" family courts in cahoots with social workers " claims senior judge

(5 Posts)
KristinaM Wed 19-Feb-14 22:58:32

Very interesting article in today's Times, page 8

I'm sorry I can't link to it as it's behind a paywall. But thought I'd post about it for those of you who are subscribers/readers and who might have missed it

KristinaM Wed 19-Feb-14 23:04:35

Aha, I've now worked out I have to C&P from website not online edition
Here it is

Courts are routinely removing children from their mothers into care after “cutting and pasting” the arguments put by social services and rubber-stamping them, a senior judge has warned.

Mrs Justice Pauffley said that she was “profoundly alarmed” at the discovery that family courts were effectively in cahoots with social services through such “clandestine arrangements”, which undermined the independence of the justice system. She added: “It is patently wrong, must stop at once and never happen again.”

The judge made her comments as she granted an appeal to return a baby to his mother in a case she described as “shocking and disturbing.” Far from being an isolated instance, the judge said that her informal inquiries had led her to believe that “such actions are widespread across the country”.

Her views are backed by England and Wales’ most senior family judge, Sir James Munby, who has written to alert all family lawyers.

Mrs Justice Pauffley overturned a decision by a family proceedings court to remove a baby just days old from his mother and place him in foster care, saying that the baby, now three months, should be “reunited with his mother forthwith”. His mother, 32, who has been addicted to cocaine, heroin and alcohol and has seven other children, had “good emotional interaction” with her baby and the quality of her contact had been “good or excellent”, she said.

In the original hearing in November, a submission on behalf of the local council arguing for foster care was used by the court to produce its formal “findings of facts and reasons” report. Mrs Justice Pauffley said: “They are strikingly similar — the majority of the paragraphs are identical — as a result, almost certainly, of cutting and pasting.”

The judge had been told that family courts expect local authorities to provide their draft “facts and reasons” for every public hearing. This amounted to “an established but largely clandestine arrangement between the local authority and the court which, to my mind, has considerable repercussions for justice”, the judge said.

She added: “While I might be able to understand why such methods may have developed, I am profoundly alarmed by their existence.” It would be difficult for family courts to be seen as “independent and impartial if, as happened here, they simply adopt the local authority’s analysis of what their ‘facts and reasons’ might comprise”.

The case has come to light because of Sir James’ practice direction last month aimed at opening up the family justice system . He said that he wanted all judgments on parental access to children and care orders to be published unless there were “compelling reasons” not to.

In her ruling Mrs Justice Pauffley said that the mother had had a “sad, unhappy childhood”. When she was 15, she formed a relationship with a 26-year-old man, who fathered her elder four children. Both abused alcohol and drugs and there was domestic violence. A residence order was made in favour of the father.

The mother’s next three children were born between 2006 and 2009 when she was in a relationship with another man, the judge said. The seventh child was born as she was withdrawing from drugs and he was made the subject of an emergency protection order and placed with foster parents.
She became pregnant with the baby at the centre of the ruling as a result of a “fleeting relationship with a third man” who has played no further part in her life. The mother maintains she told her GP when she was seven weeks pregnant and asked for social services to be notified.

She was admitted to a specialist treatment centre to help her detoxify and when the baby was born he showed no signs of drug withdrawal.

The local authority began its application for a care order in October with “extensive reliance on her history”, the judge said. It also said she had failed to make meaningful lifestyle changes.

Hels20 Thu 20-Feb-14 06:36:12

I'll post the link to the full judgment which has been published. I read this a few days ago and what really alarmed the judge was the fact an expert assessment was conducted in one day without even meeting the mother...The expert completely failed because of "time pressures". SS were relying on expert and getting the report quickly.

Hels20 Thu 20-Feb-14 07:46:15

And here is the link.

There are typos in the expert report - referring to the baby as a "her" when the baby was a boy.

The Judgment in the case says: "it is quite simply unacceptable for an 'independent' expert to be instructed in the way [the Expert] was". The expert [doctor] was given one day to conduct an *assessment - which was essentially a paper assessment and SS then relied on this (again, it raises questions on training of social workers but if an eminent doctor is saying, essentially, that the mother will not be able to provide the appropriate care to the infant, I don't wonder that SS accepted it). As the appeal judge rightly said, "there was too much local authority emphasis upon securing an expert opinion to support removal from the mother and too little focus upon ensuring a just and fair assessment process. Justice must never be sacrificed upon the altar of speed."

An interesting judgment. I think the original court should have seen that justice had been sacrificed and told the LA to go back again. But what I find interesting in this judgment (from a higher court) is that even though the mother had (seemingly, quite appropriately) had her other children taken into care as she had only started recently engaging with drug addiction resources, every case, every new child should be assessed almost as if there is a blank slate.

The child was returned to the care of the mother - but also only because she was going to be in a supervised centre (I assume, mother and baby).

I think both the medical and legal professions were at fault here and SS need also to realise that they can't expect a viable expert report conducted to such ridiculously short time scales.

KristinaM Thu 20-Feb-14 08:02:29

I agree hells .I would also be very suspicions of the expert who felt able to opine on a matter of such seriousness in one day by reading reports written by other who weren't experts. Counsel should have challenged this in court

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