towards – and I don’t think that either judges or professionals think about issues of public interest, freedom of speech and the like routinely enough – the justification for reporting restrictions could and should be more rigorously scrutinised in individual cases. But a statement of principle or aspiration is easy. When you start thinking about the nuts and the bolts it all gets a bit difficult.

Nobody’s arguing for a removal of anonymity for children of course, but the greater the access to court documents and the freedom to report, the greater the risk that children will be deliberately or inadvertently identified or harmed. And it’s not good enough to say that we can trust the press to report responsibly, that dangling the threat of after the event contempt proceedings will be effective either to prevent or more importantly to cure a breach of privacy for a vulnerable child. No, if ever there were to be wholesale disclosure of information to the media in the form of court documents there would inevitably be a much enhanced risk, and one imagines the Attorney General might find himself burdened with yet more contempt applications.

I have argued before that we cannot complain about skewed or tendentious reporting if we do not give the press access to balanced information about what is happening and the different arguments being put forward by all parties. This must in reality include some written material if it is to be effective. But what? There are complicated legal issues about ownership of documents and consent for their release. There would inevitably have to be a change in practice prompted by routine or regular disclosure of documents drafted by advocates – chronologies, position statements case summaries and skeletons – currently the system is not set up to enable advocates to obtain express approval of every word in such documents and that is understood amongst those involved in court proceedings. That nuance would not survive the glare of publicity. Other documents, primary evidence, witness statements etc raise their own difficulties. Will witnesses be discouraged from giving frank evidence? Will the press trawl documents for chain of enquiry leads and use it to investigate other stories about the parties? I’m thinking here about embarrassing items on a bank statement of a celebrity husband for example. These are just illustrative of the kinds of things that need thinking through. The complete list would be far longer…

But there are two really knotty problems to which I cannot presently find a solution : the first is the costs. By all means make more documents available to the press so they are better informed. But who pays? If they are summaries produced for the press and public (like those prepared by the Supreme Court) who produces them, how are their contents agreed and approved and who pays? If they are primary documents who does the redaction and who pays? If there are applications – whether they be applications to lift restrictions or applications to prevent reporting – who pays for the costs of the legal representation that will be essential? It is easy to say that all parties already have legal representation in public law proceedings – but that does not reduce the cost. And it does not help the intervenor who is a litigant in person or privately funded, it does not help the parents in private law proceedings in whom the press is taking an interest, but who do not qualify for legal aid and who can ill afford to divert resources on press applications. In these times of austerity where profit costs are being squeezed ever more even the cost of photocopying documents for disclosure to the press is a thorny issue. I don’t see the LSC, Local Authority legal departments, CAFCASS or HMCTS jumping to meet the costs burden of any wholesale reform to access to documents of this kind. And I’m not sure that such an issue can be resolved through practice guidance, which is the only tool at Munby’s disposal.

And the second issue is this : how to make the leap from better information to better reporting. For that is a leap of faith indeed. The mainstream press will continue to report on the basis of what is “newsworthy” – the judicial approach to transparency can no more control what documents the press read and incorporate into their reports than they can control which cases they choose to take an interest in.

I don’t mean this to be a counsel of despair. Transparency has to happen and no doubt it will. But I hope it will not be at the expense of privacy or safety.

An attempt at a legislative solution to this conundrum crash landed before it was ever properly airborne, and whatever the President seeks to achieve he will have to do it through guidance or practice direction only, with the underlying legislation remaining unchanged. That this is even being mooted by Munby is in itself a reminder that the flexibility to let in the oxygen of publicity already exists within the current framework (subject to my points about costs above), and it is under this framework that the examples cited above were possible – and are increasingly common. It is through thinking about the infinite practical issues surrounding disclosure and reporting in individual cases and across the board that it becomes clear that a goal of greater transparency in the system can only be achieved on a case by case basis. We cannot lurch from a position of automatic secrecy to a position of automatic reporting. We are edging towards the middle ground already, but have further to go. And as applications on these issues become more commonplace we will have to grapple with the mechanics and the costs associated with them where many of those whose rights to privacy or free speech are engaged have no access to legal representation.

