Lord Janner Attends Court After Judge Threatens To Arrest Him

Lord Janner, who has been accused of molesting nine boys, and faces 22 child sexual abuse allegations arrived in court this afternoon, after being threatened with arrest if he did not do so.

The argument over whether Lord Janner was fit to attend stems from his suffering with Alzheimer’s which in turn has affected his mental capacity. Any trial which now takes place will be what is known as a Trial Of The Facts, which unlike conventional trials does not allow the defendant to put forward a defence and no verdict is reached. The court will not pass sentence, either: it can only decide whether the offences outlined, were committed.

The extent of Lord Janner’s dementia is still not known and despite four doctors testifying that an appearance today would cause Lord Janner grave harm, the court reviewing the evidence relating to the decision to summon Janner, took the view this would not be the case. It is not yet known whether his appearance today has caused Lord Janner more distress than would normally be associated with such proceedings.

Controversy still rages over Lord Janner’s health. The CPS had initially ruled out the possibility of a trial against Janner on health grounds and public interest arguments, but this was eventually overturned by independent reviews carried out by two QCs. And whilst Janner’s suffering with dementia is not in dispute, conflicting reports about serving on Boards and his attendance at Parliament shortly before the allegations became public, have only served to cause more confusion about the extent of his illness.

The trial continues.

Greville Janner, Comment

Judge Of The Week: Mrs Justice Pauffley

Justice Pauffley doesn’t always get it right, but we’re excited to see judges disrupting outdated and unhelpful child welfare mantras in order to place the best interests of children first. And that is exactly what this judge did when she overturned an adoption order recently.

Overturning an adoption order is fiendishly difficult and frowned upon, both in law and policy. The idea is that a child needs permanence in order to flourish and that sentiment tends to override every other consideration – sometimes at the expense of the very thing it deigns to protect: the child.

The fate of the Webster family and their children has become folklore in Family circles – evidence proving that they had not harmed their children was set aside, because ‘policy’ decreed that adoption orders were final. You can understand that kind of overly simplistic thinking taking place in the 1900’s, but not in the 21st century: we now know that children need more than just a place to call home and familiar faces to develop into healthy, happy adults.

In this case, which Justice Pauffley describes as ‘highly exceptional’ (aren’t they all, or is this statement just self-defence in a world where challenging norms is a dangerous pastime?) a 14-year-old girl was allowed to return to her biological family after being adopted and then subsequently abandoned by her adoptive parents, who sent her to live with extended family, where she was badly abused. The adoption order, which was made more than ten years ago, has now been overturned.

What is even more startling about this case is that the biological family have now been deemed fit to care for her – no background is given as to the circumstances in which she was removed in the first place, nor whether the original assessment which saw the young girl being taken into care and adopted, was accurate.

However, for going against the grain, and showing absolute courage, Mrs Justice Pauffley is our Judge of the Week.

You can read the released judgment which has been made public, here. 

Mrs Justice Pauffley

Mrs Justice Pauffley

The Buzz

The news items we feel should be right on the radar:

Buzz

Serious Case Reviews – Have Your Say

In a new government-funded initiative which involves a collaboration between the NSPCC and the Social Care Institute of Excellence (SCIE), Serious Case Reviews are being put under the spotlight, yet again.

Serious Case Reviews typically take place after a child has either been badly injured, or died as a result of suspected abuse or neglect. Google “Failings of Serious Case Reviews”, and thousands of entries appear, citing flaws within our system and the many children it has let down, not to mention the many consultation papers, reviews and studies highlighting the ongoing problems with these reviews. They are a growing thorn in the side of the child welfare system.

The Learning into Practice Project (LiPP) – an unfortunate name, given that the acronym is very similar to the already existing LIPs, another sector related phenomenon with an altogether different connotation – has been created to improve the quality of Serious Case Reviews. But they need your help.

As part of this project, the organisations involved are hosting three summits to gather as much information as they can on why Serious Case Reviews aren’t as effective as they could be and what can be done to make them better.

The summits are being held in the following places and on the following dates:

Friday 25 September 2015 – London
Monday 28 September 2015 – Leeds
Wednesday 30 September 2015 – Birmingham

Please click on the links above to reserve your place at one of these summits – they’re being fussy about who can attend, so we would advise booking early.

These summits are a good idea, and we hope people with experience and insight share their thoughts and contribute to them. We also hope that positive and helpful ideas are received by the government and implemented quickly.

