Damning Judgment Reveals Another Council Illegally Removing Children From Parents

A family court judge has called out a council for acting with ‘subterfuge and immediacy’ for illegally removing a child from her parents. 

The comments represent the latest within a growing number of judgments calling out councils for illegal and unethical behaviour in their practices of social care and forced adoption. 

Gloucesteshire county council finally apologised to the parents after a hearing in which Judge Stephen Wildblood set out an astounding list of errors, which included:

  • Failing to place the child, who was under two at the time, with her father in the event of removal from her mother, as set out in the care order
  • Taking 6 weeks to return the baby to the mother, who was breastfeeding at the time
  • Breaching their legal duty to give parents 14 days’ notice prior to removing their child
  • Failing to seek legal advice despite having a strong feeling that the removal was illegal
  • Failing to consider other placement alternatives for the child, including an approved paternal aunt, instead of placing the baby with strangers
  • Failing to take into consideration the mother’s vulnerability and fragile condition
  • Failing to scrutinise and properly manage the child’s care plan
  • Failing to keep adequate records of meetings and decision making
  • Removing the child from her mother’s care without just cause

Had it not been for the mother’s application to try to get her baby back, these failings would have gone unnoticed, and she would have lost her daughter to the care system forever. Wildblood observes in his judgment that the mother should never have had to bring proceedings herself, without any legal aid, as she was considered vulnerable.

Some quotes from the case:

Judge Wildblood:

“In my opinion it is clear that the local authority acted in a way that was contrary to case law and in breach of the article 8 rights of both parents and the child.”“

The very basis of the original care proceedings was that the mother is an emotionally fragile and socially vulnerable woman… Therefore, for her to have faced the issues that arose on her own is manifestly unsatisfactory.”

The mother:

“[I am] relieved and extremely happy that my child is back in my care… [it has been] an incredibly distressing and traumatic time… While the local authority has accepted its failings, I hope that no other family suffers in the way my family has.”

OFTSED had rated the council inadequate, with multiple failings identified at management level. The Guardian to the case is now expected to file an application on behalf of the child for damages under the Human Rights Act. There will also be an independent review of the case.

Given that these failings are not unique to this council, an independent review is not enough. There needs to be a review at national level, of all councils specifically looking at the rules and regulations in place within each council for care proceedings, how those rules and regulations are being implemented and why councils are failing to follow the law.

We invite the government to undertake a review of child protection practices in every local authority. A review of this kind has not been done before and unlike other reviews, this would allow us to finally understand the gaps in council practice in this area, and even more importantly, to ensure those gaps are filled.

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Emojis, Pen Pals & Plain English: The Judge Who Wants To Be Down With The Kids.

The British legal system is famous for being slow when it comes to adapting to change, but occasionally individuals inside the system try to move things along.

Judge Peter Jackson has hit the headlines for publishing an unconventional Family Court judgment about a fourteen year old boy involved in a contact dispute. The judgment includes a letter addressed to the boy, known as ‘Sam’, in which the judge explains how family law matters are resolved, and the reasons behind his decision. Jackson even invites Sam to reply to his letter if he’d like to.

The inclusion of a letter to a child in a judgment, and the invitation to write back to a judge are highly unusual but clearly designed to empower children going through the court process.

Jackson Sam

This is not the first time Justice Jackson has tried to address child rights concerns inside the Family Court. In 2016 he produced the first ever judgment incorporating emojis, with a view to making the text more accessible to the children involved in the case. Judge Jackson also used simple language and clear phrasing to make the judgment easier to follow.

Emoji Judge

Going beyond the current requirements of a judge has become Jackson’s trademark. He once visited a dying girl in hospital, whose case he was presiding over, at the young girl’s request. She told Justice Jackson that she wanted to be cryogenically frozen so she could come back in the future.

And you might remember a terribly sad case involving a 13 month old baby called Poppi Worthington, who died of horrific injuries at the hands of her father. It was Judge Jackson who listed 12 separate failings by police which may have contributed to Poppi’s death. Jackson’s judgment was followed by a House Of Commons debate calling for an Inquiry into her death.

Pro active and eager to inform himself, Justice Jackson was a participant at the Slovak Embassy’s Round Table discussion on child protection in 2015, alongside former President Of The Family Division James Munby. The discussion was held during the height of a child protection scandal involving UK based children from Slovakia.

Jackson’s interests don’t just span child rights and access to justice, he is a keen advocate of transparency too. In 2011 he was responsible for a landmark ruling in The Court Of Protection, where he granted the media permission to name all the parties in the case. It was the first time that a judge in The Court Of Protection allowed this kind of identification to take place.

A pioneer, Jackson clearly has several firsts under his belt. Whilst we think he can do more – and we make no comment about his line of reasoning in the recent letter to Sam, or the effectiveness of the emojis sprinkled inside last year’s judgment – these actions represent developments which judges in the Family Court should acknowledge, and try to better.

An interesting judge trying to reach our children, and listen to their innermost voices.

Jackson J

 

 

 

Charlie Gard Passes Away

Charlie has today passed away. He was taken to a hospice to spend his final moments with his parents. Chris and Connie had wanted to bring Charlie home but were not given the chance to do so.

We are profoundly saddened by Charlie’s death, and offer our sincerest condolences to Charlie’s parents and all those who did not know Charlie personally, but loved him unconditionally nonetheless.

An incredibly difficult case, in which medical professionals clashed not just with each other, but with the parents on whether treatment would help or offer Charlie a better quality of life. A legal battle lasting 5 months came to an end this week when a judge ruled that Charlie could not go to America for pioneering treatment and would have to have his life support withdrawn.

