Children In The Vine Audio Series: Episode Three

Children In The Vine

Based on actual events, this is a serial about the love, hate, anger, panic, occasional joy, dark humour, professional dedication and professional controversy at the heart of the family justice system. The stories feature an organisation of McKenzie Friends – lay advocates who help clients who are representing themselves in legal cases.

The dramas feature cases about public family law (where a public body like a local authority is involved in arranging the care of children), and private family law (disputes between parents, especially over children) .

The cases are controversial and life changing for the families.

McKenzie Friends are a relatively new phenomenon inside the legal system but over the last few years their presence has increased significantly. Today they sit uncomfortably in the court system with fee charging lawyers who sometimes view them as potential competition. But as the legal aid cuts impact on the family justice system and the economy worsens, the small office becomes inundated with requests for assistance. The team of four have to learn to cope with the increase in work and an unforgiving system which makes it almost impossible to resolve issues conventionally.

The team begin to resort to unconventional methods to get to the bottom of the cases they’re given.

Each McKenzie Friend has their own style of working through cases and their own personal motivations for getting involved, stemming from personal experience with the system. They work with limited resources which they share with each other. They learn on the job.

But the team find help and support in the most unusual places. Rogue journalists, renegade MPs and family lawyers come in and out of the agency’s life to help them solve their cases and help the families and children they work with.

This is a story about the next generation of lawyers, who work with the spirit of law as it was intended. Often discriminated against in the court system for not having legal qualifications they slowly infiltrate the system and expose corruption and malpractice as they try to help the families who come to them because they have nowhere left to go.

We hope you enjoy this series

You can catch the third episode, here.

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Question It!

Welcome to another Monday as we descend into the bowels of Winter, slowly at first and then, no doubt, unrelenting and swift. This week’s question stems around litigants in person and the difficulties they face representing themselves.

Amongst the troubles we see, are the repeated missed opportunities to file various documents, assert McKenzie friends rights and appeal decisions. There are also awkward tensions between what opposing parties’ lawyers should be furnishing the LIP, and just how ethical it is for previously represented parties to be denied access to their files on cost grounds.

So, our question this week then, is this: have you experienced any difficulties with the LIP process, either as a LIP yourself or as someone working on a case with a LIP? 

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Justice Lab – Youth Intervention, Restorative Justice and More

If you don’t subscribe to Justice Lab, the government’s latest effort at providing us with all things ‘data’, then you may be missing out. It’s not that the stats on offer are always fabulously fascinating, or that they could even be called reliable (most publications come with a caveat on the limits of the research, as you would expect with most data sources), but they do offer helpful insight into who’s trying what.

This month’s latest offering is interesting. It focuses on the various pilots and schemes throughout the country which are dedicated to reducing re-offending, through the use of relationship building, mentoring, support and housing for youth offenders, and adult offenders. What we found particularly striking was that the only services which actually reduced re-offending were the ones which offered people the chance to have their immediate needs met – like housing and employment.

The other schemes, though all well-meaning and supportive, really focused on the emotional elements and quite frankly, had no impact on reducing offending rates. That’s not, in our view, because offenders don’t care about the victims they abuse or don’t value being able to see their children whilst in custody (just two of the programmes mentioned in the Justice Lab), but because they have to keep re-offending in order to survive. Without a job these people cannot buy food or stay in accommodation for any length of time. Without housing, people cannot find permanent jobs or settle their families. It’s all just basic common sense.

We really think Justice Lab should be focusing on pilots which offer all the basics as well as the emotional support, like, for example SHE. Based over in East Lancashire, this enterprise is actually getting women off the street, away from custody and ensuring they hone the necessary skills to find and keep employment.  The programme also offers support for mental health issues, drug and alcohol addiction and mentors to keep these ladies on the right path.

Now that’s a programme.

If you’d like to follow Justice Lab or other departments, you can find some useful info here.

