The real scandal hidden by gags is what goes on in family courts
In all the fuss about the secrecy of our courts – after MP John Hemming named a footballer in the Commons – the point where the issue began has been almost entirely lost. Mr Hemming’s concern stems from his longstanding campaign to expose the secrecy surrounding our family courts, where one of the most shocking scandals in Britain today is flourishing, out of public view. This is the increasing number of children who are seized by social workers from loving, responsible parents, thanks to a system which often defies basic principles of justice, humanity and common sense. For example, last week, a woman was warned by a judge that if she raised her case with John Hemming or with a local MP, she would be imprisoned – contrary to one of the most ancient rights of a citizen.
It is hard to convey just how one-sided this system has become, behind its wall of secrecy. Another case I have been following concerns a devoted mother who lost her daughter, some years back, after complaining to social workers that the father was abusing their child. Astonishingly, although the couple had parted, the courts gave the father custody of the girl.
Two weeks ago, when the mother yet again told social workers that the father was abusing their daughter, they did nothing – but, independently, the police were called and the father was arrested. Social workers asked the mother to sign a document giving her child into foster care. She refused, asking for the girl to be returned to her, and was told to attend court at three o’clock last Monday to hear the council’s application for an emergency care order.
She arrived to find the council officials had not turned up, and was told to return at 10 o’clock on Tuesday. Again the officials did not show. Then the mother was told that the order had been given over the telephone the previous evening, by a magistrate at home, which appeared to break all the rules laid down for the granting of an emergency care order. This was apparently confirmed by a judge on Thursday – who nevertheless granted an order according to the proper procedures (the mother not being allowed to speak) and called them all back on Friday to hear an application for an interim care order. Thanks to the complications of the case, he then ruled that the council’s application should be heard in the High Court next month.
The mother’s only wish is to be reunited with her child – who apparently says her only wish is to be with her mother. But the implacable system, having made its error, seems determined to stand between them. Thus, hidden from public view, another unhappy family drama unfolds.