A senior family law judge has called on Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to intervene in a case where a serving diplomat and his wife are said to routinely assault their children.
Sir Justice Mostyn asked the ministers to try to arrange for the diplomat’s immunity to be waived during the proceedings. Williamson and Raab originally accepted the request, but later refused to engage with the case without giving an explanation.
The case, which involves serious allegations of physical and emotional child abuse against a serving diplomat, is the first of its kind in the UK.
The facts of the case are grim.
The six children in this case are living in London with their parents in the family home. The father is a serving diplomat on a diplomatic mission. The children are S (5), G (9), A (14), N (17), E (18) and D (18, a paternal half-brother).
The proceedings, which began in January, only concern the three youngest children, though all of the children offered their input during different stages of the case.
The children have said siblings are being beaten with belts, hit with a broken chair leg, pulled by the hair, and made to contort their bodies in unnatural positions for long periods of time leading to enormous physical pain.
One child said their eyesight had been impaired after a violent blow to the side of their face, while others described bleeding from their injuries.
The reasons for these ‘punishments’ have been included in the judgment, but we will not repeat them here.
The children came to the attention of the courts after one of the siblings alerted the Local Authority to the physical abuse of one of their siblings by their father. A primary school teacher then alerted social services after a sibling disclosed that they had been hit daily with a thick belt by both parents. This is the heart-breaking extract from the teacher’s referral, which is shared in the judgment:
“During an English vocabulary lesson the chn [children] were defining the word ‘lashing’. When I described ‘lashing’ as being hit with a whip or a belt [G] said ‘oh, I get hit with a thick belt everyday by my Mum, but my Dad is much worse’. I asked him to clarify if he meant what he had said and he said ‘yes, every day for watching too much TV.’”
The case becomes even more concerning when details of the parents’ attempts at concealing their abuse come to light in the judgment.
One of the children says that the father had hit them with a broken chair leg to avoid any obvious marks showing up on their skin. The child said the father had “wanted to ‘beat her’ but did not because she had an optician appointment the next day.”
Additional information offered about the parents’ concealment tactics included the mother putting hot water on one of her children’s faces to try to reduce marks from where she hit them.
One of the children told a social worker that their father had said they would pay for alerting social services. The parents then woke the children up at 4 am one morning and told them to write an email retracting their allegations and say they had lied so that they could stay in the UK for university. The children wrote the email.
The parents were then asked to sign an agreement enabling the local authority to work with the parents, which they initially refused to do, denying all the allegations made against them. However, the parents eventually agreed to sign an undertaking not to hit the children.
But the parents’ legal team had been stalling the child protection investigation throughout the proceedings on purpose, knowing that with the father’s diplomatic immunity came the ability to block the proceedings.
The proceedings were halted, after the judge was unable to get the Education Secretary and the Foreign Secretary to intervene in the case.
Of key significance is the lack of response from the foreign country to which the diplomat belongs, as it has the power to strip the diplomat of immunity. In this case, the foreign country was alerted to the proceedings and requests were made to intervene, but the country’s government has not yet offered a response.
Mostyn does an excellent job of arguing why immunity for serving diplomats should not be allowed in cases like these, and puts forward convincing legal and child protection focused arguments for why the law needs to change in this area.
He also offers a route around the current dilemma in his judgment.
Mostyn doesn’t terminate the proceedings, he stays them instead, explaining that there is an outstanding request by the Guardian asking the foreign government to waive the diplomatic immunity enjoyed by the family in this case, so the children can be properly protected in proceedings under Part IV of the Children Act 1989.
Mostyn goes on to say that if the waiver is granted, the stay can be lifted and the proceedings can be relaunched.
He then outlines another solution, in his judgment. This is what he says:
“First, it is open in a case such as this for a Local Authority to write to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office drawing the facts to the attention of the Secretary of State and inviting him to take such diplomatic steps as may be necessary.
Second, it is open to the Secretary of State for Foreign & Commonwealth Affairs, on receipt of that information, to seek to persuade the foreign government to waive diplomatic immunity in respect of the diplomat and his family so that the necessary protective measures can be taken.
Third, as a last resort, it is open to the British government to expel the diplomat and his family so that on their return to their homeland protective measures can be taken in respect of the children there.”
The judgment offers a very clear explanation on how the law as it stands creates an impossible situation in which children in these terrible settings cannot be helped in the first instance (see paras. 22- 44 of the judgment). That’s why it is imperative that our government does the right thing and uses the powers available to protect these children.