 

 

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Ashya King: The Family Law Judgment

Thank you to the dashing James Turner QC for posting this on Twitter. It is the judgment handed down by Mr Justice Baker in The Royal Courts of Justice on Monday.

You can see from the judgment that the parents clearly did not disagree with the type of treatment Ashya needed. Both the hospital and the Kings agreed that Ashya needed chemotherapy and radiotherapy. The disagreement stemmed purely around the type of radiotherapy to be administered.

Interestingly, the judgment also tells us that proton therapy is available at the Southampton hospital where Ashya was refused such treatment. The judgment also goes on to say that due to the presence of a medulloblastoma, the doctors at the hospital felt that proton therapy was not advisable. This will no doubt be a hotly debated area of the case, as medical professionals will no doubt hold differing views on this. That much we must assume, as the clinic in Prague had no hesitation in giving Ashya the treatment.

The judgment also tells us that refusal of the therapy under these conditions (i.e. due to Ashya’s medulloblastoma) is standard NHS England policy. However, the policy does not give hospitals the right to prevent people looking for desired treatments or therapies elsewhere.

Turning quickly to the legal principles in this case, we add an extract from the judgment below, which, we think, is a good reminder of the basic principles:

  1. First, and most important, Ashya’s welfare is my paramount consideration.
  2. Secondly, I have regard to Ashya’s human rights under the European Convention. In particular, I bear in mind his right to life under Article 2 and his right to respect for a private and family life under Article 8.
  3. Thirdly, it is a fundamental principle of family law in this jurisdiction that responsibility for making decisions about a child rest with his parents. In most cases, the parents are the best people to make decisions about a child and the State – whether it be the court, or any other public authority – has no business interfering with the exercise of parental responsibility unless the child is suffering or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of the care given to the child not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give.

The judgment is a balanced one in that it seeks to sympathise with both the King family and the authorities who involved themselves in the case. Baker also says that he feels the social workers acted within reason and that they were not wrong in applying to the High Court and seeking out a wardship order. Rather tellingly, he sidesteps the European Arrest warrant issue, entirely.

But rather nicely, he wishes Ashya a good recovery and sends his best wishes to him and extends them also, to his loving parents.

And that, is a judge’s lot.

UNICEF’s First Global Report On Hidden Violence Against Children

Last week UNICEF released their first ever report on the extent of violence against children around the world. It’s a shocking report, whose front cover features the (faceless) body of a seven-year old girl who was raped by her eighteen year old neighbour. The photo, despite not having a face to put the body to, is heart breaking. This young child’s body language reflects not only just how small and vulnerable she is, but just how awful her ordeal. And that’s just the report’s covering image.

The report, which is over 200 pages long, painstakingly details the definitions, extent and types of violence children across the globe are exposed to on a daily basis. We will leave you to read the report without offering a breakdown here as we haven’t yet had the chance to read it fully ourselves (such is the way here when we feel we need to share something with you immediately), but we’ve added a list of ten facts taken from the report, below:

  • In 2012 alone, homicide took the lives of about 95,000 children and
    adolescents under the age of 20 – almost 1 in 5 of all homicide
    victims that year.
  • Around 6 in 10 children between the ages of 2 and 14 worldwide
    (almost a billion) are subjected to physical punishment by their
    caregivers on a regular basis.
  • Close to 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15 worldwide
    report involvement in one or more physical fights in the past year.
  • Slightly more than 1 in 3 students between the ages of 13 and 15
    worldwide experience bullying on a regular basis.
  • About 1 in 3 adolescents aged 11 to 15 in Europe and North
    America admit to having bullied others at school at least once
    in the past couple of months.
  • Almost one quarter of girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide
    (almost 70 million) report being victims of some form of physical
    violence since age 15.
  • Around 120 million girls under the age of 20 (about 1 in 10)
    have been subjected to forced sexual intercourse or other forced
    sexual acts at some point in their lives. Boys are also at risk, although
    a global estimate is unavailable due to the lack of comparable data in
    most countries.
  • 1 in 3 adolescent girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide (84 million)
    have been the victims of any emotional, physical or sexual violence
    committed by their husbands or partners at some point in their lives.
  • About 3 in 10 adults worldwide believe that physical punishment
    is necessary to properly raise or educate children.
  • Close to half of all girls aged 15 to 19 worldwide (around
    126 million) think a husband is sometimes justified in hitting or
    beating his wife

