A warm salute to the brilliant editor of our then journal, Richard Gregory, who provided this idea.
We are staggered ( and angry) to see the published judgement of Lord Justice Mostyn. Full details, against which this rant should be checked here.
The father was accused of sexually abusing a toddler. He applied for direct contact.
Of course, routinely now, long delays. There was a six day Finding of Fact hearing, which one must assume was thorough. The trial judge, to quote Mostyn’s approved judgement. ‘She found as a fact that the father had not sexually or physically abused… In clear and unambiguous terms, she rejected the evidence of the mother and her supporting witnesses. She ordered that direct and unsupervised contact should commence...’
There was then some tangle about whether the mother sought permission to appeal improperly. She was allowed to do so, nonetheless. But she also asked for a ‘stay on the proceedings and a stay on any direct contact’
And that is what LJ Mostyn agreed to. Citing some obscure precedents from Hong Kong and the Eastern Caribbean. And citing some parallels with cases where money – not a child – was the issue.
An obvious move was to allow supervised contact in a contact centre. However, just a stay (refusal) on direct contact at all.
So the case goes back into the labyrinth of proceedings. For how long? At what cost, not only emotionally, but financially? The record does not state, but it seems highly probable that the mother was legally aided, and the father not. For a six day hearing with, on the mother’s side at least, high calibre lawyers.
A regular aspect of these cases is ‘winning’ does not depend on the child welfare issues. They are ‘won’ by one side breaking the other’s capacity to continue, emotionally and financially. And in this case, they have been aided in that by the court.
Well, excuse us, what about the second clause of the Children Act, that delay is against the interests of the child? And the Human Right – for the child and the father – to family life? And is the welfare of a child not different from – the antique term for an antique attitude, a CHATTELL. (In modern language, an item of property.)
There has been a long campaign to open up the family courts to scrutiny, which has been finally recently approved. before thi last attempt to open up the courts to the media, they applied an adaptation of that maxim of some Lord Chief Justice, namely: ‘It matters not if Injustice is done, so long as it is not seen to be done’.
The tiny token move is not free of controversy. On one hand, judges can be allowed to publish some of their judgements. They will of course select those that show them and the system in what they think is a good light. Scarcely likely to produce pressure for remedying a frankly appalling system.
On the other hand, media will be able to attend and report about a case at any tier level, whether magistrates, district, circuit or high court as long as the ID of the parties is protected. This implies that anyone can ask media to attend their case and give it exposure. This could be an eye opener to the vast ,ajority of citizens who, frankly, have no idea if how grotesque the sytem often is. And a catalyst to a much needed reform. Let's keep the hope up and focus towards the latter option.
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