Family Court Secrecy

Family courts are to be opened up to public scrutiny The Times announces today. The move is in response to mounting criticism from parents whose children are taken into care and complaints that they are victims of “secret justice”.

I wrote about the problem of secrecy in the Family Courts back in 2004 in the first edition of Your Right to Know. The situation has not improved since then despite government promises for reform and a consultation in 2006. The former Lord Chancellor, Charlie Falconer, made the cowardly decision to maintain the status quo which gave social workers and other so-called ‘experts’ a license to operate with almost total impunity.

The power to seize people’s children must surely be one of the most draconian state powers. Great power entails the greatest amount of accountability which can only come through openness. Yet that is precisely what’s been missing from the Family Courts. It is good to read that judges have finally begun to see the damaging costs of secrecy. But opposition is still strong from those organisations representing social workers. They claim secrecy is necessary to protect the privacy of the child, but more often it protects social workers from public scrutiny.

Judges already have the power to impose naming restrictions to protect children’s privacy so there is no need to close off an entire branch of the judicial system. Public confidence in the justice system can only be assured if the courts and the evidence used in those courts are open to the public.

Secrecy allows bad practice to carry on unchecked. It fuels mistrust in the judicial system. Stories abound of the courts removing children from their families on flimsy medical evidence or simply the opinion of a social worker who may have never even met the child.

I believe this current shift in opinion is mostly due to the writing of Camilla Cavendish who was able to put faces to the nameless victims of Family Court secrecy. It is often the case that while the costs of openness are exaggerated, if not blatantly made up, the costs of secrecy are discounted and ignored. Cavendish was able to show in terms of ruined families’ lives the cost of Family Court secrecy.

Social workers have been allowed to think they are above the law and their opinions not open to question. The reputation of the Family Courts depends on the ability of the public to see justice being done.

7 Responses to “Family Court Secrecy”

  1. Anon. says:

    My partner is a children’s guardian and I’ve heard the threatening calls left on our answer phone by parties to cases she has dealt with – I’m an ardent advocate of freedom of information, but in this instance I think there is good cause for an element of secrecy to protect those who are professionally responsible for protecting the welfare of children.

  2. Charlotte Peters Rock says:

    Social Services seems to have some great affinity with Traffic Wardens and Secret Police. Is that why they are called ‘SS’?

    They feel that they are unaccountable for their actions. I speak from personal experience, gained in Stockport. That Local Authority does not even seem to feel the need to comply with the law (Statutory Instrument 2006 No 1738) in respect of Children’s Social Services Formal Complaints. It has gleaned a DRAFT document from Bolton Social Services IT Department, which it has not bothered to complete. That means that it has worked on the wrong side of the law since 01 September 2006. Theactions of Stockport MBC employees show clearly that they do not regard any aspect of legality to be of any remote importance in Stockport.

    The Corporate Director of Children and Young People’s Directorate in Stockport is also the former Head of Social Services.

    Would Heather like to join us in our struggle to ‘Make Stockport Legal’? If we can manage that, there are numerous parents and disabled children who would benefit.

    The following letter was recently sent to teh Stockport Express. It was featured in this week’s paper:
    —– Original Message —–
    From: “Charlotte Peters Rock”
    To:
    Sent: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 10:41 AM
    Subject: Letter for the Editor.

    > Dear Editor,
    >
    > The Stockport Solution?
    >
    > With a Children’s Services Complaints Procedure which has not complied
    > with the Law since 01 September 2006, (Statutory Instrument 2006 No 1738)
    > Stockport MBC seems to have retreated to its own little island. Even the
    > currently used Draft Complaints document of Stockport MBC was gleaned from
    > Bolton Social Services Department – and not completed.
    >
    > In Stockport any parent/carer, who sets out along the punishing trail of
    > its ‘Complaints System’, seems automatically to be banned from all dealings
    > with any employees of Stockport MBC as a direct result of complaining about the
    > terrible service which the child has currently to endure.
    >
    > Such banning comes from the highest level of Stockport’s Children and
    > Young People’s Directorate.
    >
    > Are Stockport Council tax payers aware of this “Stockport Solution”?
    >
    > How many people are currently banned from the premises and from speaking
    > to Stockport MBC employees – which their Council Tax funds? For what reason
    > were they banned?
    >
    > Perhaps they would like to write in to the Stockport Express?
    >
    > I would also be interested in hearing from similarly ‘banned residents’.
    >
    > Charlotte Peters Rock
    >
    > PS contact 07050 183 417 [email protected]

