Michael Gove Removed From His Post as Education Secretary

Love him or loathe him, Gove is out.

David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle ahead of the 2015 elections has seen Gove replaced by Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough.

Gove will now serve as Chief Whip. Chief Whips are the Head Whips for their respective political parties. Their role, like that of ordinary whips, is to encourage members of Parliament to vote the way their party would like when it comes to important divisions.

For our part we were never terribly impressed with Gove. He could talk the talk, but we never actually saw him walk the walk. If there’s one thing worse than a man without charisma, it’s one who pretends to have it.

Good luck, Nicky.

Nicky Morgan MP, new Education Secretary

Whistleblowers May Be Given Amnesty in Child Sex Abuse Inquiry – But Are They Playing The System?

Amnesty of any kind is always going to involve a trade-off between getting to the truth of the matter and letting people go, but what happens when the very people who step forward to whistle blow are the very people we need to protect our children from?

That was the thought that crossed my mind when I read this article about a Conservative party activist who says he willfully provided child prostitutes to Tory cabinet ministers during Thatcher’s term in government. 

Anthony Gilberthorpe says that he was asked to find underage boys for some of the most senior cabinet ministers of the time, so that they could be ‘entertained’, at specially organised parties where these boys would be plied with alcohol and cocaine and then engaged in intercourse with the ministers present. And now he wants to blow the whistle, so he says, on the parliamentarians who abused children in the 80′s.

Lethargy to come forward and speak out, especially when you’re a new face in the work place is not uncommon when witnessing abuses of power. People are afraid to lose their jobs and to have their reputations tarnished should they speak out. No doubt over the course of the next few weeks, more professionals inside the family justice system will come forward and tell the government what they know about allegations of child abuse inside their various sectors. And whilst it’s easy to feel anger towards anyone who fails to speak out about something as serious as child abuse, it is unlikely that those people will be viewed as direct perpetrators of these crimes.

But Mr Gilberthorpe is different. He was not just an innocent bystander. He actively engaged in the procurement of young children for ministers’ sexual gratification.

And he is all too aware of that. Speaking out, just as the inquiry gets underway, Gilberthorpe is quick to mitigate his actions. He claims that he was groomed by politicians to pick up these young boys and offer them to ministers waiting in the wings.

Now, instead of being an active perpetrator of this despicable crime, he has tried to turn himself into one of its victims.

And I’m just not buying it.

This made me think about the ways in which dangerous members of society could potentially use the Whistleblower’s impunity to their advantage. By speaking out, they are effectively securing their freedom by abusing the amnesty process.

That’s palatable, just, as long as the whistle-blower is not directly involved with the crimes in question. But what happens if they are? We already know Mr Gilberthorpe says he provided ministers with children for sex. That is in itself a crime, if true, and we wonder how the government will deal with this new knowledge. But what if Mr Gilberthorpe was actively engaging in these parties? What if he was having sex with underage children? What if he is creating an elaborate story to hide what may be greater child sex abuse transgressions? These are questions we may only get the answers to if someone from those parties speaks out.

And yet, Mr Gilberthorpe knows that’s highly unlikely, as it would mean implicating themselves in this sordid mess.





Baroness Butler-Sloss Steps Down From Inquiry

This just in: Baroness Butler-Sloss has just stepped down as Chair of the government’s latest inquiry into historic child sexual abuse.

The Baroness has been very gracious about this move. She has explained that she didn’t think about her family ties and the potential conflict of interest involved as a result of her late brother Michael Havers’ position as attorney general in the 1980′s. Her thoughtful statement directed at the survivors of this horrendous abuse is touching and considered:

“This is a victim-orientated inquiry and those who wish to be heard must have confidence that the members of the panel will pay proper regard to their concerns and give appropriate advice to government.

“Having listened to the concerns of victim and survivor groups and the criticisms of MPs and the media, I have come to the conclusion that I should not chair this inquiry and have so informed the Home Secretary.”

The government have yet to appoint a new chairman. For our part, we would like to see Kids Company Founder Camilla Batmanghelidj sit as Chair on this inquiry. It’s not because her surname features a superhero in it (although we happen to think that’s quite cool). It’s because she is truly independent, has a wealth of experience working with vulnerable children and loves them to bits, too. Add into the mix her intelligence and talent when it comes to protecting children, and you have the perfect Chair. Dave, if you’re listening….

Watch this space.

Question It!

Welcome to another Summery week. Holidays are in the air, but controversy never sleeps.

The Guardian has posted an article today which talks about the judiciary and the level of training they receive in terms of understanding child protection and the law surrounding it. The authoress, Joanna Nicolas, is a child protection consultant. She argues that judges should be better trained and kept abreast of legal and policy changes in a timely fashion across the country.

