Councils Using Private Investigators To Spy On Parents May Be Breaking The Law

A recent judgment in the Family Court highlights the ongoing use of private investigators by local authorities to spy on parents involved in care proceedings, despite serious concerns that councils are using security firms to sidestep the current legal restrictions in place.

The latest case highlighting the practice was published this month, and involves a council which hired a private investigator to covertly film parents the council believed were lying about their relationship status.

The parents are now looking to file a civil claim for what they allege is a breach of their human rights after the Family judge ruled that the evidence was admissible, and that a separate complaint would need to be made within a different tier of the Family Court, or outside of the court itself.

Judge Moradifar observed that whilst the evidence may have been illegally obtained, it was possible for him to admit the video recording for the purpose of the family proceedings.

The parents went on to argue that the council’s use of the investigator was “misjudged and deeply unfortunate” and that the surveillance itself was not fair, reasonable or proportionate. They further alleged that the council had failed to comply with the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) and had also breached their right to a private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Local Authorities and other public bodies hiring private investigators has risen sharply in the last decade, despite policy suggesting that investigators should only be used for the most serious crimes.

According to Big Brother Watch, more than £3.9 million was spent by public bodies hiring private investigators in 2011-2012.

In 2013, Former Communities secretary Eric Pickles commented on the use of private detectives, warning that, “Such powers can only be used for serious crimes, and require a magistrates’ warrant. It is totally unacceptable if councils are trying to sidestep these important new checks and they should be held to account for acting outside the law.”

A Freedom Of Information Request made in 2012 about Devon County Council’s use of private investigators revealed that the council had spent a substantial amount on covert surveillance of families in care proceedings. The breakdown was outlined as follows:

2008/09
£12,947.79

2009/10
£12,534.37

2010/11
£15,688.44

2011/12
£20,857.70

2012/13
£13,275.01 

This area is in urgent need of reform, and guidelines in the interim should be issued for local authorities on how and when they can use private detectives.

What do you think? Should public bodies be allowed to spy on parents in family court proceedings?

Cropped-big-brother-is-watching-1984

 

 

 

Charlie Gard And His Parents Granted US Residence To Allow Treatment

In an unusual move, US congress has granted UK based Charlie and his parents permanent residence in America so that Charlie can have pioneering treatment for a rare genetic disease he developed when he was only a few months old.

The move could allow the family to bypass UK court decisions and legislation which has, until now, stopped them from travelling abroad for the treatment.

 

Charlie Gard

 

The Buzz

The latest child welfare updates:

Many thanks to Nick for alerting us to the Newcastle City Council story.

Buzz

RR For Huff Post: Should We Remove Children From Drug Addicted Parents?

A new BBC 2 Documentary, the first part of which is airing tonight on BBC2, looks at a unique rehabilitation centre in England which helps mothers and fathers come off drugs. The centre’s approach is controversial – children stay with their parents throughout the process.

Researching Reform was very kindly given the opportunity to watch the film before it aired. We offer an exclusive preview on Huff Post as the first eyeballs to take a peek at it outside of the production team. You will be surprised.

Catch our article here. 

Drugs and Families

 

 

 

Charlie Gard’s Parents Bring Fresh Evidence To Court

Tomorrow the Court of Appeal will hear fresh evidence  suggesting that pioneering treatment for Charlie Gard, an 11 month old baby with a rare genetic condition, could improve his quality of life.

Charlie’s parents hope to convince the court that his life support should not be switched off and that he should be allowed to have treatment, however they are distraught at being given only 48 hours to gather the evidence.

They have until 2pm today.

The hearing tomorrow will determine whether Charlie’s life support will be turned off, or whether he will be able to have the treatment his parents have been campaigning for.

As the relationship between Charlie’s parents and Great Ormond Street has almost deteriorated completely, other hospitals have allegedly been approached to take Charlie, but anxieties over the current legal battle have left Charlie without any options.

We’ll keep you posted.

Charlie Gard

 

 

 

OFSTED Uses New British Values Guidance To Challenge Muslim School Promoting Violence.

Two organisations are hoping to challenge a decision in the Court Of Appeal which looks at gender segregation in education.

The intervention comes after OFSTED used a new ‘British Values’ threshold to call out a Muslim school on its policy of separating boys and girls in class. A bold move by OFSTED, which has been accused by the school’s legal counsel of singling out the school to make a point.

Southall Black Sisters and Inspire intend to intervene in support of OFSTED’s findings which have been partially rejected by the Court.

A good summary of the case can be found in a press release published by One Law For All:

“School X segregates its pupils based on their gender. From the age of 9 to 16, boys and girls of Muslim background are segregated for everything – during lessons and all breaks, activities and school trips.

The school was inspected by Ofsted which raised concerns about gender segregation and other leadership failings involving the absence of effective safeguarding procedures, and an unchallenged culture of gender stereotyping and homophobia. Offensive books promoting rape, violence and against women and misogyny were discovered in the school library. Some girls also complained anonymously that gender segregation did not prepare them for social interaction and integration into the wider society. As a result of what it found during the inspection, Ofsted judged the school to be inadequate and placed it in special measures.

