Family Law Judge Investigated Over Condescending Bevahiour in Court

Judge Judith Hughes has been investigated for condescending behaviour during a family law hearing in which she allowed her bad temper to get the better of her by banging her head on a desk after a litigant in person appeared before her in court.

Lord Chancellor David Gauke and Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett acting on behalf of the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) found that Hughes’ behaviour was “sarcastic and condescending”, and “failed to demonstrate the standards expected of a judicial office holder”. 

Very little information about the context of the complaint is offered by the JCIO though it seems as if the complaint may have been made by the litigant in person, who is likely to have been a parent. Litigants in person are typically members of the public who cannot afford to pay for legal fees, and find they have to represent themselves in court through no fault of their own.

Hughes was issued with ‘formal advice’, and will continue to sit as a family court judge.

This is not the first time Hughes’ temper has been documented. The Telegraph reports an incident from 2017 when the judge also allowed herself to get angry about matters that came before her.

We are encouraged to see parents making use of complaints bodies who appear to be fair and balanced. Perhaps more complaints where warranted might help to put an end to judicial bullying of parents and children in the family court.

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Social Workers Spying On Families Are Breaking The Law

Social workers in the UK are breaking the law as they spy on families through Facebook, The Times reports this morning. Social work professionals are also setting up fake social media accounts to spy on parents and children.

A study carried out by researchers at Lancaster University found that social workers were failing to adhere to the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA). The Law allows government investigators including social workers to view a citizen’s social media accounts once, but thereafter requires the actor to get permission for repeat viewing or continued surveillance.

The Times explains that the social workers observed in the study did not seek out this permission. The researchers concluded that the behaviour showed an “apparent lack of awareness or conscious disregard of Ripa”.

Describing one of the recorded incidents from the research, The Times said:

“At one meeting, discussing a mother who was deemed a high risk to her baby, a social worker asked a colleague: “Do you spy on Facebook?”

The colleague answered: “Oh, yeah, I’m a big fan of Facebook stalking and [our manager] always comes in when I’m looking at it, she thinks I’m on Facebook all the time. I’ve got a fake Facebook account and I have to be very careful with the families that I don’t reveal something I’ve seen on Facebook.”

The Times reports that four months later the children were removed from the family and that the social worker involved had checked Facebook on the morning the children were taken to “gauge” how the mother was feeling.

The findings have concerned the researchers who have identified legal concerns through the study: social workers are clearly breaking the law to spy on families.

The practice of spying on families through social media has been around for at least two years and may be aggravated by judges who are unfamiliar with legislation like RIPA. In 2017 this site wrote about a judge who gave social workers the green light to search for families through Facebook. 

Justice Holman took the view that it was appropriate for child welfare professionals to use the social media platform to track down missing parents – but did not offer any information about RIPA or the need to contact police in the first instance, who are tasked with locating missing persons. Social workers do not have a duty in law to track missing members of the public.

Researching Reform also shared research from America which offered alarming insight into how social workers were using the internet to spy on families with no regard for the law. The report concluded that while social workers found the internet useful for work, they were unclear about how it should be used in a child welfare setting.

Other concerning observations from the report show a real and urgent need to address the profession’s behaviour around investigating families:

  • Over half of the workers (58%) reported that searching for a client on Facebook out of curiosity was acceptable in some situations and 43% reported that they had done this.
  • Over half of workers (53%) stated that it was acceptable in some situations to search for a client on Facebook that the agency would like to locate, such as a missing parent and about half (49%) had done this.
  • 61% of the child welfare workers stated that it was acceptable in some situations to search for a client on a site like Facebook when the information might give insight into client risk factors and close to half (46%) had done this.
  • About 65% of the child welfare workers reported that it was acceptable in some situations to search for a client on a site like Facebook when conducting a child welfare investigation or assessment and about a third had done this.

After Researching Reform called on the then President of the Family Division Sir James Munby to issue guidelines for social workers in the UK, guidance was published in September 2017 by the social care ombudsman. The guidance is a step in the right direction but remains incomplete.

Exactly one year later in 2018, online magazine Community Care published a survey asking social workers if they thought spying on families through social media platforms was legal. The outcome of the survey is not known.

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Online Event: Family Court Reform

The government is launching an online event in April to showcase improvements it has been working on for the UK’s family courts. The changes make up part of a broader reform programme involving all courts and tribunals in the country.