Violence against children transcends culture, geography and religion. It is something so inherent world-wide in varying degrees that it must be placed at the top of every government’s agenda. How can we consider ourselves to be a modern and enlightened society if we still do not understand the importance of protecting our children?

 

Ashya King – Update

We like to see things through here are Researching Reform, so not one to flit with the news as and when it goes out of fashion, we have an update for you on Ashya King, whose case, we feel, should not be forgotten for quite some time.

And this time, the news, quiet though it may be, is good. The wardship order was lifted upon the Kings arriving at the hospital in Prague (a hearing on Friday set down the terms – big thank you to lovely barrister, Alison Burge for letting us know).

The pioneering treatment that Ashya will receive in Prague at the clinic will, experts say, give Ashya a 70% chance of survival. It is worth mentioning that the hospital in the UK shut down the Kings when they suggested finding this kind of treatment, and that this action may well be grounds for their impending case against the hospital. The hospital in Southampton told the Kings that the proton beam treatment was ineffective and offered them two stark alternatives: prolonging Ashya’s life for a short period or turning him into what his father felt would be ‘a vegetable’.

The treatment is estimated to cost around £70,000 and although the Kings have received an incredible amount of support through donations both by charities and private individuals, they are also selling their home in Malaga in order to be able to meet the costs.

At the moment Ashya’s condition appears to be stable, with news that the cancer does not appear to have returned. The family now await the results of a spinal tap to see if there might be any residual cancer present in Ashya’s fluid. The outcome though, looks good.

We wish Ashya and his family well during the treatment process and hope that the little guy makes a full, and speedy recovery.

The Buzz

These are the stories that we think should be front page news today:

Buzz

Children In The Vine Audio Series: Episode Two

Children In The Vine

This is a serial about the love, hate, anger, panic, occasional joy, dark humour, professional dedication and professional controversy at the heart of the family justice system. The stories feature an organisation of McKenzie Friends – lay advocates who help clients who are representing themselves in legal cases.

The dramas feature cases about public family law (where a public body like a local authority is involved in arranging the care of children), and private family law (disputes between parents, especially over children) .

The cases are controversial and life changing for the families.

McKenzie Friends are a relatively new phenomenon inside the legal system but over the last few years their presence has increased significantly. Today they sit uncomfortably in the court system with fee charging lawyers who sometimes view them as potential competition. But as the legal aid cuts impact on the family justice system and the economy worsens, the small office becomes inundated with requests for assistance. The team of four have to learn to cope with the increase in work and an unforgiving system which makes it almost impossible to resolve issues conventionally.

The team begin to resort to unconventional methods to get to the bottom of the cases they’re given.

Each McKenzie Friend has their own style of working through cases and their own personal motivations for getting involved, stemming from personal experience with the system. They work with limited resources which they share with each other. They learn on the job.

But the team find help and support in the most unusual places. Rogue journalists, renegade MPs and family lawyers come in and out of the agency’s life to help them solve their cases and help the families and children they work with.

This is a story about the next generation of lawyers, who work with the spirit of law as it was intended. Often discriminated against in the court system for not having legal qualifications they slowly infiltrate the system and expose corruption and malpractice as they try to help the families who come to them because they have nowhere left to go.

We hope you enjoy this series

You can catch the second episode, here.

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Question It!

Welcome to the start proper of the Autumn work wagon, and a day that is important for Ashya King and his family.

