In July I reported on a series of articles in The Times about our so-called secret family courts. Well, now the paper has been granted the rare privilege of witnessing family justice from the bench, alongside a High Court judge. Legal Editor Frances Gibb spent time at the Royal Courts watching Mr Justice Hedley dispense what he himself admitted was sometimes 'rough and ready' justice.
Gibb's article makes fascinating reading, as she follows the cases coming before the court on a "typical vacation day", from a father who had not seen his children for two years to child abduction cases, to an intractable contact/residence dispute. Most interesting, however, are some of the comments of Mr Justice Hedley. He candidly admits that he must have made mistakes over 16 years’ judging, but that when he has been troubled over a decision, it had not been over removing a child from its parents, rather over returning the child to where it might be at risk: "an injustice to the parent, however grave, is probably less grave than returning a child to an environment where it is at risk". He also admits that the non-residential parent can be the loser in contact disputes: "One thing I am not prepared to do is to make children pay the price of their parents’ conflict. So if there are persistent rows when the child is handed over and the whole thing is misery for the child, that’s a factor with me and the loser is likely to be the non-residential parent".
Gibb accepts that the justice she witnessed "seemed fair", and Mr Justice Hedley agrees that it would be in judges' own interests for justice to be done in public as much as possible, but he draws the line in cases that attract "supporters’ clubs from hostile families". I think he has a point there...
[I did look at The Times law section this morning, but missed this article, so thanks once again to the eagle eyes of Current Awareness for pointing it out.]