The courts and tribunals reform programme has received £1bn in funds to carry out its work.

The Family Reform event offers more information on proposed improvements inside family courts and provides an opportunity to offer feedback on the changes made so far.

The event was due to take place on 11th February but was postponed and is now set to take place on Tuesday, 2nd April. If you signed up previously to take part there is no need to re-register. New attendees can sign up here.

The invitation offers further information:

“The event will include an overview of the latest developments in family reform. You will hear about our new digital divorce service which aims to provide an improved, more consistent service for divorcing couples. You will also see an overview of the work in the public law and adoption project.

You’ll have the opportunity to learn more, view and ask questions about the progress and ambitions of the reform programme.

The event will be hosted online, so you won’t need to travel. Presentations, a recording of the event and responses to any unanswered questions will be published on GOV.UK afterwards. If you would like to submit questions beforehand, please email us and include your name.

You can also find the latest information and updates on the HMCTS reform programme web page.”

You can join the online event here.

The event runs from 1pm to 2pm.

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Dads House Receives Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award

Leading fathers’ charity DadsHouse has received the Prime Minister’s Point of Light Award. The prestigious award is a personal ‘thank you’ from the Prime Minister, which recognises outstanding individuals who are making positive changes in their communities and around the world.

The award has been given to Dads House on the Day of the Single Parent (March 20) to honour the work Dads House does in supporting single fathers.  Dads House CEO Billy McGranaghan will be given a certificate and a signed letter from Prime Minister Theresa May at a ceremony due to take place in the Houses of Parliament.

The government has issued a press release about Dads House receiving the award:

PM awards outstanding single fathers charity founder

The Prime Minister has today, 20 March, recognised William McGranaghan, known as Billy, from London, for providing support for single fathers.

Billy is the founder of ‘Dads House’, a charity providing practical support to single fathers across the UK. After supporting his son as a single parent, Billy realised the lack of provision for fathers raising their children alone, despite 200,000 fathers across the UK acting as their main carers. He established ‘Dads House’ in 2008 to provide practical support and advice for single fathers, such as parenting and mindfulness courses, as well as serving as a social hub to bring fathers and their children together. Within the first year of launching, over 1,400 fathers signed up as members for the charity, and following continued expansion, a new hub was established in Kent in 2013. Billy is now working closely with Government to inform policy on supporting fathers in the workplace and early parenthood, working closely with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Single Parents chaired by Rupa Huq MP.

Billy is the latest recipient of the Points of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community and inspiring others. Each day, someone, somewhere in the country is selected to receive the award to celebrate their remarkable achievements. Billy’s award coincides with the Day of the Single Parent.

In a personal letter to Billy, Prime Minister Theresa May said:

“Through ‘Dads House’ you are bringing together dads to share their experiences and receive practical and emotional support. Drawing on your own experience, you are connecting single fathers across the country and having a profound impact on their lives and the lives of their families.”

Billy said:

“It’s so nice to be given the award, as there are so many dads who are at a loss on what to do with the little ones, and ‘Dads House’ is a point of contact.”

Billy is the 1148th winner of the Points of Light award, which has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA. Over 6,000 Points of Light have been awarded in the USA, and former Presidents have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK. There is a similar cross-party approach to the UK programme and MPs from different parties often present their constituents with their Points of Light awards.

Regardless of whether it’s a doctor restoring local monuments in her free time, a father teaching young people life skills, or a local musician giving a voice to lonely people, the Points of Light award honours shining examples of volunteering across the UK.

Notes to Editors

1. The Points of Light awards recognise outstanding individual volunteers, people who are making a change in their community and inspiring others.

2. The Prime Minister makes daily announcements of the winners to celebrate, encourage and promote volunteering and the value that it brings to the country.

3. If people know someone who could be a Point of Light they should write to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street.

4. Website: www.pointsoflight.gov.uk

Researching Reform is absolutely thrilled for Dads House and delighted that the government has acknowledged Billy as a pioneer and outstanding charity head in family welfare. We hope the government will continue to support the charity’s mission so that Dads House can carry on growing, and expand its much needed services.

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Parliamentary Debate On Councils’ Duties To Children

A Labour MP is hosting a debate in the Commons this evening to draw attention to growing confusion around local authorities’ responsibilities towards children.

