Question It!

Welcome to another week.

A male paedophile pretending to be a single mother in an online chat forum has been jailed for five and a half years after being caught trying to encourage parents to abuse their children.

Samraj Kundi told forum members he was a single mother from Liverpool who was “into action, not fantasy”, The Independent reported on Sunday.

Kundi pleaded guilty to 12 charges of intentionally arranging or facilitating the commission of child sex offences and two counts of breach of a Sexual Harm Prevention Order.

This was not his first series of offences. Mr Kundi had served a two-year prison sentence for distributing indecent images. Once freed, he began committing new offences within three months.

Mr Kundi’s barrister tried to mitigate his sentence by explaining that he had committed the crimes at a time when he was suffering with “low mood and anxiety”. It is not clear from initial reports whether the judge took these factors into account when deciding Mr Kundi’s sentence.

Kundi will spend at minimum of three years and eight months in prison with the possibility that he might serve out the whole of his sentence. Once released, he will then be on an extended six-year licence period.

Our question this week then, is just this: do you agree with the sentence Mr Kundi was given?

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Expert Witness Scheme To Be Rolled Out Across Family Courts

A new certification scheme for expert witnesses inside British civil courts launched by the Expert Witness Institute (EWI) this month will be extended to include family courts, Simon Berney-Edwards, EWI’s Executive Manager told Researching Reform today.

The scheme, which took about 5 years to develop, has been produced with the Judicial Institute at University College London and aims to create a gold standard for expert witnesses inside the court system.

Simon Berney-Edwards said he was excited about the scheme’s launch.

“The scheme is the first of its kind. We won’t just be testing for competency,  the accreditation process will also look at how expert witnesses deliver in court settings.”

The need for more robust processes to vet expert witnesses came to a head last week after the media reported on a Crown Prosecution Service Trial which collapsed after the expert witness in the case was found not to have any qualifications.

Concerns over expert witnesses inside the family courts were raised by researchers and the media as early as 2012, when it was shown that more than 20% of psychologists acting as expert witnesses inside the family courts did not have the necessary qualifications.

Further concerns were raised when a loophole was discovered in 2016, allowing inappropriate professionals to act as expert witnesses while being able to avoid prosecution for negligent advice.

The scheme will initially cover just the civil courts in England and Wales. However, Simon Berney-Edwards told Researching Reform that the EWI planned to extend the accreditation process to family courts and criminal courts.

Two pilot tests were carried out at UCL’s Judicial Institute before the scheme was launched, both carried out by fellows at EWI.

Simon Berney-Edwards explained the certification process to Researching Reform.

The process is made up of three rounds which require potential expert witnesses to submit in-depth information about their qualifications and experience. If the initial submission is accepted, applicants then have to undergo a compliance test. Successful candidates are then placed on a wait list and assessed in a mock court setting.

The first round invites applicants to submit their CV; demonstrate their experience; show proof of membership to a professional body so that the EWI can assess the applicant’s good standing; provide two to three references from instructing parties such as barristers or solicitors; submit proof that they have indemnity insurance; and send in an anonymised report they’ve used in proceedings within the last three years.

The second round requires successful applicants in round one to complete an online survey. Civil court applicants will have to take a compliance test which has been produced in line with CPR 35, the civil courts’ procedure rules on experts and assessors.

Simon told Researching Reform that the second round would be modified to ensure that the compliance test met with family court requirements once the extended accreditation process for the family justice system was developed.

Applicants who make it through to the third and last round will face a series of robust examinations. Finalists will be placed on a wait list and paired with one or two experts with similar experience. Experts who have been paired with the applicant will review the application and write up a report on their findings.

Simon Berney-Edwards explained that the purpose of having two experts was so that one expert looked at the submission through the lens of the claimant and another expert viewed the submission as the respondent when assessing the applicant’s report submitted in the first round.

The experts will then meet to discuss the application and their report on the applicant’s submission. The meeting itself will be viewed in process by third parties. Applicants will then take part in a mock trial which will be held at UCL’s Judicial Institute to see the applicant in practice.

“This final round is the meat of the process, this is what we consider to be the most robust aspect of the accreditation scheme,” Berney-Edwards explained.

The scheme is a hugely important one and we are very excited that it will be rolled out to the family courts in the future. Many thanks to Simon for allowing us to speak with him about the scheme.

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Poll: 86% Want An Inquiry Into Adoption Practices in England and Wales

A Twitter survey carried out by this site found that 86% of those polled wanted to see the government launch an inquiry into adoption practices, including forced adoption, in England and Wales.

A total of 187 people took part in the poll which ran on Twitter last week.

The debate over the government’s current adoption policies came to a head this month after the Ministry of Justice announced on 21st May that it would investigate the way family courts process cases involving allegations of domestic abuse.

Calls to launch an inquiry into forced and illegal adoptions in Ireland were made by several MPs on 15th May. The MPs also want to see a separate inquiry into adoption practices inside the country.

Concerns about adoption in England and Wales stem from the implementation of forced, or non consensual adoption. A growing number of social workers, researchers and politicians are now saying that the policy is harming children’s wellbeing and development and re-traumatising parents.

If forced adoption has affected you, please share your experience below. We will make sure that your comment is anonymous and does not breach reporting restrictions.

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Police Remove Family From Flight After Child Abuse Allegations

A British family has been escorted off a plane after holidaymakers made allegations that the family’s children were being abused, reports Birmingham Live.

The family, who live in Liverpool, had been on holiday in Turkey when guests and staff at the hotel the family were staying at started to raise concerns.

Reports of  the father striking one of the children around the back of the head and dunking another child in the holiday pool by their feet were passed on to officials. It is not clear whether any other allegations were made.