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45 thoughts on “Absolutely Transparent

  1. On Transparency and Apologies…

    Between January 2010 and July 2011 hundreds of children were removed from the UK by their resident parent, despite the fact that they were benefitting from ‘shared care arrangements’ their left-behind parents.

    This travesty occurred due to the continued application of the principles of Payne v Payne (2001).

    The overriding Payne principle being that to upset the resident parent – by refusing her removal application – would, apparently, cause the children significantly more medium to long-term harm than that caused by irrevocably severing the meaningful relationship with their left-behind parent.

    In July 2011, in the case of Re MK, it was finally accepted that, for cases in which children were benefitting from a ‘shared care arrangement’, the Payne principle should no longer have pride of place.

    This very argument had been made to Sir Nicholas Wall in the case of Re D (Children) [2010] EWCA Civ 50 in January 2010.

    However, despite reserving judgment, considering the argument very carefully and publishing his acceptance of the merits of that argument, he proceeded to do absolutely nothing about.

    Instead, her performed an inexplicable U-turn, and attempted to claim that he had not intended to criticise the principles of Payne.

    A year and a half passed during which hundreds of children’s welfare was compromised.

    And what on earth went on between the judiciary and Lord McNally of the Ministry of Justice between 2010 and 2011? Re MK occurred just one month after the following open letter was circulated:

    http://thecustodyminefield.blogspot.co.uk/2011/06/leave-to-remove-news.html

    http://www.mckenziefriend.com/2010/04/27/your-numbers-up-payne-v-payne-time-for-change/

    The children who were harmed by Wall’s unnecessary procrastination between January 2010 and July 2011 deserve Transparency and Apologies.

    Returning to the first sentence of Familoo’s post:

    “Transparency in family justice is an issue that cannot be swept under the carpet – it ain’t going away”.

    Regards
    Bruno D’Itri

  2. This piece seems to be just another angle to attack the Legal Aid cuts. The lack of representation (desired or not) is no barrier to open automatic reporting and where I would like to be fully open courts.

    I don’t buy the costs argument either, if the media are interested in a story then they will end up paying for access to any documents and inevitably when there are no restrictions all sides will get their say if they desire.

    Many of those in or who have had Public Law or Private Law proceedings are wholly unsatisfied with their representation believing them to be all part of a cosy establishment system, whether they are right or not at least with full transparency they could not rely on the secrecy of the courts to point to their poor treatment.

    Open courts would curtail much of the abuse of proceedings where parties make nonsensical but wholly damaging false allegations to gain advantage and where the courts play along with these because of their inadequate handling of cases. Parties would think twice before making false allegations if they knew they could not do so in secret and without any risk in the form of court sanctions or the media and their peers holding them to account.

    The privacy and safety arguments pale into insignificance if because of secret courts you believe your children are removed unfairly or you have limited (or stopped) contact with your children because of gender bias or incompetent workers within the system.

    Protecting those who abuse the system by making false allegations or those who work in a prejudiced and unfair manner within the system is no reason to keep the system under confidential wraps.

    Tying legal representation (Legal Aid) in with rights to privacy or free speech is a tenuous connection at best.

    • Chambers it was a post about transparency not about legal aid cuts. I simply noted that many of those who might be resisting an application by the media because they want to protect their privacy or that of their child (and there are many of them) would have to do so without benefit of legal representation, which of course large media organisations would not.

  3. Fair point familoo, don’t forget the clocks go forward tonight…

  4. Unfortunately the Family Court and those using it both can and does snatch children on the most dubious evidence and distortion of the facts by LA staff.

    Once in Care all this will be accepted by FC judges, evidence from the family ignored and cases end either in Forced Adoption or Special Guardianships with miniml contact with the family.

    Although in theory an EPO can only last for a few days andnot on questionable evidence, in practise any application by an LA will be accepted as fact.

    One reason is that there is no other supply of children for the adoption agencies and industry except by this means.

    The most amazing irregularities of procedure and rules of evidence are perpetrated by the judges in the provincial courts, causing sharp reaction in the court of appeal.

