Domestic Abuse Survivors To Stage Mass Protest On Parliament Square

Survivors of domestic abuse will stage a protest next month on London’s Parliament Square to highlight the way domestic violence cases are handled in the family courts.

The protest is part of a campaign called #thecourtsaid which was launched in June by Natalie, a survivor herself of domestic abuse. The campaign calls on the family justice system to improve its treatment of people affected by domestic abuse.

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Concerns around the way victims of domestic abuse are treated by the family courts stem from survivors’ inability to discuss their cases with anyone other than their legal representatives, documented bias towards vulnerable parents alleging abuse by a spouse or partner and limited rights to protect their children from abuse.

In 2017, Ofsted published a report on children living with domestic violence and concluded that the phenomenon was so widespread that it had become a public health issue.

Research also confirmed that family court judges are often swayed in favour of allegations of parental alienation when a parent alleged that they or their children had experienced domestic abuse in the home, at the hands of the parent alleging alienation.

The campaign has seen exceptionally high levels of engagement and has collected over 1,000 testimonies from survivors.

Natalie spoke to Researching Reform about the reasons for the campaign and its aims:

“The campaign brings together survivors, activists, organisations and allies together in condemnation and protest of the family court. The family court routinely puts survivor families in harm’s way through what is effectively a presumption of contact even in cases of domestic abuse, rape and cases with a high risk of homicide.

Children have been harmed in their thousands and in some cases even murdered as a result. Perpetrators of domestic abuse are 62% more likely to harm their children (source: SafeLives) and this risk is not assessed and wilfully ignored by the court and associated agencies, leaving survivor families in an inescapable domestic abuse dynamic, as the behaviour persists beyond the physical separation.

#thecourtsaid was born out of my desire to no longer see another domestic abuse survivor facing the barriers to justice and safety that currently exist.”

The protest, which is open to the public and all domestic abuse survivors, will take place on 26th October at noon, on London’s Parliament Square.

Survivors who would like to attend or speak at the protest can contact Natalie at thecourtsaid@gmail.com. 

You can follow the campaign on Twitter using the hashtags #endthisinjustice and #thecourtsaid, or connect on Facebook at thecourtsaid.

Natalie generously shared some of the testimonies from domestic abuse survivors which her campaign received. We’ve added extracts from the testimonies in the slideshow.

A special thank you to the survivor who very kindly coordinated the interview and the testimonials. They cannot be named for legal reasons.

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Parents Of Children in Care Should Have More Rights, Says Lawyer

A lawyer has told France’s President Emmanuel Macron that French law must be amended to ensure that parents of children placed in care have adequate rights to defend themselves and challenge care orders.

Michel Amas submitted a proposal for the legal amendment to the French President, with the support of Yves Moraine, a lawyer and the mayor of Boroughs 6 and 8 in Marseille.

The development was reported by French news outlet, 20 Minutes.

Our translation of the report is added below:

Marseille: “Parents of children in care have no rights” – Marseille lawyers want to change the law.

CHILD PROTECTION: A bill was sent to Emmanuel Macron asking for parents to have more rights to defend child protection cases.

After his video denouncing the injustice of certain situations of children placed in care went viral, the Marseille lawyer Michel Amas wants to create new rights for parents.

Collaborating with Yves Moraine, a senior official of the municipal council, Amas submitted a proposal for a law to France’s President Emmanuel Macron.

The aim of the law is for lawyers to ensure access to the child welfare file before the hearing, and for judges to be required, within a certain time, to respond to parents’ requests.

“I have represented people who have been given thirty year prison sentences for their crimes, but nothing is more violent than what happens in the family court. ” A lawyer at the Marseille Bar, Michel Amas was a specialist in medical negligence cases before finding himself working on a case involving the unjust removal of children from their parents, a situation he describes as unacceptable: “The parents of children placed in care do not have fewer rights than others, they have none,” the lawyer said.

He has since defended 300 child protection cases throughout France and, each time, he says he has to confront the same problem: “There is a presumption of guilt which weighs immediately on the parents. And this mistrust is reflected in the total lack of resources given to parents to be able to defend themselves and to be involved in the process. ”

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In July, when one of his clients was in despair, he spoke out in an online video which was viewed almost 4 million times. “The video did not go viral because I am charismatic but because I respond to the angst of parents”, insisted Michel Amas, who does not intend to stop with the video and today launched an initiative to change the law.