  3. Margaret says:

    I would certainly like Family Courts to be more open. Someone in my family has had years of appalling treatment by the social services etc. The child in our family wasn’t ill treated but sadly the child suffered from what we have always said was ADHD and was from time to time very hard to handle. The schools couldn’t keep the child in order or anyone else………….so the social services when the family originally asked for some help in the matter had the child taken into care and has been in the care of the Hillingdon social services for numerous years although being eventually many years later returned to the child’s own home but still with the ss as legal guardian. What did they do to help………they gave this child plenty of money to spend and gave the child whatever it wanted. The mother was told if she gave any information to the family on the case she would not see her child again and bogus report was made about one set of grandparents, about 2 pages long and…………..no social worker had ever visited or had contact with these people but this was handed in to the Court. So a family had their gorgeous child removed from home because it was hard to handle………..but the ss couldn’t cope either. If this child damaged anything it was renewed by the ss. and so on. I think ALL social services departments in this country should be overhauled extensively to see what is going on.All the mother of this child had over the long years were threats, threats and threats and that person was never in anyway a person who had hurt their child but gave nothing but love.
    It’s not only children that are harmed by their family that are taken into care!

  4. Liz Robillard says:

    Hi. There are few of us are working hard to reveal injustices in secret family courts and wish to help children in care homes and so on. If you have any para-legals or journalists – please note we would like for you to attend the opening of the family courts as promised by Jack Straw. As you know, the current process is to ignore families in need (baby P comes to mind) and take children from families where there is no problem, to ensure lengthy protracted legal proceedings so as to fatten the pockets of the family lawyers. We’d like some support please.

  5. David eppel says:

    I know of 2 occasions when the judges were arrogant bigoted and completely flouted the child’s interests in favour of their own social engagements. Judges can be arrogant self serving and out of touch,and they seem to fail to judge a case on it merits which defeats the nature of the job.
    Complaints are not allowed and appeals fail because this is a closed shop for the old boys network.

  6. Charlotte Peters Rock says:

    One of the major difficulties that I can see in respect of secretive Family Courts is that those who go through those Courts, can – and sometimes are – be totally incompetent.

    That means that large amounts of money are paid to fatten the purses of solicitors, barristers, social workers and others, who in the cold public glare would not be paid for the rotten lack of support for the child.

    If I had my way, they would be charged with perverting the course of justice, if they did not totally
    a) understand their brief and
    b) follow that brief, to the benefit of the child.

    What I cannot understand is why, when Judges see what is happening, they do nothing about it.

    Surely, if a totally unprepared incompetent appears before them in proposed ‘defence of the welfare’ of a child, they would have the right to throw them out of their Court, and make a public report on their actions/lack of actions?

    If not, why not?

  7. kay holness says:

    When are we all going to sit up and smell the roses?

    What does it take before people get together and try to stop the injustices in this country?

    The family courts need to be opened to public scrutiny. Every hearing should be vetted by a government funded body to ensure that the best possible solution is met for the child. Conclusions of which are read by the whole world without giving out the names of the parties involved and if a parent believes that an injustice has occurred they should be able to publicly disclose it without the possibility of being arrested. Solicitors, ss, cafcass and counsel who are suppose to work in the better interests of the child should be seen to actually worked in the best interests of the child or else be named, shamed and lose their jobs.

    A lot of the time their conclusions especially if the parents have not been able to obtain legal representation, are drawn on nothing but spite and a child can be removed from their happy home all because of bias. What is alarming is that the child, no matter what age, really does not have a say.

    I’ve known of an incident where a 14 year old was taken away from his loving and caring mother, even though he had specifically stated that he wished to live with her up until he was 18 years old. They removed him from his home without notice. They then limited her contact to two hours of supervised contact a week though the child had lived with her all of his life. The reason why this happened was because the mother was frightened that everything she said in and outside of court was being twisted and so asked that everything be put in writing. The mother could not afford a solicitor and was representing herself. The barrister who was suppose to be working in the child’s interest told the judge that she had limited the mother’s contact to next to nothing because the mother had made her write.

    With such childish, unreasonable reasoning and recommendations which can only be seen as bizarre, irrational and perverse, should we really leave the controls of what happens to our children in the hands of these people. These people care nothing about the child and more about what they can make in terms of money without a care in the world of who they hurting?

    Something swiftly needs to be done to stop these injustices.

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