Ms Nicolas also suggests that the burden of proof, or evidenciary threshold, should be that of the criminal court – beyond a reasonable doubt, as opposed to its civil counterpart currently used in family cases: the balance of probability. She also makes one final suggestion: that all judges who played a part in a case should be involved in that case’s serious case review.

Our question then, is simple: do you agree? 


Bar Council’s Damning Survey on The Impact of LASPO

Yesterday the Bar Council released its preliminary findings on the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012.

The Press Release tells us that 716 people responded to the survey, of which 90% were barristers from a wide range of legal sectors. Not surprisingly, the family courts dominated the survey:

  •  88% of respondents who worked within the family courts reported an increase in self-representation.
  •  81% of respondents who undertook family legal aid work reported impacts
  • 72% of respondents who undertook family legal aid work reported a decrease in case work.
  • 69% of respondents who worked as family legal aid practitioners reported a decline in fee income

(These figures have been rounded up by the Bar Council in their press release).

Chairman of the Bar, Nicholas Lavender QC (fragrant name), summed up his view of the findings in his statement, which included the sentiment that:

“Unsurprisingly, the preliminary results from the survey confirm the concerns we raised with the Government some time ago: a significant increase in litigants-in-person, more delays in court, and growing difficulty for individuals in accessing legal advice and representation.”

The survey launched online in April of this year and was undertaken by the Bar Council and the University of Surrey. The project was created with a view to measuring how LASPO has affected access to justice one year on from its implementation. The project comes to a close in September 2014.

There’s a new discussion over at the excellent Jordans Family Law, on the survey. Seeing as most of the respondents were barristers, it would be good for the sector to get feedback from people who use the system, too.

If you’d like more information on the survey, you can contact the Bar Council on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.



Interesting Papers Offering Controversial Perspectives on Family Law

We saw these articles this morning and thought they were interesting and worth a read.

The first looks at privileging adoption over fertility treatment in America. It’s written by Jurgen De Wispelaere. The paper offers an ethical proposition: why not ensure that all children without a home are cared for first before allowing couples to engage in fertility treatment? Setting aside the rights and wrongs of adoption and the possible mistakes which we know occur in removal, and looking at this concept ‘as is’, it’s clearly controversial. At its heart, it focuses on the interests of born children versus unborn children. We can see arguments both for and against this view but we’d love to hear your thoughts and engage with you on them.

The second paper looks at marriage, cohabitation, paternity tests, contact, care orders and more. The author is Ng Cin Yan. The paper is divided into short articles, makes for an accessible read and is also though-provoking.


Spotlight On: Aviva’s Awkward Conversations

British insurance company Aviva, has teamed up with international charity Railway Children, which helps children who have run away from home due to abuse or neglect, to help raise money to provide these children with the support they need.

Both websites tell us that every five minutes a child runs away from home in the UK. That’s over 100,00 children under the age of 16, every year. 

Aviva’s Awkward Conversations campaign aims to tackle the issues runaway children in Britain are dealing with and has pledged to give £2 to charity Railway Children, for every ‘conversation’ uploaded onto their site. So how does it work?

You simply upload an awkward or difficult conversation you’ve had with your child. If your conversation is chosen, Aviva will then donate £2 to Railway Children, to help them continue their work supporting children who’ve run away from home.

It’s a lovely idea, and aims to play on the notion that all children need someone to communicate with and to help them make sense of the world. At its heart, the campaign highlights how very important emotional support is for children, of all ages and in all contexts.

If you want to see what kinds of conversations people have sent in, you can check them out here.





New Duty To Report Child Abuse?

If the news today is anything to go by, it would appear that David Cameron is thinking about making it mandatory to report suspected child abuse. Institutions like hospitals, schools and children’s homes may be among those who will be required to report.

This is not a new idea. We have seen debate around the duty to disclose child abuse as recently as last year, but in the wake of the Westminster scandal and the ever growing stats on child abuse, it seems that this time, the Prime Minister may be able to push this move forward and make it law.

At the same time, MP for Rochdale, Simon Danczuk has today told the media he would like to see an amnesty for whistle blowers inside the social work industry who are considering reporting historic child abuse and offering any information they may have about cover ups by their employers, as the government’s inquiry gets under way.

We are not sure if the PM’s plan to impose a duty on reporting child abuse is the answer. Pressure to report unusual behaviour may lead to hasty judgment calls which could lead to mistakes. It’s also hard to know whether legal repercussions from failing to report any suspected abuse will actually ensure that more people come forward. We’re just not sure that’s how this rather complex dynamic works.

So, what do you think? Will mandatory reporting of child abuse help protect children or will it just drive abuse underground?

Out thanks go to John Malloch-Caldwell for alerting us to the Prime Minister’s address today.

The Buzz

Sadly, today’s Buzz is all around child sexual abuse, and the horrendous part our government continues to play in either engaging in it or trying to bury it under Westminster’s fraying carpets.


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