Or at the very least, to help the law evolve. Rather than overhauling the 1945 ordinance on the protection of minors, Amas hopes to re-orient the “risk of harm” threshold so that it sits in the right place. “Over time, the threshold has slipped, and the courts now consider parental conflict to be enough of a reason to remove children, rather than treat issues with medical follow-up, social assistance, or household help”, he said.

“The child, the parents, the grandparents have less rights than an individual suspected of a crime,” said Yves Moraine, lawyer and leader of the LR majority in the city council, who cosigned the bill which was passed to the French President. “We demand the creation of additional rights and that these rights are implemented without delay,” he added. “It is not normal for defenders not to have any weapons to represent parents,” said Michel Amas. You can ask a judge for a visit at the weekend on behalf of the parent, two hours instead of one, but the judge does not have to answer us. And when that contact is not granted, there are no other courses of action.”

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“The camera does not protect the child but the judges”
Grandparents of a 5-year-old boy, placed a year ago with a foster family, Sabrina and Hugo say they are “living a nightmare”.

They are ready to welcome him into their home in Gémenos, ready to take him to school, to extracurricular activities, but they face long delays inside a system whose procedures are achingly slow. All they want is to get three hours with their grandson, an occasional outing, an overnight stay in their home, to see how things go.

The proposed law aims to reduce the period of investigation and require the magistrate to respond to the requests of the parties within one month.

It also forces child protection services to file their report before the hearing.

“In criminal cases, we can submit evidence, defend our clients… I have pleaded hundreds of times, but in child protection cases I have never received any social services reports before the hearing,” laments Mr Amas, who also said, “the camera does not not protect the child but the judges.”

Taking a more diplomatic stance, Yann Arnoux-Pollak, president of the Marseille Bar, said he supported the approach and emphasised that “if we want judges to do their job, we must give them the means”.

It remains unclear whether parliamentarians will take up the bill.

You can follow Yves Moraine on Twitter @YvesMoraine, and watch the latest videos on the French child protection system by Michel Amas on his law firm’s website.

Please note that the video below, in which Michel talks about the problems within France’s child protection system, is in French. Amas confirms that he will not mention the names and details of the families involved in the relevant child protection cases.

 

 

App To Report Bullying by Legal Professionals Ignores Vulnerable Court Users

The Bar Council for England and Wales (“the Bar Council”) has developed an app which can be used to report bullying and harassment by legal professionals.

However the app, which is called Talk To Spot, is only for barristers. The oversight raises serious questions about the lack of support for vulnerable parties in court proceedings.

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The move comes after a report published by the International Bar Association (IBA) concluded that the legal profession “had a problem”, and that bullying and harassment were “widespread”.

A report produced by the Bar Council called Barristers’ Working Lives 2017: Harassment and bullying, also noted a sharp rise in incidents involving bullying and harassment by legal professionals in England and Wales, with 21% of barristers experiencing abuse and 30% of barristers observing abuse.

The latest observations by the IBA and the Bar Council raise serious concerns about how the legal profession’s bullying problem is affecting vulnerable individuals inside the court system.

Calls for parties going through the family courts to have a fast and efficient way of reporting abuse by legal professionals have been repeatedly ignored by the legal profession, despite a survey in which over 90% of respondents said they had been bullied by judges in family court hearings.

Family court users surveyed said that they had experienced the following abuse during their hearings:

  • Belittling, humiliating and abusive comments to children and family members
  • Behaviour that causes fear or terror
  • Demeaning comments about a disabled parent’s disability
  • Laughing at a parent’s question
  • Cutting off and silencing parents and their solicitors as they try to make a point
  • Unreasonable demands in court orders which a “good-enough” parent would not be able to comply with
  • Constant criticism of a parent or family member
  • Personal abuse for being unable to afford legal representation
  • Being bullied into accepting orders
  • Threats to remove children from parents before the hearing begins
  • Explicitly favouring one parent over another
  • Prejudging a case before it has concluded and bullying families into submission

Some incidents of judges bullying families received by this site have been added below:

“My son was humiliated by a female judge in Bolton family courts. She read out a letter supposedly from my granddaughter who at the time was just 9 years old saying she wanted to be called Daniel after the bloke her mother was with at the time. While reading the note out the judge smirked constantly, it was disgusting.”