Whilst the Wardship order now appears to have been lifted (upon the Kings arriving at the treatment centre in Prague) and the Kings returned their parental responsibilities for their son, the hearing at the High Court going over the full details is due to take place in the UK today. So, the simple yet obvious question we ask you is this:

Should the Order making Ashya a ward of court have been set aside at the same time as the European arrest warrant?

 

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Ashya King – Is Professional Arrogance Endangering Our Children?

The Kings’ story is by now well-known: a little boy with a brain tumour, whose parents wanted to seek alternative treatment, but who were bullied into not doing so by medical professionals in the hospital. Without breaking the law, the family decided to leave the country to get the treatment they wanted for their son. Treatment they had researched and knew was available and viable. The parents were then arrested under suspicion of child neglect and detained in Spain where they had travelled, leaving their five-year old son in a hospital on his own for three days.

Luckily for the Kings, the debacle caused a furore around the world and a petition was signed by over 200,000 people to have Ashya’s parents removed from prison, and restored to his bedside. But how did we get to a point where knee-jerk reactions carry such far-reaching consequences? Consequences which still hang over the Kings’ heads as they must now deal with a languishing Wardship Order, which continues to severely restrict their duties and responsibilities as parents.

A few months ago, I went to my then GP, to ask if I could have a test for something. I didn’t know whether I had this ailment, but some of my family members did, and I suspected my ill-health was, for want of a better word, related. My GP was outraged that I had dared to ask for this test. He spent the remaining allocated ten minutes of my session bullying me and trying to belittle me. He gave me his diagnosis, without even checking me or suggesting other tests. I left the surgery feeling embarrassed, upset and certain that the diagnosis was  wrong. So what had I done to deserve such treatment, during a time when I was feeling really quite poor?

Medical professionals have for a long time wielded total power over their patients. We came to them for advice, and their word was law. With the advent of the internet, more networks online which allow us to discuss things with others and an increased awareness that professionals’ opinions can and do vary on any singular topic, the public have become braver, and better informed than ever.

Communication then, is a vital part of any professional’s arsenal. In a world where clients and patients may well come to the table with preconceived notions, which may not necessarily be right, it is up to professionals to move with the times and learn to engage in discussion, rather than shut families down when they are trying to explore the best possible options for care. Especially when vulnerable children are involved.

But is there more to this scenario than just professional arrogance gone wild? Services like hospitals and social work authorities are struggling to find the time to really engage with families and get to know them. Even an extra ten minutes sometimes is all it takes – but very few families have the opportunity today to sit down with a professional and really talk. And if medical and social care relies on communication to get the job done, then what are we really doing if we can’t even lay the foundations of proper professional practice any more?

I noticed in one interview I gave this week on the King’s case that I mentioned the parents were looking to sue the hospital and the police for the way they had been treated. This interview oddly seems to be missing today, but whilst it may be a controversial point, it is one worth mentioning. Very rarely do people sue if they feel they have been treated with civility and respect. In this case, the Kings appeared to have suffered not just with poor medical advice, but with the kind of arrogance that mocks the ‘ill-informed’ lesser party and most worryingly, endangers lives.

And so, it is all about communication. The Kings’ ordeal will soon be over, but the memory of not being there for their son at a time he needed them most will haunt them all forever. Indeed, the Kings claim now that this time apart so badly affected their son, that he began to deteriorate without them. And for my part, I had to find out what my own ailment was, on my own. And in the end, my GP had misdiagnosed me and I had to find out by myself, what was wrong and how to treat it. Which I did, thanks to my family, and the internet.

The moral of this story must surely be, that whilst professionals may still be an important resource for us all, they must remember that they can only survive if they engage with their patients in a meaningful way and remember that how they communicate is the most important aspect of their work. After all, it is this kind of basic connection that saves lives.

Steve Connor visits the pioneering clinic where Ashya will soon be treated – and is hugely impressed (Image and caption courtesy of The Independent)

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