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 Express (and the Jersey Evening Post) reported with: Too many babies taken to hospital by parents are put into council care, says ex-MP
The reports featured the claim by ‘family justice campaigner’ John Hemming that a 4 week old baby has been removed to care due to nothing more than his parents taking him to hospital for a twitch. There’s no published judgment of this interim decision available from which to assess the claim, but it’s difficult not to seriously doubt it, given the inaccurate assertion in the short video clip accompanying it, in which Mr Hemming claims that significant harm is accepted as met by the family courts based on nothing more a parents political views.
The report goes on to claim parents are afraid to take sick babies to hospital in case they are taken away and appeal for social services staff and family court judges to find ways of keeping parents and children together while investigations are carried out.
We agree that there is sometimes more that can be done to keep (young babies in particular) safe without removal to stranger foster care, while necessary investigations take place; particularly in cases where possible serious non-accidental injuries are being investigated. We also agree that the risks to babies of separation from primary care givers are sometimes underestimated.
We accept that many parents feel (understandable) anxiety about what might be said or thought of them by medics when taking their children to hospitals with injuries, particularly ones they can’t explain. However we also think that any campaigner that wants to be taken seriously as genuinely focused on children’s interests, needs to be rigorous in respect of accuracy; and combine calls for improvement with care to encourage parents to ensure they do take children for medical treatment where necessary for illness or injury, rather than simply encourage them not to by fuelling fears they dare not. Netmums here gives a flavour of the sort of anxiety provoked in parents.
We also think Guardians, lawyers and judges regularly intervene to prevent interim removals where a less ‘draconian’ alternative is available. See BH (A Child: Human Rights Act: Injunction) just last week. (The legal mechanism of the injunction to do so is atypical because a care order was already in place).
- The Metro with : Judge describes man in divorce case as unattractive witness who tried to bully the court
This Metro report attracted social media commentary along the lines of “singularly unedifying and totally lacking in public interest”. The judgment (which the Metro don’t link to) explains the decision made in this acrimonious, litigious, financial settlement upon divorce. The Judge held both parties responsible for a truly terrible level of acrimony … with huge amounts of costs … wasted.
The Telegraph reported on similar lines with : Don’t use dyslexia as an excuse, judge tells ‘bully’ businessman in divorce case as he says ‘even Albert Einstein had dyslexia’.
- In the meantime the Times (in The Brief) reported lawyers for Ryan Giggs calling for clarification on what the media can report from family proceedings in high value divorce cases, in the wake of Cobb J’s Order preventing reporting of the financial details litigated during a hearing the Press attended.
While the Daily Mail online ran with : Ryan Giggs kicks his mother out of her £1.5m mansion and into a three-bed semi down the road so he can move out and give estranged wife Stacey some space.
The piece stops short of reporting the financial proceedings other than to mention that the pair are expected to finalise their divorce in a High Court hearing tomorrow.
- Christopher Booker in The Telegraph named Manuel Martins and linked him with his sister Teresa Kirk after his death with The crucial detail the judges didn’t allow us to reveal (paywall).
We’ve already responded to a series of inaccurate reports at the Telegraph and Daily Mail on the case of Manuel Martins and one of his siblings, Teresa Kirk, in the Court of Protection. Most recently in Teresa Kirk and the Court of Protection: The end of an astonishing story. We’ve also posted the blog in the comments section of Christopher Booker’s opinion piece. (The comments section for Sue Reid’s piece in the Mail had already closed).
However we think Christopher Booker’s latest opinion piece and the Gazette piece both require further comment and will be blogging on them.
In the meantime, the local Sidmouth Herald have published a tribute piece about Mr Martins entitled Friends pay tribute to Sidmouth Maitre De. A comment is also published that reassures readers that Mr Martins much loved cat ‘Tuna’ continues to be well cared for by a neighbour.
- BBC News featured an interesting report entitled Bridgend council rejects £3,310 foster care-leaver payment. Disappointingly it didn’t link readers to the Ombudsman report it was based on.
Media reports we found notably balanced, accurate or otherwise helpful to transparency this week :
- The Daily Mail with : It has ripped my life apart: Devastated mother reveals how her middle-class family was destroyed when her husband was caught downloading child porn : A constructive & useful piece that informed the public about the Lucy Faithful Foundation Stop It Now help line. Our contemporaneous twitter mention is below.
- BBC Online linked their readers to the NICE consultation on guidance about spotting the signs of abuse and neglect that they were reporting on (NICE advice to look for ‘soft’ signs of child abuse). Our twitter mention is here: Other
- Shi-Anne Downer – Press Coverage and Serious Case Review
- Co-Sleeping Correction Requests – Update
- When child protection goes wrong – can you claim any financial compensation?
Newly Published Cases for Explanation or Comment
- ZA Council v MT & Ors  EWFC 12 (14 February 2017): An interesting example of extensive redaction This is the published judgment of a decision by Moor J sitting as a High Court Judge in the Family Court.
It concerns a 3 year old whose father killed his mother, possibly in his presence. Its a good example of a rigorous judicial approach to minimizing risk of identification of the family by way of publication of a judgment in the context of criminal proceedings with case facts likely to arouse press interest. Moor J delivers an oral judgment stripped of all detail of the criminal proceedings as well as the details of the offence, from which risk of jigsaw identification would be likely, from criminal proceedings reported on the same facts that are likely to name the offender. The family decision has not been reported in the media to the best of our knowledge and the helpful lack of detail may in part account for that. There may also be a reporting restriction in place. (It would be helpful if judgments routinely made this clear).
However Moor J goes further, withholding even the reasons for upholding the local authority (unnamed) recommendations against placement with grandparents, in favour of ruling out adoption by strangers and assessing a paternal relative under a final care order. The case highlights the careful balancing of Article 8 and 10 rights, on the very particular facts of each case, that is required of judges in case management decisions on whether (and how) to publish including redaction and anonymisation choices.
