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 Daily Mail with They snatched our girl because they fell out with us: Council ripped teenager, 15, from loving family into foster home where she was abused and left to eat CAT FOOD, inquiry finds
The Daily Mail (should we say ‘the secretive Daily Mail’?) don’t name, let alone link to, the published ombudsman report their report refers to while reminding their readers that the girl’s family have been free to speak to the Daily Mail since the case has not been shrouded in the secrecy routinely imposed by judges in the family courts.
The ombudsman report itself is here: Teenager removed from foster parents without notice by Essex County Council.
It explains that the removal occurred 6 years ago when the child was 15. She had been placed with her aunt and uncle under a care order since a small child. She had a learning disability and functioned around the age of 8 or 9. She had approached social workers asking to be removed from her aunt and uncle who cared for her as foster carers and had then tried to self-harm after a disagreement with her uncle about boundaries.
The Ombudsman found major failures on the part of Essex council. They were wrong to remove her immediately and without notice to her aunt and uncle or the grandparents she stayed with on alternate weekends. The threshold for interim removal was not met, even according to Essex’s own records. They didn’t follow procedures or any clear legal process nor arrange a review of her care plan and placement. They made no attempt to support the placement and failed to consult while planning an alternate placement nor even give notice to child or adults on the day they removed her from school. They also failed to adequately record or investigate allegations she later made about the new foster carers including assault, verbal abuse and leaving her with insufficient food so she resorted to eating cat biscuits. Nor was the fact that a social worker told those foster carers it was fine to leave her unsupervised in a park (at which point she hitched a ride with a stranger and ‘absconded’ home) investigated. These failures were then compounded by failures and delays in complaints handling.
What the Ombudsman report doesn’t do is uphold the allegations made against the stranger foster carers, as the Daily Mail headline specifically claims with: she was abused and left to eat CAT FOOD, inquiry finds. [our emphasis]
It says no more than: The stage 2 investigation has already upheld the family’s complaint about the way theCouncil dealt with [our emphasis] Y’s allegations about the foster carer she was placed with in July 2011 (Para 64) and the failure to properly investigate Y’s allegations and her absconding from the foster carer placement will have added to the family’s distress (parra 65).
- Christopher Booker in the Telegraph with In Britain’s secretive family courts the lawyers always win [note no longer ‘secret’ but ‘secretive’ now]
See twitter responses here
And our Family Court Reporting Watch blog response here:
- The Mirror with Millionaire wife fights divorce settlement after cheating husband given HALF her fortune. This is a report from 28th February we have seen since we wrote about The Telegraph’s misunderstanding of legal precedent in their reporting of this case: Setting a precedent: What does it actually mean?
The Mirror report is detailed and informative on the facts in support of Julie Sharp’s appeal arguments (by comparison). The headline however, bears no resemblance to the law. Bad behaviour, including marital infidelity is rarely relevant to the legal arguments about financial matters. The appeal has been heard with judgment still awaited at the time of writing.
- Sky News reported on parents sentenced for child neglect with Dad jailed after children kept in faeces covered house in Lancashire
See also the Guardian report: Parents jailed for neglect of children found in filthy Lancashire house
The earlier local news report at the Lancashire Post Shocking: Four children rescued from filthy house covered in excrement said:
The Honorary Recorder of Preston, Judge Mark Brown, criticised the local authority’s approach to the case, asking why the parents had been given “chance upon chance upon chance” after learning their access to the children [our emphasis] had continued. And: The Post has asked County Hall to respond to the judge’s criticisms on the case.
The Sky and Guardian reports quote Lancashire Council saying they applied to the family court, recommending permanent care away from the parents with relatives but:
the family court did not agree with this position and the children were placed back in the care of their parents with the local authority undertaking close monitoring of the case.
They also report the Post account that the criminal judge questioned the basis of the decision by the family court.
We’ve not seen a published judgment about the family court decision. (The sentencing following criminal trial took place only last week) so we have emailed Lancashire Council to ask whether any judgment (or Serious Case Review) is published or intended, with a view to commenting further.
- The Daily Mail with Newborn baby was battered to death by her drug addict father ‘just ONE DAY after social services ‘scaled down’ involvement with both her parents
We’ve yet to see source material against which to assess the accuracy of the reports or gain greater understanding. We haven’t yet managed to obtain a copy of the Serious Case Review Stockport Safeguarding Board would have been obliged to publish. Their website says they take them down after 6 months though gives an email address for further queries. Nor have we located a published judgment of the family court proceedings likely about Florence’s older sibling. The media reports are based on the inquest. Outcomes of inquests are not published though open to the public and the media, hence the press reports.
(See also this opinion piece at the Huffington Post called Keeping Children Safe, on shared responsibilities for safeguarding in the wake of the reporting of the sentencing of Shi-Anne (Keegan) Downers special guardian for her death in her care).
Newly Published Cases for Explanation or Comment
- Bath and North East Somerset Council v the mother & Ors  EWFC B10 (27 February 2017) An ‘ordinary’ case in the family court described by HHJ Wildblood as showing the truly pitiful plight of a mother caught up in drug addiction. Blog to follow…
And in case you missed this…
In other Transparency News
- The Bridget Lindley OBE Memorial Lecture 2017: Holding the risk: The balance between child protection and the right to family life by Lord Justice McFarlane
- Bridget Lindley Memorial Lecture
- Who holds the risk, how risk is assessed and how brave or risk averse those who make decisions for children?
Media reports in response included:
The Gazette with Judge calls for feedback on adoption orders
And Community Care with Social workers ‘passing decision making’ to judges due to lack of resources
Tickets for Child Protection 2017, supported by the Transparency Project are on sale at Eventbrite
This 3rd multi disciplinary conference takes place Friday 9th June 2017 at UWE. Details and booking here.
More on transparency in professional regulation
Twitter comments drew comparisons between reports in the legal press of anti transparency measures by the Solicitors Regulation Authority and the General Medical Council (as reported by the Daily Mail), in light of recent discussions about the social work regulator. See:
Richard Miller (former director of the Legal Aid Practitioners Group and now head of legal aid at the Law Society) wrote at Legal Voice, ahead of the government review of LASPO, with As we await the government’s formal review of the 2012 act, everyone from the TUC to the NAO to Liberty agrees it has had a devastating impact
Access to justice
The Ministry of Justice published the Findings from the Legal Problem and Resolution Survey, 2014–15
- The Law Gazette with: Delayed MoJ survey finds vulnerable ‘face multiple legal problems
- Nigel Priestley at Ridley and Hall blog with The true impact of austerity on those who need advice the most!
- The family law hub with: How many people have a legal problem: MOJ survey attempts to find the answer
- The solicitors journal with: MoJ: Targeted ‘legal support’ may help vulnerable people
- Press & public to get ‘viewing terminals’ for courts by Judith Townend, Transparency Project Member, at the Justice Gap:
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.