    Been there, got the T shirt, advised the families.

    Under these circumstances it is hardly surprising that senior judges are not at all keen for there to beclear and open reorting of cases, whatever lip service they may pay to it, and not wishing to return to the pre 1993 Framily Court situation when it was, and the system was regularly rocked with major scandals in the late ’80′s/ early ’90′s.

    It would be too much of a reflection on the F C system if it all kept coming out.

    • Well Dick I don’t agree with you and I have lots of personal experience of EPOs either being refused or not being translated into ICOs when the case comes back for an on notice hearing. Of course if you look only at cases which are appealed you will tend to find those that have gone wrong disproportionately represented (that is the point of the appeal process). From where I am standing the senior judges are very keen on transparency, precisely so differences of opinion like that between you and I can be properly aired in order to give the public a shot at a balanced view. I think the senior judges are probably more keen than many parents and many professionals (by which I mean lawyers, social workers and those representing or appointed to act as guardians for children). We all in some ways have a vested interest in a cloak of privacy – its frankly a hassle to have the press in court – but I support greater transparency all the same. My post was not a post against an increase in reporting or more critical analysis of the justification for privacy – it was a post highlighting the complexity associated with changing current practice.

      • And I should say also that the judiciary are constrained by legislation, imposed by Parliament and notably not amended or repealed by the CSFA 2010 (even if it had been brought into force) – which in crude summary creates a presumption of privacy in children act cases. Radical reform ought to be for Parliament to grapple with, but it hasn’t done so yet – so perhaps the judiciary will effect some shift through practice guidance or rule change. There are limits to what can be done within the existing framework of primary legislation and within the constraints also of the need to ensure art 6 rights to all, and to balance art 8 and art 10 rights as between individual parties, children, professionals and the public / press.

  5. Robert Whiston

    I’d love to know what happened to my previous post about [edited for legal reasons] which has not appeared on this blog. Is anyone going to give him and his wife their chidlren back or is this just all so much theoretical musings ?

  6. Nick Langford

    When someone expresses support for greater transparency it’s important to know what they mean. One man’s transparency is another man’s obfuscation.

    I’ve yet to see a good argument for anonymity, for example, which is a frustrating practice, limiting the ability to follow a case through. It isn’t immediately obvious, for example, that Re S (A Child) [2010] EWHC 192 and Warwickshire County Council v TE & Ors [2010] EWHC B19 are the same case.

    No one has ever shown that a child has been harmed in other jurisdictions by openness or protected in our own by anonymity – quite the reverse, in fact. The justification – that open courts would intimidate witnesses – applies to all proceedings. When Michael Pelling challenged the courts’ secrecy the best they could come up with was that it was “reflective of a long standing tradition”.

    The dirty washing argument doesn’t stand up either. Given a choice between having their family life revealed in public or risking a grave miscarriage of justice, I know which I would choose.

    Let’s have a fully open system of family justice and have done with it.

  7. How about allowing parents whose children have been taken to go to the media and protest using their own names? That would be good for starters …….

  8. You say the following:
    “You cannot do so on ground of the marital status or financial means of the mother (or father). ”
    However, it does happen that children who were initially taken into care because of low income are adopted. The stats show between 1 and 12 children in each of the years to 31st March 2007-11.

    • How do we know they were taken into care “because of low income” John? Or that any of those were adopted for reasons other than welfare based reasons? Correlation not causation etc… Can you link to the stats you are referring to?

  9. Well said Nick. Bogus justifications for secrecy, let’s remember, are also given by so many politicians for their war crimes.

    I think what transparency would reveal beyond a doubt is the gender bias that some are very keen on denying. It would reveal how some parents are excused of murder, so to speak, a 1000 times over, and still resident parents, whilst their so-called opponents (love that terms) merely have to slip up once with their sainthood in order to be denied contact altogether.

    Such facts might then be reported on in the press, since along with transparency comes the removal of gagging orders and threats of imprisonment to those who dare to speak the truth.

