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
- ‘Monstering’ of a young mother who failed to protect her baby from her violent, abusive partner and shocked viewers with the level of her denial in a Channel 5 documentary following her to trial. Channel 5 launched a new documentary series The Accusedwith ‘Mother or Monster?’ featuring young mother (Kenzey). Kenzey is in sustained denial about her partners violent assault that left her 7 week old baby daughter with catastrophic, life changing injuries; and her own role in delaying emergency medical treatment to cover up for him. By trial, despite damning evidence she is still defending Kyle, denying domestic violence and full of righteous indignation about the social workers and family court who also removed her second baby, born in the lead up to trial.
The programme was praised by the Telegraph while the Daily Mail took the opportunity to headline with She’s a pure evil psychopath on the basis of viewer comments, though the documentary makes no reference to a psychiatric diagnosis.
Advertised by Channel 5 as if it might turn out to be a story of a parent victim of a false accusation of child abuse, the Channel 5 comments section quickly filled with parents saying they too had been victims of the ‘secret family courts’ and ‘lying social workers’, before the programme aired. There don’t seem to be any comments on the Channel 5 page after it aired at 9pm on 6 February but the comments in response to the Daily Mail report on it the next day were filled with outraged vitriol at such (variously) ‘monster’, ‘evil’, ‘psychopath’ or ‘sociopath’ parents.
No analysis of what went so wrong or how such tragedies might be prevented in future was to be found in any report. The published Serious Case Review may have held some clues but we couldn’t locate it at the NSPCC site. (The family were apparently known to Social Services who had made an assessment of the risks to this baby some time before the catastrophic assault after Kyle had already assaulted Kenzey while holding the baby)
The Radio Times, who previewed the piece, interestingly touched on the question of whether the programme may have exploited young Kenzeys wish to tell viewers how hard and unfair being accused had been for her. It is plain to viewers from early on, that she is far more likely to be convicted than not, and that Channel 5 are telling a gripping story, not about a wrongly accused victim (as Kenzey intended), but about a young woman’s shocking delusion and abhorrent failure to take responsibility for her choices. It is hard not to speculate that she is likely to require special protection in prison since the programme aired.
- In the meantime the Mirror report that ‘Daniel Pelka’s evil stepdad refused to go to hospital for fear of being recognised’ before dying in his prison cell over night.That report is here.
- The Times reported Trolls target woman after divorce payout: They cite Mrs Mills saying she blamed media coverage of her recent Court of Appeal hearing in London for triggering the volume of hate mail, that the media reports were one-sided and the tone and content of articles had caused her considerable distress. The Times report goes on to explain the context of current legal discussions about how much the public should be told about people involved in big-money divorce fights in the family courtsand differences of opinion between leading High Court Judges.
Press reports we saw on the controversial Court of Appeal decision included:
- The Daily Telegraphon 6th February with Court orders man to increase payments to wife who lost bulk of divorce settlement with poor financial decisions.
- The Times on 7thFebruary with More cash for ex-wife who spent £230K.
- The Daily Mail on 8thFebruary with I’m paying for HER mistakes: Husband who was ordered to support his ex-wife for life 15 years AFTER they divorced calls for a time limit on maintenance after she blew her £230,000 payout on bad investment
- The Evening Standard on the 8thFebruary with Businessman’s fury as judge orders him to support his ex-wife for life after she blew £230k payout on homes : We await the published judgment before commenting on that, but expect to publish a blog post on the coverage shortly. In the meantime Marilyn Stowe and Baroness Deech, cross-bench peer, discussed the the case, life long spousal maintenance agreements and the state of the law generally as to financial settlements on divorce, in Women’s Hour on Radio 4 here.
- The Telegraph headlined today with the (misleading) Mother who let her two boys sleep in her bed has them taken away by Judge. Technically correct, it nevertheless misleads viewers into thinking this was a main or sole reason, feeding a narrative about heavy handed courts and social workers removing children unnecessarily. What is then explained is down-played. Bruises, a fractured wrist and dismissing advice on feeding and sleeping say the Telegraph.
The judgment makes clear this was a second set of care proceedings, issued just after the first (significant, unexplained bruising to the oldest when 4 months old) ended with the child returning home under a supervision order and intensive package of support on the basis injuries were probably unintentionally caused by rough handling by the father. Within a few weeks the new born sibling was the subject of such concern by the hospital that they didn’t discharge him for 2 weeks because the mother refused advise on co sleeping and feeding and he was losing weight. By 4 months he had 3 unexplained injuries the court later found to be probably inflicted by careless, rough handling by the mother. They included an untreated fractured wrist from yanking or twisting and a large, straight leg bruise from forceful contact with a long hard object that was still showing as a mark even by final hearing. The parents denied injuring the child, had late and inconsistent explanations and consistently dismissed concerns and professional advice, which was key in this particular context.
