(1) Christopher Booker in the Telegraph discusses the judgment of Sir James Munby, the recently appointed President of the Family Division. A father had posted the names of his children and the social workers involved in their case, all over Facebook.
Before ruling on an application from the council for a complete ban on all this, Munby devoted most of his 26-page judgment to the more general question of whether the secrecy imposed on such cases has gone too far. Since the abolition of the death penalty, he says, the kind of orders a judge has to make on whether children should be removed from their parents "are among the most drastic any judge in any jurisdiction is empowered to make". When a young mother is forced to lose her child, she and the child may have to live with the consequences of that decision for, respectively, 70 or 90 years.
Sir James goes on to consider other issues, such as those raised by the increased readiness of anguished parents to tell their stories on the internet, ruling that these should be subject to the same restrictions as are applied to reporting in the press. But when he finally comes to ruling on the council’s application for a complete ban, he strikes out all the items not referring directly to the identity of children or their parents, allowing the naming of Staffordshire, social workers, "expert witnesses" and pretty well everything else.
This is such a startling challenge to prevailing practice that we will have to watch carefully to see how widely Munby’s principles are now followed. Clearly, this unusually humane and intelligent judge is bent on rolling back that blanket of secrecy that has been used to conceal so many countless horror stories from public view.(2) Parents in Perth and Kinross Council were not aware of the intrusive questions contained in a survey of school children and their consent was assumed unless they actively opted out. It was pointed out that this breached the European Data Protection Directive. The Scottish Government has recently issued some reassurances:
The Scottish Government was not involved in the surveys carried out by Perth and Kinross Council through Dartington Social Research Unit. Where the Scottish Government will be involved in this in the future in other local authorities it will be with oversight of its Analytical Services to ensure it is in line with the strong ethical and quality guidelines it employs for any research it carries out.
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