“Judge [edited] verbally abused me in court. He ridiculed me in front of my husband who abused my children and I for 10 years… He couldn’t even get my son’s age correct. I felt humiliated and burst into tears on leaving court.”

“I was made to comply with impossible court orders. When I confessed that I couldn’t comply anymore during a hearing the judge got sarcastic and belittled me. I wish I could have been sarcastic back and asked him if he could have done the order he imposed on me, but of course I couldn’t treat him the same as he was treating me.”

“The judge wouldn’t allow me to speak about my concerns for my children’s safety, and cut my solicitor off at the middle of every sentence while trying to explain my side of the case. He belittled me and made me anxious at the fact my concerns weren’t been listened to and therefore my children’s thoughts weren’t been viewed or taken seriously.”

Earlier this year, a judge was also found guilty  of bullying a mother into accepting care orders for her children. While the order was set aside, the judge faced no disciplinary action for what amounted to negligent practice.

Nevertheless, the Bar Council’s app is unlikely to deter abusive legal professionals or protect individuals from being abused.

While information published about the app suggests that the technology will actually report the abuse if submitted through the software, the app is actually no more than a recording device, allowing barristers to set down their experience and save it for later, should they wish to make a formal complaint.

Currently, complaints have to be submitted to the Bar Council manually, after filling out a report. At this point the filer would have to include their name and personal details, which most barristers are unwilling to do for fear that the complaint could affect their legal careers.

Families who experience abuse by judges and other legal professionals are also fearful that making a complaint could affect their cases, making the idea of an app which only records events almost redundant.

Judicial bullying and harassment at the hands of legal professionals can only be stopped by addressing the working culture of these environments and ensuring that a zero tolerance policy on bullying and abuse is in place.

The app itself is an enormous waste of money, which could have been better spent elsewhere.

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Victims of Child Sexual Abuse, Stalking and Harassment Can Now Challenge Lenient Prison Sentences

The government has expanded a scheme which allows victims to challenge prison sentences they consider to be too lenient, so that it now includes victims of child sexual abuse, stalking and harassment.

Members of the public can also challenge sentences they feel are too lenient.

The plan to expand the scheme was unveiled this morning, in a Ministry of Justice Press Release. The move comes after the government’s urgent review into sentencing, which it launched in August.

The Unduly Lenient Sentence scheme will be extended to include 14 new offences, which will give victims of these offences the power to challenge sentences handed down for the crimes they have experienced.

However, the bar for cases to be accepted for review is set high, according to the Solicitor General, Michael Ellis QC MP.

The amendment covers controlling and coercive behaviour, as well as additional child sexual abuse offences, such as those involving the taking, distributing and publishing of indecent images of children and abusing a position of trust with a child.

Under the Scheme, prosecutors, victims of crime, their family and the public can ask the Attorney General for a review of certain sentences they believe is too low.

The Attorney Generals’ Office then has 28 days after sentencing to make a decision.

If the Attorney General thinks the request is appropriate, the case will be sent to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration – where the sentence could be increased if judges rule that the original sentence was unduly lenient.

The press release offers an example of how the scheme works in practice, mentioning an intervention where the Court of Appeal increased the sentence of a mother who allowed her partner to rape her daughter, from three to five years in prison.

Crimes such as murder, robbery, and some terror offences are already covered by the Scheme.

In 2018, the Scheme was used to increase the sentences handed down to 99 criminals, following a review by the courts.

The government has extended the scheme to include the following offences:

  • Abuse of position of trust: sexual activity with a child (s.16, Sexual Offences Act 2003),
  • Abuse of position of trust: causing or inciting a child to engage in sexual activity (s.17, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Abuse of position of trust: sexual activity in the presence of a child (s.18, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Abuse of position of trust: causing a child to watch a sexual act (s.19, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Inciting a child family member to engage in sexual activity (s.26, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Sexual activity with a person with a mental disorder impeding choice (s.30, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Causing or inciting a person, with a mental disorder impeding choice, to engage in sexual activity (s.31, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Engaging in sexual activity in the presence of a person with a mental disorder impeding choice (s.32, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Causing a person, with a mental disorder impeding choice, to watch a sexual act (s.33, Sexual Offences Act 2003)
  • Possession of indecent photograph of a child (Criminal Justice Act 1988, s.160)
  • Taking, possessing, distributing, publishing Indecent Photographs of Children (s.1 Protection of Children Act 1978)
  • Harassment: putting people in fear of violence (s.4, Protection from Harassment Act 1997)
  • Stalking involving fear of violence or serious alarm or distress (Protection from Harassment Act 1997, s.4A, Protection from Harassment Act 1997)
  • Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship (s.76, Serious Crime Act 201,).