Children SCR

Global Fight Against Child Abuse: IWF Explains ‘Hash List’

The Internet Watch Foundation (IWF) have teamed up with Facebook, Twitter and Google to try to tackle online child sexual abuse imagery, and they have today published a very helpful article on how this initiative will work and why it is needed.

The IWF will share what are known as hashes of images, invisible tags which allow sites to detect child abuse images, but not view them, so that these images can be removed from the online space. It also protects the public from accidentally coming across such images and can even prevent the uploading of sexual abuse imagery, too.

All of these images will be placed into one central database called The Child Abuse Image Database (CAID). The database will be used to help the police prosecute offenders and protect victims.

Their very helpful article goes on to explain which types of hashes they will be using (PhotoDNA, MD5 and SHA-1) and which kinds of companies can get involved, for example: filtering, hosting and social media services.

There is also a very informative Question and Answer section in the article, and we add the flow diagram included, below:

Hash-list-explanation-flow-diagram

The Real Reason Charity Kids Company Closed And Why Government Is To Blame

In an excellent article in The Conversation, one of our favourite online media outlets offering insightful analysis on current affairs, an explanation is given as to why much loved charity Kids Company struggled to survive, and why that struggle is the modus operandi for so many UK charities.

The analysis is interesting. The article suggests that government has come to rely heavily on charities like Kids Company to fill vast gaps in the welfare sector. But instead of supporting and encouraging these organisations, a culture of results-driven funding and total disregard for the catch-22 this creates leads to a system which carries charities along but makes their position less tenable financially the longer they endure. The contracts-based culture in the sector too does not help, and the piece goes on to detail very clearly why that is so.

The overall prognosis is depressing. Government is abusing effective and useful services to fulfil a need but is not interested in ensuring that these services survive. And as is a symptom all too familiar for those of us working inside the child welfare sector, other surviving charities seem to gloat at the demise of other support services. When contract handouts become a highly competitive past time, that’s what happens.

Whilst the system needs to respond to the current shoddy government practice in this sector by collaborating and standing together, the government also needs to acknowledge that their short-sighted approach does nothing to ease their fiscal priorities or bolster confidence in politics, whose kudos continues to be significantly dented by the child sex abuse scandal, and a growing cynicism about government values.

The article is well worth a read and beautifully explains why we need a radical overhaul in the way we treat these much-needed organisations.

UK FIRST – British Government Shares Child Abuse Fingerprints With Internet Giants

In what is a ground breaking move for the UK, the British government has begun to share the child abuse image data it has collected with internet charity IWF and its partners Google, Facebook and Twitter, to help with the speedy removal of such images online.

Each image has a unique number called a ‘hash’ number, which makes the image traceable without being viewed. The technology is limited though. It will not apply to what is sometimes referred to as the darknet, dark web or deep web – that part of the internet which most users do not access and where the majority of child porn and child sexual abuse images are distributed and shared.

Nevertheless, internet and software companies continue to tackle child exploitation online. In July of this year, Microsoft released a free tool called PhotoDNA, that lets website owners detect when images of child abuse are being shared by users.

The government and IWF sharing arrangement will allow social media sites and search engines to block ‘hash lists’ (tagged indecent images of children) and remove them from the internet.

Question It!

Welcome to a warm and humid week.

Our question this week focuses on terrorism, child welfare and where we draw the line when it comes to social engineering.

A recent article in the Guardian describes how several children, ranging from the ages of 3 to 17, have become the subjects of Interim Care Orders or Wards of Court, due to radicalisation fears. The article does not detail how the family courts have come to this conclusion, nor what the behaviours in question were to justify removal.

In the Family Courts, orders of this type can be made if the judge takes the view that a child is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm. We add a good summary of the principles below:

Actual or Likely Significant Harm
S. 31 of the Children Act 1989 sets out the legal basis or the ‘threshold criteria’ on which a Family Court can make a Care or Supervision Order to a designated LA in respect of a particular child. This is:

That the child must be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm.
And that the harm or likelihood of harm must be attributable to one of the following:
a) The care given to the child, or likely to be given if the order were not made, not being what it would be reasonable to expect a parent to give; or

b) The child being beyond parental control.