    • You can’t prove patterns of discrimination through individual stories – for that you need a proper analysis of the numbers etc. Data management and availability of that info is woefully lacking. The research studies are relatively limited (and of course those that exist are hotly contested).

  10. Robert Whiston

    If it was ‘unpublishable’ because it contained a person’s name, please amend it and publish. The story is important to this exchange.

    • Robert, I’m sorry I cannot publish it. I have a clear policy on the about page about what I will and won’t publish and ultimately it’s my call.
      Lucy

  11. How about allowing parents whose children have been taken to go to the media and protest using their own names?

    I’m always curious with this argument—presumably the logic being that if we remove all the rules about identifying children the following will happen: having lost in the courts, those parents would then put their side of the argument in the media to try to force the LA to back down?

    Consider the following hypotheticals:

    1) Local Authorities often get a rough time of it. Should they be allowed to run the stories of the slam-dunkers (you know, the totally awful parents who manifestly have NAI and/or gross neglect written all over them) saying, in effect, “I’m sure Joe Public agrees we’ve done the right thing here”? It’s bit extreme, but (given presumably you’re not particularly worried about publicity harming the child) what exactly is the objection?

    2) Parents decide to protest in the media putting their side of the case with all the spin they can muster. LA counter-prostest putting their side of the case with all the spin they can muster. Is that going to be allowed too?

    Having said all that, I’m broadly in favour of transparency (and hugely in favour of maintaining consistent case names when reporting cases). And I’m certainly not in favour of blanket anonymity for local authorities, social workers, CAFCASS officers, solicitors or barristers involved—although in some cases I accept that it may be necessary in the best interests of the child—and I’m in favour of more press in family courts. And, where a child is being placed for adoption and will change name, I have no particular objection to allowing the parents to self-identify if they wish.

    I just remain skeptical about a free-for all where the aim is to re-raise the issues in the media as I fail to see how it furthers the best interests of the child.

  12. Hi Robert

    Is it possible for your to revise your post, removing all names and possible reference to individuals?
    As long as no individuals can be identified, it should, I would have thought, be acceptable to Lucy.
    After all, we are all – Lucy included – in agreement of transparency.

    Regards
    Bruno D’Itri

  13. I have the stats. If you email me I will send the spreadsheet.

  14. Jim,the right to protest publicly when oppressed by the State is the main feature distinguishing democracies from dictatorships.Even elections are worthless if there is no right to protest when they are rigged or if there is open intimidation.
    It is absurd when a mother has her baby taken at birth on the balance of probabilities that she may emotionally harm them in the future.Worse than “absurd” it just plain wicked to jail her if she protests publicly on the spurious grounds that the publicity will damage said baby more than perhaps depriving it of a loving mother and possibly its extended family if later adopted or nearly as bad, exposed for many years to the rigours of a deeply flawed and damaging care system with disastrous results for the child who would have nearly a fifty fifty chance of ending up either in jail or on the streets !
    You say Jim “I have no particular objection to allowing the parents to self identify if they wish” Isn’t that exactly what I was calling for in my earlier comment with which you disagreed so severely?
    I have long said that family courts should once again be subject to the same rules and disciplines as criminal courts.Nobody suggests that a parent or other person convicted of severely injuring a child should not be named for fear of breaching the child’s privacy.
    I seem to remember a long running public battle between the most famous pop star in the UK and his one legged spouse in the divorce courts yet nobody was arrested for breaching the children’s privacy !
    Yes ,if a parent gives their side of the case the LA should be able to give their side and should be encouraged to do so in reply, without naming names unless the parent has already done so in which case the usual press rules about naming children still apply.After all the LAs protest that journalists publish only one side of the story (the parent’s) but refuse to give their side on grounds of confidentiality !Journalists allowed into court are not allowed to publish an account of proceedings verbatim or name any witnesses (unlike criminal proceedings)and in “sensitive cases ” they are not allowed in the court at all.This in fact happened in a recent case where a judge proclaimed himself in favour of more transparency after partially lifting a gagging injunction that he had previously imposed himself !(lifting a gag on a newspaper but leaving it on the mother concerned !)
    Secrecy of the type forced onto parents in family courts was only imposed by the Children Act in 1989 and life for many parents and children was a lot better before that infamous act was passed !