The reports led to Thomas Cook, the family’s holiday provider, cutting their holiday short and moving the parents and their children to another hotel until they could be placed on the next available flight.

The travel agent also booked two separate rooms so that the father could stay in accommodation separate from the mother and their children, and placed agency staff on the same floor of the hotel as a safeguarding measure.

Landing in Manchester airport, a police team along with social services, escorted the family from the plane.

Responding to the incident, a spokeswoman for Thomas Cook said: “We have a duty of care to all of our customers, and have clear policies in place, including a child protection policy, which we will not hesitate to act upon to ensure the wellbeing of our customers and colleagues.”

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In The News

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

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Government Announces Review Into Family Courts – But It’s Not Enough.

The government has announced that it will launch a mini review into cases involving domestic abuse. The inquiry falls short of a full-scale review and misses key areas vital to understanding the family courts’ failings in this area.

In a press release issued today, the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has said that it will review child protection practices inside the family courts with a panel of experts and the collection of evidence from the public in an open consultation.

The panel for the review will be chaired by the MOJ and will include senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities. The panel will not include members of the public who have been affected by the court process.

The experts, who have not yet been named, will have just three months to report back on their findings.

The short time-scale is not the review’s only problematic feature. The investigation will focus on a narrow set of issues, which cannot be understood as standalone elements inside the system.

The current scope of the mini review includes:

  • Looking at Practice Direction 12J – optional guidance which relates to child arrangement cases where domestic abuse is alleged
  • Investigating how the courts use ‘barring orders’ which block further applications being made without the court’s permission under the Children Act 1989
  • Collecting evidence of the impact on children and victims where child contact is sought by someone alleged to have, or who has, committed domestic abuse or other relevant offences

One of the most important areas the review has failed to include in its remit is how allegations affect orders being made in child protection cases where one party alleges abuse.

New research published las month showed that judges were more likely to award child contact to a parent after they made an allegation of parental alienation in cases where the other parent brought up an allegation of child abuse.

While parents can and do exploit their children during divorce and child welfare proceedings, the research makes another important point – that ill-informed trends in child protection and a limited understanding of domestic abuse obscures solutions which are in the best interests of children.

And many of the problems associated with cases involving abuse run right through the system, which means a piecemeal approach is never going to be satisfactory.

Further reading:

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Question It!

Welcome to another week.

Politicians in Ireland are calling on their government to launch an inquiry into adoption practices, including forced adoptions and illegal adoptions.

The move comes after several adoption agencies in Ireland were found to have carried out illegal birth registrations and adoptions.

Families in Britain are also reporting incidents of illegal registrations and adoptions, while other families say they are being exposed to inhumane treatment inside the family courts during child welfare proceedings.

That treatment, families say, includes bullying, blackmail and threats from child welfare professionals and judges to comply with social work reports and court orders, which some parents say are not in the best interests of their children.

An inquiry into adoption was carried out by the British Association of Social Work last year, however it focused on the role of social workers within the adoption process and did not investigate whether policies such as forced adoption and current social work practices and culture were genuinely working for the best interests of children inside the system.

Our question this week then, is this: should there be a government inquiry into adoption practices inside England and Wales? 

If you are on Twitter, please take our poll on whether an inquiry should be launched. 

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Politicians Call For State Inquiry Into Forced and Illegal Adoptions

Several high profile MPs in Ireland have called on the Irish government to launch an inquiry into forced adoption practices and illegal adoptions in the country.

A motion submitted by Clare Daly to the Lower House of the Irish Parliament was supported by Mick Wallace, Joan Collins, Catherine Connolly, Maureen O’Sullivan, Thomas Pringle and Thomas Broughan, reports the Irish Examiner.

Daly also told Parliament that a separate inquiry into adoption practices was essential.

Children’s minister Katherine Zappone carried out a scoping exercise in January on illegal births after illegal registrations were exposed at an adoption agency in Ireland. The scale of the problem is believed to be much larger than previously thought.

The review’s report has not yet been published. Daly remarked during the session in Parliament that “the review itself is limited to looking for evidence of illegal registrations and not illegal adoptions. The issues around this are much broader than illegal registration, and they are not presently being examined.”

Families in England are also making the same allegations in relation to local authorities  registering births and adoptions illegally, with documented cases seen by this site as recently as last year.

A growing number of birth parents who have lost children to the care system are calling out adoption agencies who fail to record their child’s details properly on adoption certificates, and in some instances never going through with the adoption at all.

Child rights campaigner Michele Simmons, who made a Freedom of Information request in 2017, on the issue, told this site that she was concerned that the errors were deliberate omissions made with a view to making children taken into state care untraceable.

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Children’s Right To Speak To Judges In Family Cases Shelved Because Of Cost – Former Family Court President

Former President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has said that plans to allow children the right to speak to judges overseeing family cases that involved them had been shelved because “in plain English, it would all cost too much”.

Munby went on to say that “detailed proposals” to implement that right had been drawn up, “but nothing can come into effect without the approval of the minister”.

The revelation comes after this site made a Freedom of Information request asking the government about its promise to give children the right to discuss their wishes and feelings with judges working on child welfare cases.

The request was part of a Researching Reform campaign to establish a legal right for children to have access to their judges in family cases and crucially, to be able to ask any question they wished, as well as share their feelings on the case.

In response to our campaign Sir James Munby who was then President of the Family Division reminded the government that children who wanted to discuss their wishes and feelings with judges should be able to do so.

The Researching Reform campaign to implement children’s right to speak to judges was then picked up by the BBC who interviewed us on the background to the government’s pledge and the reasons behind the failure to implement the right.

Munby made the comments about children’s voices inside the family courts to the BBC this week.

Further Reading:

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