If the LA can demonstrate evidence (on a balance of probabilities) that the threshold criteria have been met, the Court will then go on to consider whether making a Care or Supervision Order would be in the child’s best interests. Whether a child is likely or not to suffer harm will also form part of the criteria for the initiation of a S.47 investigation but may be an actual lower threshold than the test applied by the Court. Thresholds of harm for a S.47 investigation are likely to be defined by the local LSCB or local practice in a LA area.

‘Significant Harm’
The Children Act 1989 defines ‘harm’ as “ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development”. ‘Development’ means physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development; ‘health’ means physical or mental health; and ‘ill-treatment’ includes sexual abuse and forms of ill-treatment which are not physical. As a result of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the definition of harm also includes “impairment suffered by hearing or seeing the ill-treatment of another”.

According to Working Together, significant harm refers to “the threshold that justifies compulsory intervention in family life in the best interests of children, and gives LAs a duty to make enquiries to decide whether they should take action to safeguard or promote the welfare of a child who is suffering or likely to suffer significant harm”.

The legislation, however, does not define the line between ‘harm’ and ‘significant harm’. As a practitioner, you should give ‘significant’ its ordinary meaning (i.e. considerable, noteworthy or important). The child’s particular characteristics also need to be taken into consideration. For example, a child left home alone at the age of 3 could be at risk of significant harm, whereas a child aged 13 years may be less likely so. The test will be subjective to the particular circumstances.

Whether the harm is significant is determined by comparing the child’s health and development with what could reasonably be expected from a similar child. For example, if a child is failing to meet developmental or physical milestones, it is necessary to determine whether this is the result of a lack of “good enough” parenting. There is no clearly defined criteria to judge whether harm meets the threshold of ‘significant’—it can be the result of a traumatic event or a compilation of acute and long-standing events. As highlighted in Working Together, “Some children live in family and social circumstances where their health and development are neglected. For them, it is the corrosiveness of long-term emotional, physical or sexual abuse that causes impairment to the extent of constituting significant harm.”

Working Together lists the following as factors to consider in understanding and identifying significant harm:

The nature of harm, in terms of maltreatment or failure to provide adequate care;
The impact on the child’s health and development;
The child’s development within the context of their family and wider environment;
Any special needs, such as a medical condition, communication impairment or
disability, that may affect the child’s development and care within the family;
The capacity of parents to meet adequately the child’s needs; and
The wider and environmental family context.
‘Likely to Suffer’
A child being ‘likely to suffer significant harm’ does not mean that there is a more than 50 percent chance that the child will suffer or that it is more likely than not that the child will suffer significant harm. Rather, ‘likely’ in S. 31 refers to a ‘real, substantial risk.’ If a Court considers the likelihood of harm to be based on past events regarding which there are disputed facts, it must first make a finding of fact before treating the past event as a grounding of future risk, as has been held by the Supreme Court in Re. S-B [2009] UKSC 17.

Our question then, is just this – where would you draw the line when it comes to the court’s threshold of risk of significant harm when removing children from parents or monitoring family activity?

For example, what kind of behaviours would you include and how is freedom of speech affected? And most importantly, how do we measure the existence or risk, of harm?

face_question_mark

Committee Publishes Consultation Paper On Children And Vulnerable Witnesses

This week, Jordans reported that The Family Procedure Rule Committee published a consultation paper on children and vulnerable witnesses. The consultation is set to run from 3rd August 2015 to 25th September 2015.

You can access the consultation here, which can be filled out by anyone who would like to complete it.

The consultation seeks to find out the extent to which children’s rights in practice are represented in relation to being able to take part in court proceedings. It also aims to analyse the clarity of the current guidelines on children and their involvement and whether or not the conditions surrounding child participation are appropriate.

Interestingly, the consultation also points out that no mention of children is made in the Overriding Objective of the Family Procedure Rules, which is designed to ensure that cases are dealt with fairly and justly. The Overriding Objective reads as follows:

As far as is practically possible –

  1. Ensuring that a case is dealt with expeditiously and fairly;
  2. Dealing with the case in ways which are proportionate to the nature importance and complexity of the issues;
  3. Ensuring that the parties are on an equal footing;
  4. Saving expense; and
  5. Allotting to it an appropriate share of the court’s resources, while taking into account the need to allot resources to other cases.

The consultation therefore also seeks to examine whether children should be mentioned in the Objective in relation to their involvement in proceedings with a view to emphasising the need for the court to have consideration to children in this respect.

Further questions relate to the process, judges and what measures should be made available with regard to children in court proceedings. It’s a very interesting consultation and one worth reading.

Justice

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