The purpose of this update is to correct, clarify and comment on media reports of family court cases, to explain and comment on published Judgments of family cases and to highlight other transparency news.
Media Reports of Family Courts Case and Family Justice Issues
- The Daily Mail report Dr Squiers’ continuing concerns about the evidence to support ‘shaken baby syndrome’ in light of new research published in Sweden that also questions the evidence: “The Shaken Baby Martyr: Top brain doctor who was struck off for controversial claims speaks out on how jailed parents could be innocent”. It’s a detailed piece that reports Dr Squiers continuing call for a public enquiry into the evidence about ‘shaken baby syndrome’ and reliance on it within criminal and family courts; and her continuing concern that significant numbers of parents may have been falsely accused. It’s difficult to comment without a full investigation and a copy of the Swedish study in English. The New Scientist, who do seem to have seen the controversial Swedish study that questions the evidence about ‘shaken baby syndrome’, have reported, however, and said (on 9 November 2016) that the report was being translated to English. We also note the following site though know little of its provenance. The Transparency Project are working towards hosting an event on use of experts and understanding of medical evidence in non accidental injury cases in the family court for 2017.
- The French documentary about the UK child protection system: We continue to monitor (with interest and some concern), the responses of the media and the parent communities online, to the documentary that aired in France about the UK child protection system. Our initial response to some of the inaccuracies and its impact on parents is here. Christopher Booker has written a subsequent piece at the Telegraph. We’d like to comment further including about how those interviewed were selected and the apparent lack of independent research or fact checking but our efforts to obtain a reliable English translation have so far proved unsuccessful. We emailed the producer directly over a week ago, with a link to our post and a request to know if/when an English language version might be available. To our surprise we have had no reply.
- Why the Court of Appeal released a grandmother imprisoned for disobeying orders of the court of protection: Our full blog responding to the Telegraph articles about Theresa Kirk, now the court of appeal judgment has been published is here.
- Live tweeting from the court of protection and other transparency issues: We mentioned in last weeks round up that we would be blogging on the case of Paul Briggs in the court of protection. Our full blog is here.
- The BBC Online report about separating parents from the Hasidic Jewish community. BBC Online published a report of two child arrangement order disputes, citing difficulties mothers have had in leaving the Hasidic Jewish community without losing primary care of their children. The report is unusual in its length and illustrated style and seems to be based on anonymous first hand accounts of what is likely to be a controversial and challenging topic for the Hasidic Jewish community.
Media reports of family court cases that seemed particularly accurate, helpful or beyond common stereotypes of the family courts this week
- See also our blog ‘Balancing carrots and sticks’ about our developing approach to relationships with media outlets and journalists in pursuit of the goal of better reporting of family courts issues and cases.
- AOL News UK reported V (A Child) (Rev 1)  EWFC 58 (01 December 2016) on the basis that this was a second published judgment where councils and staff were not named despite being criticized and held to account. (See Suspicious Minds for a summary of the case and professionals failures).
- They mentioned there was a judgment available on an (unnamed) legal website though stopped short of actually linking their readers to it or naming it so they could find it. They did however fully report the Judges reasons (risk of jigsaw identification of the child); explain ‘jigsaw identification’ to their readers; and resist inaccurate shortcuts about the ‘secret family courts’, headlining instead with the more balanced and accurate “Council criticised over handling of child abuse claims cannot be named”.
- J (A Minor) (the 7 year old moved to his father because of abuse by his mothers insistence he was gender dysphoric, where evidence showed otherwise) was the other example AOL News referred to. The Transparency Project explained Associated News Media’s unsuccessful attempt to appeal the decision in a previous Round Up here.
- In both of these cases Judges balanced the public interest with the rights and needs of the children concerned, finding in favour of publication without naming the council or professionals, even where criticised, so as to protect the child. In both cases they set out their reasons transparently and explicitly. We hope such explicit reasoning about transparency and publication will soon be a feature of all family court published judgments since it assists families, professionals and media/commentators alike.
- The BBC Online report about the re-hearing court decision not to move a 2 year old to her grandparents, from her potential adopters where she had been settled for most of her young life. Our full blog about Re W (Adoption: Contact) and the astute focus of the BBC Online report is here.