The school took legal action against Ofsted accusing it of bias amongst other things, and claimed that gender segregation did not have a detrimental impact on girls. Following a High Court hearing, in November 2016, the presiding judge, Mr Justice Jay, found no evidence of bias against the school but agreed with the school that gender segregation did not amount to sex discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. He went onto say that no evidence had been presented to show that gender segregation disadvantaged the girls in the school.

Ofsted is seeking to overturn this part of the judgment but the Department of Education and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, along with SBS and Inspire are intervening in support of Ofsted.”

The press release goes on to explain why the two organisations want to intervene:

“SBS and Inspire are intervening in this case because we believe that the right to equality for women and girls of Muslim background in this instance is being seriously undermined. We are alarmed by the growing acceptance of such a practice in our universities and schools; a move that we have also previously contested. In a context where all the evidence shows that minority women are subject to growing abuse, isolation, inequality and powerlessness, the practice of gender segregation cannot be viewed as a benign development because it is informed by the Muslim fundamentalist view that women are inferior and the cause of disorder and sexual chaos in society. If unchecked, the practice will give religious fundamentalist and ultra-conservative forces in our communities more and more power to define women’s lives. It will also signal the view that regulatory bodies like Ofsted have no business in investigating issues of gender inequality in faith based schools. We say that gender segregation amounts to direct sex discrimination and violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of women and girls under international human rights law on equality and non-discrimination.

Pragna Patel of SBS said: “Fundamentalist and conservative religious norms like gender segregation are becoming normalised in minority communities at an alarming rate. Separate can never be equal in a context of rising misogyny, violence against women and patriarchal control. Regressive religious forces want to implement their fundamentalist vision of education. They want to use religion to extinguish the human rights of minority women and girls to equality and self determination. We will not allow this to happen. We will not allow them to undo the strides that we have made for greater equality and freedom. Our struggle against gender segregation mirrors the struggle against racial segregation: it is morally, politically and legally wrong and the Court of Appeal and the rest of society must recognise this.””

The decision by SBS and Inspire to look carefully at gender based discrimination in schools is important. The Court of Appeal’s judgment is particularly significant, and is a must read for anyone interested in equality and education in general. It also explains the many elements in this case, which embrace legal, religious, education and gender issues.

The impact of  a successful challenge would be enormous. It would effectively bolster the view that segregation is discriminatory and a breach under the Equalities Act 2010, even if an educational reason for the segregation is given. A judgment in favour of this line of thinking would therefore affect all faith schools, not just Muslim ones. It could also affect single sex schools too, particularly if the school is considered to be sought after, for example because of academic excellence or geographic location, but only open to one gender.

In this case, the discovery of reading materials promoting violence, rape and abuse against women was a material factor in OFSTED’s poor rating of the school. It is this material which has no doubt spurred on Southall Black Sisters and Inspire to intervene. The judgment tells us, “one of the books states that a wife is not allowed to refuse sex to her husband. Another opines that women are commanded to obey their husbands and fulfil their domestic duties. Two books made clear that a husband may in certain circumstances beat his wife, provided that this is not done “harshly”.”

At its heart, this challenge feels like a challenge against extremism, especially when you read the quotes from Inspire and SBS in the press release:

Sara Khan of Inspire said: “I am deeply concerned about the rise and accommodation of gender segregation in our schools and universities. This is due in large part to the rise of fundamentalist patriarchal movements over the last few decades which seeks to reinforce regressive gender stereotypes and restrict women’s rights in an attempt to deny women full and equal participation in public life. I have seen first hand the damaging impact of gender segregation on women and girls. As a British Muslim woman, I call on our country and our judiciary to stand on the side of equality and women’s rights, at a time when illiberals and fundamentalists seek to do away with them.

Maryam Namazie from One Law for All added: “Islamists have become adept at using rights language to impose rights restrictions. Islamist projects like the niqab or Sharia courts are deceptively promoted as “rights” and “choices” when in fact their aim is to control and restrict women and girls. Girls in Islamic schools are segregated not in order to enable them to flourish but because they are seen to be the source of fitnah and male arousal from puberty onwards. Which is why they must be veiled, segregated, and prevented from many activities that are essential to child development. The court would do well to remember that when it comes to children in particular, there is a duty of care to ensure that the girl child has access to a level playing field and is able to flourish – sometimes despite the wishes of parents and fundamentalists.”

These women want to tackle terror at the root – through education, in our schooling system, which is allowing the kind of thinking we see filtered through the lenses of war and suicide bombs. They also want to provide every child with the opportunities they deserve. We respect and admire these women hugely for that.

Very many thanks to Nazenin Ansari for sharing the campaign with us.

SBS

 

 

 

Question It!

Welcome to another week.

The nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse is to hear a potentially game changing witness statement today.

David Hill, who was shipped to Australia from England by UK charity the Fairbridge Society during the 1950s as a child migrant, will tell the Inquiry about the terrible conditions at the child migrant farm he was sent to. Hill will also ask the charity to make a full apology, and will be calling on the British government to provide full compensation for the several hundred children who were abused at farms run by the society.

