Author Topic: UK - Top judge's war on secret courts: Family hearings must be exposed to 'glare  (Read 3914 times)

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Offline TheEvilQueen

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Top judge's war on secret courts: Family hearings must be exposed to 'glare of publicity'


Daily Mail:  Top judge's war on secret courts: Family hearings must be exposed to 'glare of publicity'
Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court  said parents of children taken into care should no longer be gagged by courts


Judgment came in case of parents whose four children taken into state care
Council tried to ban video of seizure in April by social workers and police 
Sir James said there is a 'pressing need' for workings of family courts to be opened up to public scrutiny

 By Steve Doughty, Social Affairs Correspondent

PUBLISHED: 23:50, 5 September 2013  | UPDATED: 01:28, 6 September 2013


One of Britain’s most senior judges vowed yesterday to expose family courts to ‘the glare of publicity’ after decades of obsessive secrecy.

In a landmark ruling, Sir James Munby said parents of children taken into care must no longer be gagged by the courts and the public should be told what social workers are up to.

Sir James, who is president of the Family Division of the High Court, said the removal of children from their families had become the most drastic matter judges dealt with now there was no death penalty. He said the rulings could affect mothers for ‘upwards of 60 or even 70 years’ and children for even longer.

There was a ‘pressing need’ for the workings of the family courts to be opened to public view and the arguments for scrutiny and public accountability were compelling.

Parents must be given the freedom to criticise judges, the courts and social workers, and the Press must be free to report what has happened without the interference of judges, Sir James added. The break-up of families by the state must no longer happen in secret, on the pretext of protecting the children involved.

The Mail has reported numerous cases where the names of social workers, experts who advise the courts and even the names of councils have been kept under legal wraps. The voices of those whose families are split up by social workers and kept apart on the orders of family court judges have been routinely silenced. 

But Sir James’s unprecedented ruling is likely to punch a hole through this curtain of secrecy.

His judgement came in the case of parents whose four children have been taken into state care. The father made a video of the seizure in April of the couple’s newborn by social workers and police. The film was posted widely over the internet.

Sir James rejected a sweeping injunction designed to effectively prevent anyone in the world from seeing the film, knowing the names of the social workers involved, or even discovering the name of the local authority that applied for the order, Staffordshire County Council.


The order means the video, which includes pictures of the baby, can be more widely distributed and watched by anyone.

The submission by Staffordshire that naming the authority or its social workers would lead to identification of the baby was ‘merely fanciful’, the judge said.

However Sir James said the names of the parents and the baby must stay secret in order to protect the child from any harm publicity might bring.

The parents of the baby, known only as J, have never been accused of harming their children, the father said yesterday. Instead social workers decided that his wife was incapable of bringing them up because of her learning disability, he claimed.


 ‘Freedom of speech is not something to be awarded to those who are thought deserving and denied to those who are thought undeserving’, Sir James Munby


‘They were taken away as a preventative or precautionary measure,’ he said.

Sir James said the case raised ‘important questions about the extent to which the public should be able to read and see what disgruntled parents say when they speak out about apparent deficiencies in the family justice system’.

He added: ‘It must never be forgotten that, with the state’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which family judges are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make.

‘When a family judge makes a placement order or an adoption order in relation to a 20-year-old mother’s baby, the mother will have to live with the consequences of that decision for what may be upwards of 60 or even 70 years, and the baby for what may be upwards of 80 or even 90 years.’


Read more:  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2413373/Top-judges-war-secret-courts-Family-hearings-exposed-glare-publicity.html