All that is left are the most important aspects of this terrible story: two dedicated, loving parents who have lost a child. We hope journalists, professionals and the public will be deeply respectful of these, during what is an incredibly difficult time for the family.

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In The News

The latest child welfare items that should be right on your radar:

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Children Stolen From Parents To Populate Colonies With “Good, White British Stock.”

The nation’s Independent Inquiry Into Child Sexual Abuse has heard how British children were sent to Australia to face lives of physical and sexual exploitation at the request of the British government, in order to populate colonial territories with “good, white British stock.”

In order to ensure that enough children were sent across, British authorities would lie to the children, telling them their parents were dead.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt gave a statement to the Inquiry this week, in which he apologised on behalf of the government for the policy which spanned several decades, saying it was “fundamentally flawed”. The policy led to the sexual abuse of thousands of children.

Hunt acknowledged that the abuse was not unknown to British authorities, and said the government would consider the recommendations made by the Inquiry, which are due to be published at the end of this year.

Yesterday saw the last of the public hearings looking at child migrants within the Inquiry’s Child Migration Programmes case study, part of its Protection of Children Outside the UK investigation.

Some links relating to the investigation:

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Photo courtesy of Merseyside Maritime Museum.

 

 

Cardinal Pell Will Plead Not Guilty To Child Sex Abuse Charges

Cardinal George Pell, who is the third highest ranking official in the Catholic Church, is to plead not guilty to a string of non recent child sexual offences. 

Pell is also the most senior Catholic church official to be charged with sex offences to date.

The first hearing took place in Melbourne, and although not required to enter a plea prior to the case being committed to trial, chose to make the not guilty plea at the hearing due to media and public interest.

As we reported last month, Pell has already been heavily criticised for perceived failures in investigating non recent child sexual abuse allegations when he was found to have let victims down by the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

His conduct during a trial for a survivor of child sexual abuse also casts a shadow over his fitness to practice as a member of the clergy. The Commission found that Pell did not act ‘in a Christian manner’ during a court battle against a survivor who said he had been abused as a teenager by a priest from 1974 and 1979. Pell had bullied and intimidated the survivor, and used the threat of court costs repeatedly to try and force the survivor to withdraw his case.

Speaking about his own trial in June, Pell said he is “looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously.”

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BREAKING: Charlie Gard’s Parents End Legal Battle

A lawyer for Charlie’s parents, Connie Yates and Chris Gard, has told the High Court that “Time has run out” for their 11 month old son.

Lawyers for the parents withdrew the family’s application to travel to America for pioneering treatment after Dr Michio Hirano, the neurologist who developed the therapy, said he was no longer willing to offer Charlie the experimental treatment after reviewing results of a new MRI scan last week.

The parents will now use the funds raised for their campaign to create a foundation so that Charlie’s voice “continues to be heard.”

Our deepest condolences and heartfelt sympathies go out to Charlie’s family and to all those who felt connected to Charlie. It is a terrible loss for all of us. We wish Connie and Chris much strength, hope and courage. We all stand with you.

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the latest developments as they happen, here. 

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Question it!

Welcome to another week.

In an unusual article, a Christian publication has accused a local authority of intimidating tactics aimed at parents who refuse to agree to care plans and adoption orders.

The piece begins by detailing a case in which the council in question is now trying to send a mother to prison for speaking out about losing her children to care, even though the children are now adults and the care proceedings are over.

The story goes on to talk about a father who is currently trying to get his son back from care after complaining that the council’s actions have emotionally harmed his son.

Medway Council has repeatedly threatened the father with jail for naming child protection professionals on social media and publicly talking about his son on the internet. The judge in the case has previously stated that the only reason he has not imprisoned the father is to avoid him ‘becoming a martyr’. We’re not sure how sound that logic is, but there you are.

Interesting information is also offered in relation to a psychologist who worked on the mother’s case on behalf of the council. Her children were home schooled. Medway council argued that the mother had harmed her children by removing them from a conventional education: one child had special needs and the other was confirmed to be of above average intelligence.

Mr Graham Flatman told the court that the mother, ‘had provided (‘D’) only with a limited and possibly distorted social experience’ and had ‘missed the opportunities offered by school for extended social contacts, extra curricular activities and the benefit of experiencing how a society of children and adults can function’.

This judgment may highlight councils’ prejudices about home schooling generally which could be being bolstered or may originate from professional expert opinions, which vary considerably on the issue.  A proposed Bill in the House of Lords aiming to regulate home schooling further, could aggravate any bias that already exists.

Our question this week, then, is just this: do you think bias within child protection practice exists and if so, why?

Many thanks to the father in this piece for sharing the story with us.

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Baroness Hale Becomes Britain’s Most Senior Judge.

Baroness Hale of Richmond has become the first female President of the Supreme Court. The announcement was made today, along with other appointments which include 3 Supreme Court Justices and 7 new Justices of Appeal.

She follows Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers (1 October 2009 – 30 September 2012) and Lord Neuberger of Abbotsbury (1 October 2012 – present), the outgoing President who she will be replacing.

Lady Hale is perhaps best known for her work as a family law specialist, ushering in the Children Act 1989 which was a pioneering piece of legislation putting children at the heart of court proceedings involving them, and is passionate about feminism, equality and human rights. In 2013, she was appointed Deputy President of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom.

Members of the public, journalists, lawyers and campaigners took to Twitter to share their delight at the news and congratulate the Baroness.

Hale Legal Cheek

Hale Falconer

Hale Powell

Hale Skillen

Lady Hale is one of the most popular judges in Britain, well known and much loved for her compassionate family law judgments, insightful reasoning and highly sophisticated interpretations of the law. She also happens to be Researching Reform’s favourite judge of the twenty first century.

Many congratulations, Baroness Hale.

 

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?

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