6:51PM BST 27 Jul 2013
Writing in the Telegraph Christopher Booker points out that the new draft guidelines by Sir James Mumby, the judge in charge of family courts in England, are not the breakthrough that many have been looking for:
All Lord Justice Munby is proposing, however, is that all judgments in these cases should be published, unless a judge finds “compelling reasons” otherwise. Just how confusing his proposals are can be seen from comparing section 21, where he says that “public authorities and expert witnesses should be named” in all published judgments, with section 24, which says “no person other than advocates or solicitors instructing them may be identified by name or location”. So, no naming of those “expert witnesses” or local authorities.
Far more important than this seemingly glaring contradiction, however, is that all Lord Justice Munby is saying is that the outside world should be allowed to see more judgments – still entirely at the discretion of the judge. To anyone familiar with the peculiar workings of these courts, this will leave 95 per cent of what is so shocking about what goes on in them as secret as ever. Still completely hidden will be the way all the normal rules of British justice can be suspended: as in allowing judges to accept damning hearsay evidence, however absurd, without it being put to any proper test; as in how parents whose children have been taken from them are too often not allowed to challenge untruths or the tendentious opinions of “hired gun” psychologists, who may not even be qualified; as in how too many parents find themselves facing the cruellest ordeal of their lives being treated by judges and all present like criminals, without being given any proper opportunity to plead their case.
Almost nothing of the ruthlessly enforced blanket of secrecy that has allowed our family courts to become so corrupted will be affected in any way by Lord Justice Munby’s proposals. Even the judgments he wants to see published cannot be properly understood by an outsider unaware of all that has gone on in the courtroom, and how what may well be a shockingly one-sided and selective judgment was arrived at. In words I have quoted before from a disillusioned family court barrister, who spent 10 years defending in vain the right of hundreds of families to stay together, the system is so rigged against the families that it is like “seeing lambs led to the slaughter”.
One of the more unfortunate consequences of the secrecy that hides the workings of this system from public view is that it makes it so easy for its defenders, such as Sir Martin Narey, formerly head of Barnardo’s, one of the largest beneficiaries of our lucrative fostering and adoption industry, to claim, as he did again last week, that only in “a very small minority” of cases are “children wrongly taken away by the authorities”. On the contrary, all the evidence suggests to those who follow these matters closely, such as John Hemming MP, of Justice for Families, or Ian Josephs, who advises thousands of families through his Forced Adoption website, is that, since the number of children being yearly taken into state care in England and Wales has soared to nearly 30,000, those being removed from their families for no good reason now run into many thousands.