The debate, which has been brought by Kate Osamor MP, will explore the issues around access to children’s services for families under the “no recourse to public funds” (NRPF) condition. Families who fall within the NRPF condition are usually migrants in the UK who are unable to access public funds, which means that they cannot access standard benefits and housing assistance.

Osamor says the confusion is causing extreme suffering in the form of acute poverty along with a high risk of homelessness and exploitation for thousands of children. 

Although children in the UK are covered by section 17 of the Children Act 1989, which places a duty on local authorities to promote the welfare of all children in need in their local area, the condition is causing confusion among parents and councils. In some instances, Politics Home reports that councils are wilfully refusing these families the support they are entitled to.

Osamor will use this evening’s debate to call on councils to adopt Project 17’s Children’s Charter, which commits local authorities to upholding the rights of children living in families with no recourse to public funds.

The debate will take place in the Commons Main Chamber at around 7pm and is an adjournment debate, which means that no formal question needs to be asked before it can be instated. Adjournment debates take place daily at the end of each day’s sitting in the Commons and usually run for 30 minutes.

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Government Funds Helpline For Offending Paedophiles

Welcome to another week.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid has pledged £600,000 to fund a support helpline for child sexual abuse offenders.

The phone line will be run by The Lucy Faithfull Foundation, whose work has been  funded from a £2.6 million government pot dedicated to prevention work.

The Home Office’s press release about the phone line explains that the charity provides confidential advice to offenders who want to address personal child exploitation behaviours. The charity says it has seen a 65% rise in callers and visitors to the Stop It Now! helpline and self-help website in relation to viewing sexual images of children online.

The latest figures which were published in September 2018 indicate a 700% increase in child abuse images being referred to the National Crime Agency (NCA) in the last 5 years. The data also estimates that up to 80,000 people in the UK currently present some kind of sexual threat to children online, with exploitative material increasingly featuring ever younger children.

The press release says that over 2,000 people contacted Stop It Now! last year through the helpline and its secure messaging service in 2018.

No data has been offered on whether the help line has managed to reduce offending behaviours or the commission of child sexual offences by those who called through to the charity’s help line to ask for support.

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Shadow Children’s Minister Resigns

Shadow Children’s Minister Emma Lewell-Buck has resigned over the Labour Party’s position on Brexit.

The social work sector has reacted with disappointment to Lewell-Buck’s resignation. Community Care commented on the departure this morning saying that Lewell-Buck, who was a former social worker, had “left government education ministers and Labour’s shadow ministers without a social worker influence. ”

Emma was a vocal critic of the government’s austerity measures and the budget cuts that followed in children’s social care. She also criticised Parliamentary Under Secretary Nadhim Zahawi for a lack of concern as to how the government’s policies were affecting children.

Simon Buck, Emma’s husband, made the headlines last year after it was revealed that he had been investigated over allegations of abuse while carrying out his duties as a care worker. Council chiefs called Ms Buck’s husband a “perpetrator of elder abuse”
after an ombudsman’s ruling found Mr Buck guilty of abusing an elderly man in his care. The council paid Mr Buck £400 in compensation after a watchdog found that the local authority had also made procedural errors.

Allegations about Mr Buck’s conduct were raised by the elderly man’s wife, who said Mr Buck swore at her husband and neglected him. Further allegations were raised by a whistleblower, who said that Mr Buck swore at vulnerable people and their families, used homophobic language, inappropriately referred to a colleague about the mental state of a vulnerable person and missed care calls.

Emma Buck attended the debate on children’s social care in January which was kept  from the public despite being an open event. No MPs or attendees taking part in the debate mentioned the event before it took place.

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What Did You Say?

Several child welfare focused comments this week have made the British public do a double take, so we’re adding them below.

Boris Johnson, “some investigation into historic child abuse” and all his “malarkey”

Politician Boris Johnson upset just about everyone on the planet this week after saying the nation’s child abuse inquiry was a gigantic waste of money and that it wouldn’t help to protect victims of abuse. He told LBC:

“Keeping numbers high on the streets is certainly important but the question is about where you spend the money and where you deploy the officers.

“And one comment I would make is I think an awful lot of money and an awful lot of police time now goes into these historic offences and all this malarkey.

“You know, £60m I saw was being spaffed up a wall, you know, on some investigation into historic child abuse.

“What on earth is that going to do to protect the public now?”

Lord Steel and Cyril Smith 

Lord Steel told the nation’s inquiry into child sexual abuse that he had spoken with MP Cyril Smith about allegations made against Smith but did not report any of the discussions to the authorities.