The charity, which is supported by British aristocracy and is alleged to have links to the royal family, has repeatedly refused to say sorry for what happened at their farms. A staggering 60% of the children sent to Fairbridge Molong were sexually abused.

The scale of abuse at these institutions was well known at the time. in February 2015, Lord Blackheath told the House of Lords that he and many others were involved in shipping children to places like Australia, in the full knowledge that they would be emotionally and physically abused by the religious orders and charities who were meant to be looking after them. Blackheath also confirmed that he knew the children were being illegally shipped over – they did not have the proper legal permissions to travel. Many were also abducted from their parents or forcibly removed without any kind of due process.

 

David Hill’s testimony adds to the growing number of voices calling on the government to be held accountable for its actions. In 2015, Researching Reform wrote to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Australia to share evidence of government failures which directly affected children who were abused in Australia. We also communicated with the nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse inviting them to extend their scope to include children illegally transported to Australia, which they did in June of last year. 

And in January of this year, former Prime Minister Gordon Brown went straight for the jugular, saying the government’s behaviour was tantamount to criminal negligence.

Hill’s evidence today could be the tipping point on this issue, opening up a floodgate of claims, and calls for the government to be put on trial for its actions.

Our question this week is a simple one: do you think the government should be tried for its part in the sexual abuse of children they sent to other parts of the world?

Questions

 

Lords Have Excellent Debate On Tackling Domestic Violence – But Only One Male Peer Takes Part

A debate in the House of Lords yesterday looking at ways to address the many different types of domestic violence, raises some very thought provoking points, and is worth a read if you have a few Digestives and some tea bags.

The motion for the debate, moved by Baroness Manzoor was as follows:

“That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s plans to protect and support victims of domestic violence and abuse.”

The discussion gives you some insight into the vast amount of work Baroness Manzoor and other peers do to try and tackle domestic violence and abuse, the different faces of abuse (there is a very interesting section about abuse of the elderly, which is often ignored), and offers details about the Government’s proposals in relation to the important domestic violence and abuse Bill.

There are some surprises, too. We discover during the course of the discussion that Baroness Newlove is herself a victim of abuse, and she makes a very personal, and insightful statement.

Newlove

The debate doesn’t just look at abuse of women, it also focuses on men who have experienced abuse too. Sadly though, only one male peer showed up for the session, Viscount Goschen. He mentions a report he recommends called “Getting it Right First Time”, produced by the charity SafeLives in 2015.

For stats and data buffs, there’s plenty to mull over, and there’s also some considerable thought on the justice system and how it’s lagging behind in this area.

From coercive control, to sentencing measures for abuse, this is one of the most robust, sensitive and well rounded exchanges we have seen on this topic for a while. Do have a read, you’ll be glad you did.

Safe Lives

 

Interesting Private Members’ Bills In The House Of Lords

Private Members Bills, which allow MPs and Lords to propose new legislation very rarely become law, however they are interesting clues about  current thought inside government.

Two Bills caught our attention.

The first Bill, The Home Education (Duty of Local Authorities) Bill, proposed by Labour Peer Lord Soley, asks for measures that would allow home schooled children to be monitored by local authorities so that they could assess their educational, physical and emotional development. The measures would be inserted into the Education Act 1996, the go-to piece of legislation on education provision.

Home schooling is a growing trend in the UK.  It makes sense that home schooling should be addressed in this Act, as all other forms of education are detailed there, however this Bill concerns us a great deal. Local authorities already have powers to investigate home schooled children. Many parents also choose home schooling for their children because they wish to be free from the limited curriculum currently doing the rounds in our generic school system. This Bill could have a profound effect on that freedom.

The Bill sets out a list of requirements on parents who elect to educate their children at home. They include an annual review by social workers on each home schooled child, which includes not only an educational assessment, but emotional and physical assessments as well. In order to do this, social workers would be allowed to visit the child’s home, see their work, and interview parents as well as any children involved. This could lead to social workers querying the content and style in which parents are choosing to educate their children, without having proper training in this area, and profoundly distorting the potential benefits of this kind of schooling.  

Researching Reform has also assisted on cases where home schooled children were being targeted by at least one local authority through the production of policy documents which invited social workers to treat home schooling as a form of neglect and gave them permission to remove home schooled children from their families and place them in care.

It’s also likely that the requirements in the Bill would place an enormous amount of strain on already stretched local authorities, and would lead to a clumsy doubling up of services, especially as many home schooled children will be attending doctor’s surgeries for vaccinations or medical conditions where GPs would already be assessing their welfare, for example.

The Bill had its first reading on 27 June. The next reading has yet to be announced.

The second Bill we spotted aims to do something really rather wonderful. The Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill, sponsored by Lib Dem peer Baroness Hamwee, aims to reunite refugee families and provide them with legal aid where needed. The Bill would do this by:

“[Making] provision for leave to enter or remain in the United Kingdom to be granted to the family members of refugees and to refugees who are family members of British citizens and settled persons, to provide for legal aid to be made available for refugee family reunion cases.”

You can read the clauses of this Bill here. 

The first reading of this Bill was also on the 27 June. A date for the second reading hasn’t yet been set.

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