Transparency Project: Family Court Reporting Watch – Weekly Round-Up No. 21

9 04 2017

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

  • Reports of continuing calls for law reform on ‘no-fault’ divorce as the court of appeal refused initial permission to appeal to the Supreme Court to Tini Owens

The Times with outdated divorce system encourages conflict, reporting the initial findings of a research team based at Exeter University, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and making the case for law reform.

The Brief (The Times) with Family lawyers ramp up pressure for no-fault divorce citing Resolutions statement to the government on Friday.

The I-Paper with We need to change divorce law to stop people from being trapped in ‘loveless’ marriages

  • The Daily Telegraph with Child was taken away by social services because grandparents locked her in her bedroom to stop her wandering around at night

We note because slips quickly to after in the body of the report, which is also caveated with the couple say.  We think it highly unlikely that the child was removed solely because of being locked in her room twice, for what were claimed to be child-centred reasons. We do agree that a published family court judgment from which those not party to the proceedings could make informed comment rather than speculate would be useful. And that the system by which families can consistently obtain timely written reasons would benefit from improvement.

We also question the leap from the grandparents saying they had not [yet?] received a copy of either a written judgment or written reasons to the claim that they therefore simply don’t know why the decision was made and John Hemming’s remark that If the judge doesn’t have a proper explanation as to why they’re taking the child into care, then they shouldn’t be taking the child into care. The implication that either this judge randomly took the child into care without having (or giving) reasons, and the implication that families routinely have children removed from their care without explanation, which we know not to be the case, seem unreliable to the point of absurd. It may be that the grandparents were not in court when judgment was given orally (they may not have even been parties to the proceedings); or that they didn’t accept, understand or remember the reasons given in an oral judgment.  It may or may not also be the case that the reasons were inadequate to warrant immediate removal but we simply don’t know that without seeing a judgment / outcome of any application for permission to appeal.

We have tried to obtain some further information directly from Mr Hemming. See this twitter thread:

  • Reports of baby Charlie’s parents reaching their fundraising target for the pioneering treatment in the US they are asking the High Court to permit in a hearing that began on Monday

The Daily Mail with We’re stunned, shocked and thrilled’: Parents thank strangers and celebrities who raised £1.2m to send their sick baby to the US for pioneering treatment as doctors urge High Court to let him die peacefully

A Press Association piece: Couple start legal bid over baby son’s £1.2m medical treatment

We wrote briefly about this case here: High Court to decide the future of very ill baby and aim to update once the case decision is available.

  • Misreporting of the sentencing remarks of a criminal judge and the sentencing review process.  We mention this briefly, despite the criminal context, because of parallels with family court reporting in local news matters week.

Initial inaccurate reports were repeated and embellished long after Secret Barristers correction (below) emerged, even by well-regarded publishers and broadcasters.

The episode highlights the vital public need for journalists in local criminal and family courts with sufficient independence, rigour  and specialist legal knowledge. It’s probably also worth noting the value of (even relatively small numbers of) judgments being published now from family court decisions.

  • There’s an interesting twitter thread on journalism, public education and the Transparency Project here:

  • The Guardian reported early signs of a positive shift in media responses to social work

Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of BASW, says the following in response to the statistic from the Guardian social lives survey that 92% of social workers felt undervalued by the media: 

Negative public image is a really important nut to crack because it’s quite corrosive on social workers’ confidence. I think it helps explain why longer-standing social workers are much more jaded…There is a shift with the media, it feels like the journalists who call us are less likely to ask questions that vilify social workers. But I think there has been such a long history of it that social workers can’t see enough change yet.

  • Joshua Rozenberg interviewed Lord Justice McFarlane on adoption for BBC Radio 4 Law in Action (following the recent inaugural Bridget Lindley memorial lecture)

Lord Justice McFarlane asked whether the family justice system is turning to adoption too readily for some slightly older children such as those aged 4,5,6 and 7 years old. He suggested that new research is now needed to continue to say that the total severance of adoption (from birth family and identity of origin) is still right and necessary for such children, given the changed landscape of adoption in recent years.

See also this new DfE publication this week:

Media reports we found notably balanced, accurate or otherwise helpful to transparency this week

  • The Sun reported the sentencing of baby Rifat’s parents in relation to his death. In spite of an unhelpful ‘evil parents’ headline, the piece goes on to include thoughtful police comments about how, if at all, such tragic deaths could be avoided and signpost struggling parents or members of the public aware of a vulnerable child to the NSPCC helpline.

And in case you missed these:

Newly Published Cases for Explanation or Comment

This is the published judgment of HHJ Scarratt’s decision to make a Special Guardianship Order in conclusion of care proceedings in the family court. It’s  interesting because it’s unusual at this level (even where publication occurs) to see transparency of decision making about judgment publication or naming decisions.

The parents sought publication to expose perceived social work and agency decision making failures. HHJ Scarratt upheld some of their concerns and took the view that publication without naming of social workers was required:
The social worker’s conduct (as dealt with in the substantive judgment) can be dealt with by an internal enquiry which should be commenced immediately and the findings and actions relayed in writing to both parents and, indeed, all parties in this case; publishing her name in a judgment will not assist anyone; I do not find sufficient compelling reasons why employees of the authority should be named (and shamed). (Para 94)
 See also twitter query about the proper limits of judicial involvement in seeking other routes for professional accountability, where not naming professionals in published judgments:

We also noted that HHJ Scarratt allowed the father to rely on his covert recording of a meeting with the social worker to show that the social work account of a meeting with him was innaccurate.

In other Transparency News

  • Local news matters:

The Press Gazette with: NUJ calls for public inquiry into ‘local media crisis’ with launch of Local News Matters campaign

  • The Press Gazette also reported the Telegraphs decision to out-source sub-editing to the Press Association.  We wonder what (if anything) will this mean for the quality of family court reporting at the Telegraph including linking to judgments and use of headlines.  You may recall that the Press Association recently confirmed their intention to the Transparency Project to provide links in their news pieces to published judgments, (though pointed out that they couldn’t control the subsequent editing decisions at individual papers).
  • Keehan J gave a keynote speech on publicity in financial cases at the Resolution Annual Conference:  We are hoping this might be published eventually at the judiciary or resolution sites and will provide the link to any accessible published version if we see it.
  •  Tickets for the 3rd multi-disciplinary Child Protection 2017, supported by the Transparency Project are now on sale at Eventbrite

Litigants in person, Mckenzie Friends, ‘pro-bono’ and alternate business structures:

IPSO

  • Offered a narrow contractual justification for how they choose to deal with third party complaints in response to dissatisfaction about their ‘legsit’ response
  • And confirmed that the deadline for those contracted with them to send in their annual reports has now passed. (These are not published so far as we can see)

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.


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9 04 2017
daveyone1

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