Thanks to John Hirst of Jailhouselawyer's Blog for pointing out a series of articles on family justice that appeared in The Times over the past week. The first four articles are written by Times columnist Camilla Cavendish and the fifth, a response, is written by President of the Family Division Sir Mark Potter. I'll deal with each article in turn:
The first article talks of the 'secret state that steals our children' and suggests that privacy rules designed to protect the children are actually being used to protect the experts and professionals involved in the family justice system by making them unaccountable. The article concludes with a call for the government to take action to rectify the problem.
The second article goes into more detail about how family courts operate in secrecy, with particular reference to the lack of accountability of social workers and experts such as psychiatrists and paediatricians.
The third article looks at 'the pernicious types of allegation that are almost impossible for parents to disprove', such as "emotional abuse".
In the fourth article Cavendish sets out a 'ten-point plan to make our courts system fairer', with such ideas as opening family courts to the press in all but exceptional circumstances, removing the restrictions that prevent families from talking about their case, providing an automatic right for parents to receive copies of case conference notes and all evidence used against them in court and creating an independent body to oversee the actions of social services.
In the final article Sir Mark Potter defends the system, claiming that it is private, rather than secretive. He admits that it is far from perfect, and is in 'broad (but qualified) agreement' with much of Cavendish's ten-point plan. However, he says, "the vision of a secretive system that removes children from families without good reason is an inaccurate and unfair reflection of the work of the family courts in England and Wales". He claims that "the vast majority of parents and children in care cases want privacy, rather than the “washing of dirty linen” and the exploring of deeply emotional and personal issues in public", and he therefore supports the view of the Government "that a better balance would be struck by publicising the judgments in all final hearings that result in the removal of children from their parents, with the parties remaining anonymous to protect the identity of the child". He does not see how miscarriages of justice "would have been avoided by the presence of the press when the evidence was given", and I agree with him there.