Whilst we take a dim view of some female judges in the lower courts, who seem miserable at their stations and intent on making everyone they oversee miserable too (family law practitioners I see you snickering, you know what we mean), the female judges who make it up the slippery ladder to the higher courts are a different breed altogether.

Mrs Justice Pauffley, a high court judge, has made some rather scathing statements of the family justice system, and so concerning is the state of affairs that even the President of the Family Division is weighing in on this lady’s recent judgement and reinforcing her findings. So, what’s all the fuss?

With more than just a little courage, Mrs Justice Pauffley has condemned the overt practice of social workers being too hasty in taking children from parents without proper evidence.

The High Court judge even goes so far as to say that judges and social workers have been conspiring to remove children unjustly from parents and goes on to condemn family court judges for taking part in what she is calling ‘clandestine arrangements’. Mrs Pauffley found that rulings by family judges were simply  ‘cut and pasted’ from recommendations emailed to the court by social workers.

Clandestine Arrangements

Mrs Justice Pauffley has noticed the practice of judges rubber stamping the wishes of social workers without even so much as checking the information they provide or examining it through a fair hearing. And whilst some may argue that judges rely on ‘experts’ to provide information and guide them on outcomes, the reports provided were never meant to be taken ‘as read’. That has become common practice in our courts and factors such as time pressures and resources are irrelevant here. Breaking procedure is simply not an option.

The case

Why is Mrs Justice Pauffley’s case so important? Other than her direct comment about foul play inside our system, which is an honest breath of fresh air in a system still largely deluded by its own size and pedigree – what’s left of it (think the banks and Too Big To Fail), she has in this ruling reunited a mother with her baby. This is almost unheard of. It takes an enormous amount of courage to make such an order.

Quotes from Mrs Justice Pauffley

What this judge is saying about the family courts and its current murky practices:

  • “The practices I have described are not confined to this area but are widespread across the country”. (Yes, we know, we see it every day in our pro bono work)
  • “It is difficult to view the justices as having been independent and impartial if, as happened here, they simply adopted the local authority’s analysis of what their findings and reasons might comprise.”
  • “Just because there may be tacit acceptance on the part of many professionals within the family justice system that the practice which operated here exists, that does not mean it is right. It is patently wrong, must stop at once and never happen again.”

Sir James Munby has backed the Order, which calls for the end of collusion between judges and social workers.

For her bravery and for reminding the system what law is really meant to be about, we make Mrs Justice Pauffley our judge of the week. Hats off to you, madam.

You can read the full transcript of her judgment, here.

More on Mrs Justice Pauffley:

  • This lady gets parents to settle their disputes over a cup of tea – we like her style.
  • She has been appointed the Senior Family Liaison judge in the past, in three separate districts.
  • The Hon Dame Anna Pauffley DBE was called to the Bar, Middle Temple in 1979 and became a QC in 1995. She was appointed a Recorder in 1998 and became a Bencher in 2003. She was appointed a High Court Judge, of the Family Division, in October 2003 and has been a Family Division Liaison Judge on the South Eastern Circuit since March 2004

Mrs Justice Pauffley