Lord Steel said he asked Smith in 1979 about claims that he abused boys at a Rochdale hostel in the 1960s, and came away from the conversation convinced Smith had committed the offences. Steel told the inquiry that he took no further action because it was nothing to do with him.

Steel, who is a Liberal Democrat, is now being investigated by his party over the remarks.

Hassan Abbasi praises parents who hand over their children for execution

As we’re watching Iran at the moment we thought we would add a comment in from Hassan Abbasi, a strategist for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Abbasi praised parents  for handing over their children to security forces for execution after discovering the children disagreed with Iran’s current government.  He told Israeli news outlet MEMRI TV:

“There were mothers whose children were being executed for opposing the regime, and they would come and stand before the gallows [to watch the execution].

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First Ever Post-Adoption Contact Appeal Confirms Adopters Have Final Say

A couple asking for post-adoption contact with their daughter have lost their appeal.

Judges in the Court of Appeal concluded that a refusal to accommodate contact by the child’s adoptive parents trumped the toddler’s right to stay in direct contact with her birth family.

The case is believed to be the first of its kind to reach the Court of Appeal since the implementation of s.51A in the Adoption and Children Act 2002 (ACA 2002). The legislation allows for contact with family members and other significant individuals in a child’s life, after adoption.

The judges hearing the case dismissed the challenge after the adopters in the case refused to accommodate meaningful contact between the toddler and her birth parents.

The judgment reinforces the current legal position that post-adoption contact will only be granted in rare cases and usually only where adopters agree to such an arrangement.

The birth parents who have learning difficulties were unable to cope with their daughter’s day-to-day care, and after an assessment the local authority began care proceedings. The local authority then asked the court to grant an adoption order.

Prior to the adoption order being made, the toddler and her birth parents had contact at regular intervals. That contact was reduced, and eventually stopped.

The biological parents applied for post-adoption contact at the same time as the adopters issued their application to adopt the birth parents’ daughter. The application for post-adoption contact was refused. The birth parents then sought permission to appeal the refusal, which they were granted.

The Court of Appeal heard the birth parents’ challenge on 30th January and the judgment published on BAILII is very much worth a read, for an explanation of the law as it stands since the new legislation on post-adoption contact came into force – and for everything that is wrong with the way our family courts work today.

The judgment outlines a discussion on post-adoption contact which looks at whether the current legislation should be interpreted to mean that courts must now lean in favour of post-adoption contact or stick to the old position, which does not create a presumption for or against post-adoption contact but does in most cases give adopters the final say in relation to contact between birth parents and their children.

The judges concluded that the old position was correct when considering post-adoption contact and that “Parliament’s intention in enacting s.51A was aimed at enhancing the position of adopters rather than the contrary.”

The underlying reasons for this position are not at all geared towards the welfare of children in these cases and are clearly designed to protect adoptions while ensuring that adopters are not put off by the inconvenience of having to accommodate post-adoption contact arrangements.

The barrister for the local authority offers the following arguments to bolster this position, which are included in the judgment at paragraph 44:

“Mr. Goodwin supports the maintenance of the current law, as stated in Re R, on the basis that there are sound policy reasons for not imposing direct contact upon unwilling adopters, save in exceptional cases. It is submitted that if adopters are led to believe one thing, but forced to accept another, the pool of potential adopters may shrink.”

And it gets even more ridiculous. The court found that while there was a clear and growing body of work which supported and even insisted upon post-adoption contact, the research was not considered appropriate to the case because navigating that data would require the case to turn upon child welfare based concepts, rather than legal ones.

This really is one of our biggest bug bears at Researching Reform. What on earth is the point of having a family court system that is required by law to act in the best interest of every child that comes before it, if that court cannot respond and react rationally and in real time to the latest scientific evidence in order to ensure those best interests are met?

Stark. Raving. Mad.

The idea that adopters’ rights trump everyone else’s, including the adoptee child’s, is also utterly wrong. Adopters should be viewed as enablers, not dictators, in cases where children have a very real and important need to know their birth parents. That need is rooted in their psychological and emotional development and should not be obstructed unless the birth parents present a real danger to the child.

On that basis, allowing post-adoption contact to be blocked by adoptive parents is clearly a breach of an adoptee child’s human right to know his or her birth family.

We are going to have a cup of tea to cool off.

Further reading:

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