  15. The 1989 Act did not in fact create secrecy.

    If you read its clauses you will see it merely placed existing practise in statutary form – namely no naming the kids and families, although schools were added – but without this it is possible someone would have gone tearing down to the school gates.

    The secrecy came from the horrendous scandals of the late ’80′s/ early ’90′s and certain “professionals” becoming household names and headline news.
    Then their theories were discredited and kids sent home.

    Natch senior judges wanted secrecy in the new Family Courts – (judge x) said they wanted secrecy at the Cleveland Inquiry and they didn’t mean not naming the kids/families.

    In the Satanic Abuse Scandal – which was such a bizarre hoax it threatened to discredit all child protection work – those wanting to get involved were advised to make the kids wards of court and seek all-embracing injunctions at training sessions run by fundamentalists – oops, sorry I promised not to reveal that.

    This has arisen purely from case law and practice in the courts.

    I might add judges have not kept their promises of three and a half years ago to openup the courts.

    All is needed is a return to the pre-1992 situation.

    • Dick,
      The law relating to reporting restrictions in Family Proceedings doesn’t derive from the Children Act 1989, but from S12 Administration of Justice Act 1960. That makes publication of information about proceedings relating wholly or mainly to the maintenance or upbringing of a minor (or under the CA 1989) a contempt of court unless permitted by the court. S97A CA 1989 creates a criminal offence of publishing identification information but that is far more limited in scope and applies only whilst proceedings are live, whilst s12 applies indefinitely (not that you’d know it from reading newspapers). There are lots of other bits of relevant law (for example some specific to the magistrates court) but this is the main one. It’s not new. It was due to be repealed by the CSFA 2010 but since that act is due to be repealed that will not happen unless there is some change of government policy. It isn’t within the gift of the courts to disregard the statute but they can interpret it more broadly in the light of art 8, art 6 and in particular art 10 ECHR.

  16. Familoo,

    if that was the case then it was entirely disregarded before 1992.

    However, I see it was “in private” and the magistrates’ courts did not sit in private.

    but the act has been amended to take in the 1989 Act later.

    • There is other legislation that covers the mags court.

    • and although AJA was amended to cover CA 1989 its original form covered children proceedings generally, and therefore would have operated exactly the same under the precursor to the CA 1989 ie wardship etc.

  17. First, can I thank familoo for putting everyone straight on the fact that the ‘secrecy’ provisions do not come from the Children Act. People talk as if there was some pre-Children Act paradise, which of course, is complete nonsense.

    Conspiracy theories aside, at the heart of the law is an attempt to protect children from being identified and suffering adverse consequences. I have long been in favour of greater openness for family courts. My difficulty is, I don’t know how to come up with a general law that fits all. A relatively recent experience has also, I am afraid to say, made me a little sceptical about how things are reported and what the proper balance should be.

    I represented a parent in a case. That parent had a child that was badly burned and every one of the doctors in the hospital thought [small edit] that the burns were deliberately inflicted. A second opinion also confirmed this. After considerable effort a ‘third’ opinion was obtained. It suggested an alternative, innocent explanation. Eventually the Court accepted the innocent explanation. Post case there parent spoke to a reporter and the story was covered in some national press.

    The story was reported as a ‘dreadful social services making a mistake’ piece. The way the story was reported was wholly inaccurate. What is more, it was painted as an example of the family justice system not working, when in fact it was the an example of quite the opposite. Without the family justice system (i.e. if decisions had just been taken by some sort of panel looking at what the hospital had said in the first place and if the parent had not been represented etc) then the parents’ child would now be in care.

    I represented the particular parent again on an entirely unrelated matter. That parent told me that the version that had been given to the reporter that interviewed the parent was in large part about how her lawyers had done a wonderful job in representing her and how lucky that parent felt that, in the end, the parent had been vindicated and that in fact the parent was more annoyed at the doctors than social services, who she accepted had no choice but to act on the information that had been given to them by the doctors.