You can find out how to apply for a review, here. 

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Little Voices, Big Impact

Welcome to another week.

As the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, the UN has decided to highlight the milestone with a campaign they have called Little Voices Big Impact.

The campaign runs today and includes a line-up of speakers in Geneva, who will be discussing the Convention and the state of child rights in 2019.

The UN are inviting people to pledge their support for child rights on Twitter, and as part of that campaign, we would like to ask children and young people to share their wishes about how they would like the UK government to protect their rights going forward. We invite families to share their thoughts too.

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Any responses we receive before 2pm London Time will be made into a collage and shared with the UN, who have promised to feature tweets using their campaign hash tag #LittleVoicesBigImpact, and include the sentiments in their discussions.

If you’d like to take part, please leave your pledge or wish, along with your first name (or ‘anon’ if you would rather not be identified) and your age, on the Researching Reform website.

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Top Human Rights Court Rules Forced Adoption Violates Right To Family Life

In a groundbreaking case, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that a child services agency breached a mother and her son’s rights by forcibly removing her son and giving him to a foster family several years after he was removed from her custody as a newborn.

The grand chamber of the European Court of Human Rights concluded that Norway’s Barnevernet child services agency had violated Trude Lobben and her son’s rights to family life, and had not carried out adequate investigations into the mother’s parenting skills or provided adequate evidence to bolster its claim that the child was vulnerable and that adoption was in his best interest.

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In a statement published on ADF International, a faith-based legal advocacy organization promoting human rights, Lobben’s lawyer, Grégory Thuan Dit Dieudonne, said:

“Human rights advocates have been highlighting the destructive practices of the Barnevernet for years. This ruling is a step in the right direction for parental rights in Norway and beyond. Even a positive judgment cannot make up the precious 10 years this family has lost at the hands of the Norwegian state.”

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Ms. Lobben told Norway’s TV2 that she hoped the judgment would help other families in similar predicaments:

“This must have consequences. I’m glad the decision can help many others who have experienced injustice from child welfare.”

The judgment is very long, but is a must-read for anyone interested in forced adoption and the human rights concerns around social services practicing this policy.

For those who don’t want to read the details in full, there is a very good summary of the case on the Christian Post.

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Child Protection Sector Harms Children’s Mental Health.

A report by the Children’s Commissioner on children’s experiences inside the care system highlights the appalling way in which children are being treated, and evidences the serious emotional harm the sector is causing these children.

The report, which is 14 pages long and features 22 children and young adults aged between 9 and 21, offers extracts from interviews in which children and young adults describe how the care system treated them and how that treatment made them feel.

While there are a few good experiences shared by children (most of which stem from support given by individuals outside of the care system), the report makes for a read which is both embarrassing and deeply troubling.

The most concerning revelation comes from several children in care who explain that the lack of proper care inside the system directly damaged their mental health, highlighting once again that the child protection system is causing tangible harm to the children it is supposed to be looking after.

One example given was that a change in social worker caused children to have to relive past traumatic events, because they had to talk about their past again.

An exceptionally high turnover in social workers around the country means that children are often having to relive painful past experiences – including the act of separation itself – multiple times.

Despite the volumes of research available on how to look after children, and the very obvious knowledge gaps inside the child protections system – which existed long before austerity – children are also still being left to languish on their own, separated from their siblings and moved sometimes hundreds of miles away from anything familiar to them.

The same tired themes of stability and mental health feature in this document, themes which have been clearly labelled and identified a thousand times over, in child welfare campaigns, scientific data and pioneering social work.

This report is not insightful, or trail blazing, but it is worth sharing the quotes from the children who took part in these interviews, because every one of their voices matter.

You can access all of the quotes published, here.