New Published Cases for Explanation or Comment
We explained the following recently published judgments in full blogs. See links in the above section about media reports on them:
- The Court of Appeal releasing Theresa Kirk from prison;
- The re hearing of whether a 2 year old should be removed from adopters to grandparents above after the initial decision she should be was found wrong by the Court of Appeal.
In other Transparency News
- Do families know about the Settlement Conferences in care proceedings due to be imposed on them?
- There’s a useful report on concerns about settlement conferences at the Solicitors Journal here.
- The Transparency Project shares the concerns of some about a lack of transparency in the way settlement conferences seem set to be imposed on court users (above all families) within care proceedings.
- There has been no prior public consultation. The only “public” debate seems to have been the Family Justice Council Annual Debate on 1st December. This was a little publicised event with limited tickets available that families and their representative groups are unlikely to have even known about. The debate asked ‘Are Settlement Conferences a good thing: Is it a worthwhile initiative as a pilot?’ The final vote was resoundingly against settlement conferences for care proceedings while equally firmly in favour of their value for private law child arrangements etc cases. There will be a transcript and podcast published in due course but these are not yet available at the Family Justice site here
- “Press Regulation: What are we waiting for now” The Transparency Project examined post Leveson developments, including the government consultation on what should happen next and various media responses to it here. (See also the Daily Mail and Guardian reports that James Murdoch was personally involved in authorising deletion of emails about phone hacking here; and here), And an interesting You Gov opinion poll for Impress published at Inforrm website.
- Hope of imminent review of legal aid cuts legislation? The Law Society Gazette reported the justice secretary’s comments as giving rise to hope of an early review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPOA).
- The Children and Social Work Bill: The second reading in the House of Commons on 5 December is here. The amendments tabled by the government are here. Community Care have subsequently published 3 reports summarising developments as follows:
- ‘Childrens Minister: We Will Amend the Children and Social Work Bill’
- ‘Government to revive controversial ‘exemption clauses in social work bill’ and
- ‘Government to bar councils from opting out of child protection duties’, reporting Edward Timpson’s letter to stakeholders
- The Association of Directors of Children’s Services published research findings about the growing external pressures councils are operating under, with some proposals for change
- The ADCS “Safeguarding Pressures Research” is available via the ADCS press release accompanying the publication. Evidenced pressures cited include financial cuts, growing poverty and increases in parental mental health problems, substance misuse and domestic violence.
- The ADCS called for change including: “whole system and whole community change aimed at addressing the issues children and families face earlier, before they reach crisis point… there’s a growing sense that we are approaching a tipping point that, if reached, will impact generations of children. We owe it to the children, young people and families in our communities to address these issues before it’s too late.”
- See also the useful summary at Family Law here
- The Gazette report the Solicitors Regulation Authority consultation on transparency options for improving public access to legal services. The report is here and the consultation here
- Lucy Reed of the Transparency Project is due to speak on transparency at a family law conference in Manchester. Further information and the full programme for this conference, to be hosted by the Manchester Centre for Law in Society and the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre on 4th March 2017 is here.
- Anonymisation of Judgments: A response to Re J. Dr J Brophy, Principal Researcher for the Association of Lawyers for Children has published a reply in Family Law (Re J (A Minor)  EWHC 2595 (Fam),  FLR (forthcoming) – subscription only), to concerns expressed by Hayden J in Re J (A Minor) (paras 36 onwards) about misunderstandings of the status of her draft anonymisation guidance and other matters. She said the guidance does not present an argument for or against publishing judgments but offers guidance as to how to better protect the anonymity of children in judgments intended for the public arena; that it was prepared at the request of the President of the Family Division; and that it made clear that it was a draft awaiting the Presidents view and further consultation. She also suggested there were anecdotal indications that the reason for apparent low rates of publication of judgments (in part) was judicial concern about the privacy and safeguarding of vulnerable children.
Feature image courtesy of Flickr with thanks to Lauri Heikkinen
This post originally appeared on the Transparency Project blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.