Hemming and Haigh: Freedom of Speech and Abuse of Privilege

26 08 2011

On Wednesday 24 August 2011 we posted about the judgment of the High Court in a contempt case against “investigator” Elizabeth Watson who had been working for Vicky Haigh, a woman identified in the House of Commons on 26 April 2011 by John Hemming MP.

The underlying family case is a particularly disturbing one where it has been found that allegations of sexual abuse made against the father of a young child were not just untrue, but manufactured by the child’s mother who then caused her daughter to repeat them.  There have been a number of court judgments dealing with this case, none of which are yet publicly available.  However, the UK Human Rights Blog has obtained a Press Release issued by the President of Family Division on 22 August 2011 which gives some more detail.

Some of the “family law” context can be found in posts by family lawyers “A note on the Vicky Haigh Case” on the Marilyn Stowe blog. “Secret Family Court …” on the Confessions of a Family Lawyer blog,  “Bared teeth – Grrr” on the Pink Tape blog.

Of more general concern is the conduct of Mr Hemming MP in relation to this matter.  On 26 April 2011 he chose to name Ms Haigh in the House of Commons in breach of the High Court injunction.   He is unrepentant.  On 24 August 2011 he told the Huffington Post that he is not ruling out “breaking any injunctions in future”:

“They proposed to jail Vicky Haigh in secret and the injunction preventing the local authority being named and preventing her being named. The judgment of the court doesn’t have any effect on that, it’s an irrelevant issue to the underlying issue.  If we are going to take the step of locking somebody up in secret we should know who they are and what they have done. I knew everything that’s been reported some time ago, and I made the decision to name her nonetheless.

The last sentence is remarkable.  Mr Hemming appears to be saying that he knew that the person who was been threatened with contempt proceedings was someone who was using a meeting in Parliament to repeat false and scandalous allegations of the utmost seriousness.   At the very least it might be thought that he would have made it clear that he distanced himself from Ms Haigh’s campaign.  Instead, he presented her as a victim and did nothing to contradict the subsequent statements by her supporters and others presenting her as a “wronged woman”.

It seems that Mr Hemming’s statement that his interest in the case concerned freedom of speech and the liberty of the subject cannot be taken entirely at face value. Two bloggers have conducted detailed analyses of the background and have raised some serious questions about his conduct.

First, there is a comprehensive post on the “Ministry of Truth” blog which demonstrates the inaccuracy of a number of Mr Hemming’s statements about the case and provides evidence that he had a role in promoting Ms Haigh’s underlying complaints.

The post draws attention to Mr Hemming’s reference to “someone imprisoned for 6 months for recording a court hearing” – a reference to the case of conspiracy theorist Norman Scarth (whose blog bears the headline “Worse than the gas chambers, in Britain – NOW!”).  Mr Scarth styles himself “Norman of the Family Scarth” and, coincidentally was today unsuccessful in his application for habeas corpus ([2011] EWHC 2269 (Admin)).

The post points out that Ms Watson, who was found to be in Contempt of Court (and whose remarkable CV it makes available),

“wasn’t jailed for talking about ‘court secrets’, she was jailed for repeating false allegations that have repeatedly been rejected by the courts and aggressively smearing the reputations of just about anyone involved in the case who didn’t take Haigh’s side” .

Second, this post was followed up by the excellent Carl Gardner on his “Head of Legal” blog which draws attention to Mr Hemming’s contacts with another pro-Haigh campaigner, Sabine K O’Neill.  The post concludes

John Hemming’s conduct in this matter, and the extent of his apparent contacts with those who’ve campaigned on the internet about Vicky Haigh, need to be scrutinised by his Parliamentary colleagues. John Mann MP is right to call for him to be held to account”.

No one can sensibly doubt Mr Hemming’s entitlement to campaign in favour of greater openness in the family courts and on the subject of injunctions or miscarriages of civil justice.   The problem arises if, in the course of such campaigns, he ignores court orders and provides assistance or encouragement to others who wish to do the same.   We agree with “Head of Legal” that there is a strong argument that his conduct should be fully investigated when Parliament reconvenes.

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4 responses

27 08 2011
Law News Asia » Blog Archive » The Bundle: Clegg on human rights and a big week for the ICC

[...] Inforrm blog: Hemming and Haigh: freedom of speech and abuse of privilege• Anya Palmer in The Lawyer: Coulson’s payoff – the questions that still need to be [...]

28 08 2011
Bill Benson (@wbinfo23)

What is your agenda here? There is clearly something very wrong with the Family Courts of England & Wales and there has been very a long time.

29 08 2011
Stephen

1) Isn’t the agenda the one clearly telegraphed? To assess and give an opinion on the actions of John Hemming in relation to the Vicky Haigh case?

2) If there is something wrong with the Family Courts, that doesn’t mean that every case alleging abuses within it are true or every action purporting to . You can be a critic of the Family justice system and think that John Hemming’s actions in this case are appalling or be sceptical about Vicky Haigh’s allegations. If anything an automatic defence of any critic of the system can damage, not help, the argument you’re trying to defend.

3) If John Hemming misuses parliamentary privilege, then it is important to state that he could end up seriously damaging the ability of MPs in the future to expose injustices. If he pushes the limits (and there are limits), he could end up creating case law which restricts the exercise of that privilege.

Personally, I feel John Hemming’s actions and words are unjustifiable. An investigation by the Commons is necessary and fair, in order to give clarity as to the conduct of an MP in a highly sensitive case. As to Vicky Haigh, I’ve read her website and the pdf which purports to reveal the truth. She at first says that there is a wealth of incontrovertible evidence which vindicates her. She makes repeated references to “two police videos” which are indisputable. It later transpires that these videos are all she has and that they are the recordings of the interview with the child making her allegations against her Father. That seems to have been dealt with at the fact finding hearing. She also says that any sympathetic social workers are moved off her case; that seems indicative, not of a conspiracy, but of the well-documented and long standing turmoil within Doncaster’s social services department. Other than that the document seems to regard that anyone who gave evidence against Haigh as evil and anyone who was positive towards her as a saint. Reading the document, it did not give me the impression that she was a victim of a system out to get her or that she had definitive proof of the father’s alleged sexual abuses and paedophilia.

And just so we’re clear, my agenda is adherence to the principle that the welfare of the child is paramount. I’ve noticed, however, that some critics of the family justice system regard it to be a collusion between social services, CAFCASS, judges and barristers to line their own pockets, so I’ll be up front and say I’m a law student looking to go to the bar and I’ve done work experience at the Principal Registry of the Family Division.

5 09 2011
News: Judgments released in Doncaster Metropolitan BC v Haigh, the Hemming Injunction case « Inforrm's Blog

[...] on 26 April 2011, on a point of order.  We have previously posted about these judgments and about some of the background.   The two judgments are now available on the invaluable Bailii [...]

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