Below are a selection of quotes which we think broadly capture the key sentiments of the children interviewed. Please read all of them, if you can:

“[Social services] don’t do enough to guarantee the emotional wellbeing of that child, and the psychological wellbeing, it can have a big impact on kids because there’s all that stability gone. … It can have a lot of psychological damage on a kid, and you get the kids acting out, you get kids being rebellious, going off and doing drugs, and they turn down paths, and get involved with the wrong people, and I feel like, a lot of the time, that can be prevented. If they just put more measures in place to make sure kids really understand why this is happening, it’s not their fault, and I just feel like a lot more should be offered, like counselling definitely.” (Female, Care leaver)

“My behaviour got a bit uncontrollable [when moved placement to another town]. It’s because I still wasn’t given the help I want, I needed… Like I needed therapeutic help and I didn’t get it. And then when I moved to [new town following another placement move], I finally got it … It [therapy] made me get rid of all my anger … I haven’t kicked off as often as I used to.” (Female, 13)

“I probably cried myself to sleep each night, the first week.” (Male, 17)

“I was worried a lot at the time. Because it was unknown to where we would be going, how it would be like.” (Female, 16)

My social worker, I ask her so many times, what’s going to happen in my future, I’m really scared. I want to know what’s going to happen in my future and she’s just, she can’t be arsed to talk about it.” (Female, 15)

“But the more you move to different places and then the more you just get used to it … It’s just [breathes out], it’s just tiring … I don’t know how to explain it, you do literally feel tired, you hear it and it’s just like [breathes out] go back to bed.” (Female, 15)

“I think it [moving placements] just had an impact on … how I act, how I controlled my emotions. If I felt angry now, I’d just hold it in but then I would just lash out.” (Female,16)

“I was going through a lot of instability at the time… and I was making decisions that I probably wouldn’t rationally make normally, like running away from school and things like that. Yeah, they well and truly were [due to the instability], and it I guess it was a coping mechanism.” (Male, 17)

“Well they just said that he’s getting adopted to North England. That’s all I’m now allowed to know. … When she told me that he was gone, I just broke down… It was hard, I would cry every single day at school. I’d get taken out of lessons because I just couldn’t cope with it.” (Female, 18)

“I was out of school for three weeks rather than two, because the woman we was given to help me find a new school didn’t really do her job properly… I understand that she’s busy with loads of other people, but she left me and my mum on a voice message for a whole week, then a second week. We gave her a call and we actually got through to her and said, OK, we said to her, oh what’s happening, why haven’t you found a school yet, haven’t you found a school yet or are you just ignoring us, and she said, well I haven’t found a school yet, let me, just give me time. And she left us for another week.” (Male, 16)

“I didn’t meet my new social worker for quite a while, and then I met her a couple of times, and then I got another one. And it’s just like, well I only saw you three times and you’re already leaving, am I that bad? And it just makes you feel like you’re worthless, you’re not valued, and you’ve done something wrong all the time. It also makes you feel like you’re not important to them, and they don’t want to be with you, they don’t want to work with you, they’re just doing it because they have to. So it just makes a real downer on the young person, it makes them feel like, have very low self-esteem and low confidence in themselves.” (Female, 17)

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Lawsuit Claims Forced Adoption Breaches Legislation

A mother who was forced to give up her child for adoption in the Netherlands is suing the state for emotional damage.

The lawsuit claims that a policy which allowed the state to forcibly remove her child from her care was in breach of Dutch and international law.

Trudy Scheele-Gertsen, who is now 73, is one of over 10,000 women in the Netherlands who gave up their children at birth in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. She was also the first woman to take the Netherlands government to court over the legality of forced adoption at the time the policy was enacted.

The lawsuit cites several procedural irregularities, which it says led to Scheele-Gertsen’s son languishing in care for the first three years of his life.

Speaking to Dutch newspaper, Trouw, yesterday, Ms Scheele-Gertsen said, “What was done to me and my son is disgraceful, that is the main reason I am going to court.’

The legal claim also hopes to shed light on why state institutions promoted the idea that unmarried mothers could not care for their children.

The lawsuit comes as the Netherlands launches its own inquiry into why single mothers gave their children up for adoption.

The Netherlands Association of Separated Mothers told Dutch News that the forced adoption process was riddled with procedural errors, which were either consciously or unconsciously a result of deliberate policy which prejudiced unmarried women.

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