    I do not know where the truth lies because I was not present when the parent was spoken to by the reporter. However I am open to the possibility that the parents’ version of events did not ‘fit’ with the slant the reported wanted to put on the story.

    More concerning, the parent told me that they regretted ever speaking to the reporter because after the brief period of publicity the child concerned had been picked on at school with other kids taunting the child and on one occasion a copy of a press clipping (which had a photo of the child) being left in the child’s school bag with nasty comments on.

    If someone can come up with a way of dealing with these issues on a ‘one size fits all’ basis then I would love to hear it. In the absence of such skilful drafting, I struggle to improve upon letting the judges decide on a case by case basis.

    • Thanks for your comment Clive,
      It is helpful to hear an actual example of direct harm to a child. I have certainly encountered others, for example a friend / adviser of a parent with a campaigning mindset has set up facebook pages about a disabled teenager – it was well intended but he was mortified.
      I’ve made one small edit, cos I’m paranoid about s12!!
      Lucy

  18. Well familoo you awaited my answers to Jim Nately with “baited breath”…I am glad to see that so far the only query raised on them concerns exactly when secrecy was introduced and when it was enforced.Judges never interpreted the 1960 Act as imposing the drastic retrictions now imposed on parents appearing in court after their children have been taken from them.I KNOW because believe it or not I regularly applied in court for the discharge of care orders calling the parent(s) as witnesses against Kent County Council of which I was then an elected member !

    • In 1960 there were I imagine far less cases in the courts and far less interwebs. Different world. Global village now.

  19. Unlike nowadays the magistrates were very friendly, the courts seemed to be open, and nobody warned parents against talking to friends or journalists !I had to give up KCC and these activities in 1966 when I decided not to stand again for KCC or help any more parents as my language school in Ramsgate and my family were suffering from neglect;The changes in the law and the attitudes of both social workers and the courts when I resumed activities around 2005(following the “Meadows” cases) were horrific.Open hostility to parents and anyone helping them,and jail for those breaching secrecy.A billion pound industry created giving an excellent living to those involved and extortionate profits to the adoption and fostering agencies.Some things just do NOT change for the better…..

  20. I can only say it is strange all these scandals were headline news before the Family Court was instigated and everything worked satisfactorily with names changed.

    I rememberthe uproar over the Orkney affaire.

  21. Clive “one size fits all”?? Easy really ,just make sure family courts are governed by the same rules as criminal courts.Hey presto ,problem solved !!

  22. Robert Whiston

    Wasn’t there an Act passed in 1968 that curtailed publicaction of proceedings ?

  23. The activities for which Julia Gillard apologised were authorised by the Australian courts, a point which Christopher Booker made rather well I thought.

    If the courts are there to put things right in family law cases please could you explain the case of the woman who turns out not to have been suicidal, drunk or a junkie but whose three-year old daughter has STILL been made the subject of an adoption order? You could also explain why none of the lawyers or judges involved have done anything to stop what appears to be not merely an injustice but a deliberate injustice founded on knowing misconduct by a local authority’s social workers.

    Then there is my favourite this week: the FAMILY LAW PRACTISING FEMALE BARRISTER

    • I confess I had not realised that the Australian cases were officially sanctioned by courts.

      I have seen Booker’s report of the case involving a barrister – there is no judgment on BAILII at the moment so it’s difficult to assess how complete a picture his article gives. I’m certainly not suggesting things never go wrong or that the courts always get things right – that would be foolish – I’d be interested to know whether or not Booker was given permission to report on the case as he has, or if he has simply interpreted s12 AJA as meaning its ok to report details of proceedings as long as they are anonymised (This is common but incorrect). Cases where there has been an injustice, or where proceedings have been wrongly brought are good examples of the kind of case that it might be in the public interest to lift restrictions on. That said, in the case you have referred to I would guess that the unusual facts such as the mother’s occupation and country of origin would make the risk that the child might be identified rather higher than in some other cases.

  24. As stated in Booker’s article the local authority withdrew from the case as instructed by the judge.No children are therefore now involved in proceedings ,so Booker and any others working in the media are now free to report almost anything to do with the case . .
    I like the barrister’s description of the parents she represented in the family courts for 10 years as “like lambs led to slaughter”
    She was definitely NOT exaggerating….!