And in case you missed this…
In other Transparency News
- Transparency in decision making by the social work regulator: The Health and Care Professionals Council (HCPC) replied to the Transparency Project. The Transparency Project have responded by offering further suggestions in a new blog, forwarded to the HCPC for their attention: Open Letter to the PSA.
Community Care have also made investigations including directly with Hampshire and reported here with Social workers criticised and named by judge cleared of wrongdoing by HCPC.
- Press Regulation: The House of Commons Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee submitted their response to the government consultation on whether to implement measures contained in Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013.
Their published report: Submission to DCMS consultation on commencement of Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 and Part 2 of the Leveson Inquiry set out the history; declared Impress independent and Leveson compliant; said reports by certain sections of the press that the Royal Charter is imposition of “state backed” regulation were ‘unconvincing and misleading’; offered suggestions for ‘improving’ IPSO; and made recommendations that:
the industry should now be set a definite deadline by which to become Leveson compliant
the Government must now set out a clear route for Ipso and the wider industry to become compliant with Leveson’s recommendations
Section 40 should be repealed now. Without secure legal and financial incentives to participate, any system of regulation is likely to falter
… the press have been allowed enough time to create a fully Leveson-compliant regulator; it has chosen not to do so
… there is a significant advantage in partial commencement of Section 40(2) now, which would allow publications a valuable opportunity to legal protections to bolster their investigative journalism if they sign up to an approved regulator. This would be a time- limited concession, to enable the press to create a fully Leveson compliant regulator—for instance, by reforming Ipso, if its members decided not to join another body
If Ipso itself were to fall short of what is expected of it under Leveson, the Committee would support the full commencement of Section 40 in one year’s time
…the industry might be offered an alternative route to subscribing to a system of low-cost arbitration which may be one that is not provided by a regulator approved under the Royal Charter. The Government should explore how and whether this might be possible in the context of the Arbitration Act 1996. If the press is successful in establishing such a system, and was also able to reform Ipso to bring it in to line with the recommendations on press regulation in the Leveson Report, the Government could at that time consider repealing part (3) of Section 40.
The reports we have seen include:
The Times with Don’t make newspapers join approved regulator, say MPs
The Daily Mail with MP’s boost for regulator backed by newspapers within a wider report of Max Mosley gives £500,000 to Labour’s deputy leader: Donations to Tom Watson raise further doubts over regulator Impress’s independence
On 24th February the Press Gazette with NUJ backs plan from MP’s to force news industry to adopt Leveson Press Regulation
- Consultation on changes to the IPSO Editors Code of Practice close shortly: The consultation closes on 3rd March. Details and the prescribed form to submit on are here. The page says as follows: The Editors’ Code of Practice Committee, which writes and revises the code of standards policed by the Independent Press Standards Organisation, is inviting suggestions from the public, editors, journalists and others working in the media, and anyone else with an interest in journalistic standards, on how the Code might be revised to improve the system of self-regulation of the press. The Transparency Project aims to respond and publish that response.
- The new Prison and Courts Bill: Transparency and Access aspects: The government has published a bill that covers prison safety and reform; court reform; the judiciary; and whiplash compensation. Of relevance (or potential relevance) to transparency and courts access in a family court context is Part 2 of the bill, which creates new procedures in civil, family, tribunal and criminal matters. Proposals include ‘virtual’ hearings via video or telephone conferencing and the creation of a new online procedure rules committee that will be able to create new online procedure rules in relation to the civil, tribunal and family jurisdictions. Here are some preliminary observations:
Virtual hearings: Part 2 concerns provisions for virtual hearings. It will enable criminal and civil courts and tribunals to make directions to live-stream a hearing, which is not taking place in a physical courtroom. Additionally, the Government intends to make it possible for these to be viewed by members of the public and media using a screen in a court building.
Offences of ‘recording or transmitting’: The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill explain that legislative provision is required to create offences that protect participants and prohibit ‘recording or transmitting live-streamed proceedings photography and sound recordings in the context of virtual hearings and live-links’. They mirror existing offences in physical courts under Section 41 of the Criminal Justice Act 1925 (prohibitions on photography in courts) and the Contempt of Court Act 1981 (prohibiting the making of unauthorised sound recordings).
A government factsheet on open justice here confirms the measures will extend to all courts (civil, criminal and family) and tribunals.
Online listings: The Bill appears to contain no direct mention of online listings, though makes reference to these in the explanatory notes (paras 33-34), saying that the Government intends to ‘maintain’ transparency by ‘regularising listings and publishing results online’.
(In its consultation on ‘Transforming Our Justice System’, the Ministry of Justice touched on the prospect of publishing online listings and results for online convictions but without providing full detail. In response to the consultation, the Transparency Project group raised concerns about the lack of detail provided and mentioned issues that need further open consultation in relation to transparency and access, as well as privacy and data protection. See post here.)
See Prison and Courts Bill: What do plan mean for courts access here for more information.
(More widely reported in the legal and other press are the provisions to prevent cross-examination in family courts of domestic violence accusers by their alleged attackers. See for example the Solicitors Journal report here).
- The case for online courts: The lecture of Professor Richard Susskind: The Case for Online Courts, was made available to view on UTube last week.
- The Legal Education Foundation reported the imminent launch of a new Litigant In Person Network in March: The Network aims to be an online platform, connecting a range of people with a common goal of improving access to justice. It will be coordinated by the Litigant in Person Support Strategy and supported by the Legal Education Foundation. Interested professionals will be able to share, discuss and collaborate across sectors on issues relating to Litigants in Person (LiPs) and future Litigants in Person. Legal Voice reported here.
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.