- The Guardian reported the Times’ response to the Injunction prohibiting publication of the affairs from hacked emails of (it turned out) David Beckham. Numerous reports appeared in the Daily Mail and Telegraph of Beckham’s tax affairs, charity work and personal responses to disappointments etc but the Guardian report is interesting on the process of the making of the High Court injunction, later rendered worthless after the information and name were published widely in Europe; the Times report that they had been ‘gagged’; and the subsequent publication in the UK too.
Media reports notable for transparency this week
- BBC News (exceptionally) linked their readers directly to the court judgment they were reporting on. The context here was civil employment rights but we hope it catches on with reporters of family court judgments at BBC News and other outlets.
And in case you missed this…
- Open letter to the Professional Standards Agency. The Transparency Project sent (and then published) an open letter to the PSA. It asks about their role in reviewing and ensuring transparency of decision making in relation to the Health and Social Care Professions Council (HCPC) decision on the social worker(s) apparently found fit to practice despite judicial findings of their serious misconduct. We will publish any response received.
Newly Published Cases for Explanation or Comment
- The widely reported Supreme Court decision to uphold the pension rights of an unmarried cohabitant after her fiancé died. This was the judicial review of Denise Brewster(Northern Ireland) on appeal. The Judicial Review Press Release is here. Blog to follow shortly.
- Fathers 4 [open] Justice: Thanks to a case comment on the UK Human Rights blog, we have been alerted to a recent decision, which, while not about family law, is certainly about transparency. The fact that O’Connor v Aldershot Magistrates Court  EWHC 2792 (Admin)involved the founder of the well-known family law campaigning group Fathers4Justice adds interest, though not relevance, to the case.
The claimant, O’Connor, sought judicial review of a decision by court staff at Aldershot Magistrates Court (who feared the proceedings might be disrupted) to exclude a number of his supporters from the courtroom on 20 February 2015, during his trial for a public order offence. Interestingly, the Queen’s Bench Divisional Court (Fulford LJ and Leggatt J) permitted a McKenzie Friend, Dr Michael Pelling, to make representations on his behalf. Having cited Scott v Scott  AC 417 and other cases on the topic, the court in its judgment emphasised the importance of the principle of open justice (that justice should be seen to be done) and ruled that, by failing to consult the judiciary before excluding members of the public from the courtroom during the trial, the magistrates court staff had acted unlawfully, and in consequence no valid proceedings had taken place.
And in case you missed this….
- Mrs Norman – The Wife who lost her ‘cloak of anonymity: Blog on the Court of Appeal decision in Norman v Norman.
In Other Transparency News
- Press Regulation
- The Press Gazette reported Fresh Lords amendment keeps up pressure on Government to enact Section 40 costs provisions.
- The February edition of Informed (which describes itself as news from the national executive of the National Union of Journalism) set out The Union’s nuanced position on UK media reform explained
- Sir James Munby will step down as President of the Family Division in 18 months. According to the Law Gazette here; and the Times (say the Gazette) though we haven’t yet found the apparent Times report.
- Open justice and the impact of a demise in local journalism. Discussed at the Law Society Gazette here;and Hold the Front Page in Courts working in secret due to local press demise says law magazine. See also local news matters week campaign at the National Union of Journalists here.The context was the launch by the Centre for Criminal Appeals of the Open Justice Charter. Though the context is criminal cases, issues such as a demise of local reporting, difficulties in obtaining transcripts and lack of accessible listing have obvious resonance for family cases too. The Law Society Gazette report the launch and draw links on the topic of open justice to the recent High Court decision to grant anonymity in a divorce case covered by the Transparency Project here.
- The Government published its responseto the consultation paper Transforming our Justice System: It summarised responses and set out how the Government intends to proceed, stating that:
In relation to transparency, we are currently developing a solution which will ensure that the principle of open justice is maintained as we move to digital channels. We will ensure that all interested parties, including victims, witnesses, the public and the press, will have access to case listings and outcomes where appropriate.
- Reporting the family courts: are we doing it justice? The Transparency Project launched a multi-disciplinary event A collaborative discussion between those working in and reporting on the family justice system.
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.