  25. Familoo,

    I would have thought you would have supported the Dread Christopher Booker on this occasion.

    This week he wrote on the [edited] who was forced to flee with her kids [edited].

    This is a common occurrance.
    It is not entirely clear if court orders had been issued before they left britain, but it is common for LA Children’s dept’s to go to the English courts AFTER the family have left Britain, and then turn up in the country concerned claiming they were issued before the family left.

    They do not react well to the reply – the court is Outside Its Jurisdiction and so is the LA Children’s Dept. concerned. Jursdiction lies with the local courts and social services.

  26. Ian, actually, s39 of the CYPA 1933 can, accordingly to my copy of Archbold, be used so as to prevent details including the defendant’s name being published. If I recall correctly, such orders only last the length of the proceedings, but I think it demonstrates to an extent that even in the criminal courts things are not as black-and-white as you suggest.

    It’s difficult to parse your posts for arguments in favour of lifting or reducing reporting restrictions as much of it is intermingled with your own broader criticisms of public children law and the court system—and there’s a good helping of rhetoric too.

    The broader issue, with Booker, is interesting. To be honest, I view him as a man with an axe to grind about certain issues. He’s no stranger to controversy, and has (I hope it is fair to say) been willing to throw himself into causes without a full understanding of the nuances of the issue. That aside, I would take the man’s views and assertions of fact more seriously if, having instructed Gavin Millar QC at goodness knows what expense so that he might attend the hearings and report accurately, he actually troubled himself to do so.

    It is not, I hope, controversial to suggest that it would be a better debate about the nature and extent of child protection in this country if that debate focused less on the names of the parties and conducting interviews with said persons, and focused more on talking about what actually happens in courtrooms up and down the country.

    As an aside, Ian, I note you appear to have amended the relevant part wikipedia page on Booker…

  27. Robert Whiston

    Secrecy and abducting babies and children is not a relic of he past. Since 1945 countries at the heart of the EU have practiced this form of – well, what would you call it ? In 2008 I was in Greece and came across widespread stories of baby/child abduction during the years of the Junta. A Greek women I came to know was spending all her time tracing for grown up children who their real parents were. This was state sanctioned and implemented by the medical fraternity. Similar things happened under the Franco regime, and we have heard the stories of the Irish single mothers. What we are not hearing is the comparison between the “Germanification” of Poland when hundreds (thousands ?) of Aryan looking chidlren were transported to Germany for adoption and thw above instances.
    How do we rank our own regime in the 20th and 21sr century of secret confiscation of children – permanently and forever – from their own parents ?

  28. Jim,parents in civil courts are not defendants.
    I have not argued “in favour of lifting or reducing restrictions on court proceedings.”
    I ARGUED IN FAVOUR OF PARENT’S DEMOCRATIC RIGHT TO PROTEST WHEN THEIR CHILDREN ARE TAKEN.
    I repeat my quote
    “Jim,the right to protest publicly when oppressed by the State is the main feature distinguishing democracies from dictatorships.Even elections are worthless if there is no right to protest when they are rigged or if there is open intimidation.
    It is absurd when a mother has her baby taken at birth on the balance of probabilities that she may emotionally harm them in the future.Worse than “absurd” it just plain wicked to jail her if she protests publicly.”
    Christopher Booker has the same axe to grind as me “the brutality of snatching babies at birth for risk of emotional abuse,and sending many of them to forced adoption”
    Lastly Christopher did not hire the QC, it was the Sunday Telegraph that did that.Of course he did not go himself to report proceedings as he guessed that despite the judge’s protestations in favour of transparency no reporting would be allowed,and indeed the Telegraph reporter next day wasted his time as after a long wait he was refused admittance ! ,The LA refused to honour their promise to “give their side” by taking questions from Christopher next day as they refused to answer but did promise a press release later that never in fact came ! The mother concerned was ordered by the court to never communicate with Christopher Booker again….on any subject !
    Bravo for open justice !

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