The President has published guidance on radicalisation cases within the family Court, which you can find here:-
The Guidance says that ALL radicalisation cases are to be heard in the High Court, and that this specifically excludes Circuit Judges who have a section 9 ticket allowing them to sit as a High Court Judge. [UNLESS an actual High Court Judge explicitly releases an individual case to them] The cases will purely be in the High Court.
To address the fact that this means that say, the family Judges in Luton would be oblivious to there being a major radicalisation problem in Luton because they won’t see any of the cases, the Designated Family Judge in each area must be notified of each application when they are made.
The guidance goes on
Judges hearing cases falling within the description in paragraph 1 above will wish to be alert to:
(a) the need to protect the Article 6 rights of all the parties;
(b) the fact that much of the information gathered by the police and other gencies will not be relevant to the issues before the court;
(c) the fact that some of the information gathered by the police and other gencies is highly sensitive and such that its disclosure may damage the public interest or even put lives at risk;
(d) the need to avoid inappropriately wide or inadequately defined requests for disclosure of information or documents by the police or other agencies;
(e) the need to avoid seeking disclosure from the police or other agencies of information or material which may be subject to PII, or the disclosure of which might compromise ongoing investigations, damage the public interest or put lives at risk, unless the judge is satisfied that such disclosure is “necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly” within the meaning given to those words when used in, for example, sections 32(5) and 38(7A) of the Children Act 1989 and section 13(6) of the Children and Families Act 2014;
(f) the need to safeguard the custody of, and in appropriate cases limit access to, any sensitive materials provided to the court by the police or other agencies;
(g) the need to consider any PII issues and whether there is a need for a closed hearing or use of a special advocate;
(h) the need to safeguard the custody of, and in appropriate cases limit access to, (i) the tape or digital recordings of the proceedings or (ii) any transcripts;
(i) the need to ensure that the operational requirements of the police and other agencies are not inadvertently compromised or inhibited either because a child is a ward of court or because of any order made by the court;
(j) the assistance that may be gained if the police or other agencies are represented in court, including, in appropriate cases, by suitably expert counsel.
This is a major issue, or potential issue. Imagine for a moment that the X family come to the attention of the Police or the intelligence services. They are believed to be radicalising their child. That would, when shared with the Local Authority, give rise to the need for care proceedings being initiated, and possibly that an application be made for the removal of that child. But imagine that the REASON the police or intelligence services have that concern is that they are monitoring the phone calls, text messages or emails of Mr Y, someone who is recruiting for ISIS. They may very well prefer that the X family don’t learn that Mr Y’s emails are compromised, and that hence Mr Y is alerted and changes his phone, and email account. Suppose that the REASON is not monitoring emails but that Mr Y has a colleague in the terrorist cell, Mr Z who is actually clandestinely working with the intelligence services – that really could be a matter of life and death if the X family learned that Mr Z was a spy. Both for Mr Z and for the future intelligence that might save lives whilst he remains undetected. This is big stuff.
[If you ever watched The Wire, you’ll be familiar of the constant battle with the police and drug dealers to get the information from the phone taps but without tipping the drug dealers hand to the fact that their communications are compromised, and thus that the drug dealers would ‘change up’ their systems. And if you have never watched The Wire, then I recommend that you remedy that. ]
This puts the debate into really clear terms – if there’s information that is relevant to the proceedings – for example those representing the parents are likely to want to know exactly why the parents are suspected of radicalisation and what the evidence-base is, but it might impact on national security, then the Judge is going to have to ensure that the disclosure requests are very focussed, and that if there’s to be an argument that the documents should not be disclosed, that a proper Public Interest Immunity hearing takes place which balances the article 6 arguments in favour of disclosure with the national security PII arguments.
Because let’s not foreget, that parents in this situation are entitled to a fair trial. The allegations or information might be a mistake, or malicious, or mistaken identity. We can’t lose sight of the fact that it is the State who have to prove that these parents have radicalised the child, not for the parents to prove their innocence.
Where this happens in crime, the Judge generally sees the documents in order to conduct what is called an “Air Canada” exercise, to consider them on a line by line basis to see what can be disclosed and what might have to be withheld. You cannot assume that article 6 will trump national security always or vice versa, it will be very case and fact specific. Might this procedure even eventually extend to police or intelligence witnesses giving evidence behind closed doors, with the parents not hearing it? How do we feel about that?
It is worth noting that in this guidance, when the phrase “Special Advocate” is used, it may not be simply meaning a ‘specialised’ or ‘specialist’ advocate, but rather that at the hearing where the documents are considered and arguments deployed, that the Court would appoint a barrister specifically to make those arguments on the parents behalf – NOT the ones representing the parents in care proceedings, and ones who would not have a duty to share that information with the parents. That would be a very big deal in care proceedings. It is somewhat controversial generally, but as far as I’m aware, we haven’t done it in care proceedings before. [I’m not absolutely sure that we can even do it without a statutory basis or a strong precedent that it can be done. But I’m no expert on the Special Advocate jurisprudence]
The guidance continues
11 This is a two-way process. The court can expect to continue to receive the assistance it has hitherto been given in these cases by the police and by other agencies. But there must be reciprocity.
12 The police and other agencies recognise the point made by Hayden J that “in
this particular process it is the interest of the individual child that is paramount. This
cannot be eclipsed by wider considerations of counter terrorism policy or operations.”
The police and other agencies also recognise the point made by Bodey J that “it is no part of the functions of the Courts to act as investigators, or otherwise, on behalf of prosecuting authorities … or other public bodies.” But subject to those qualifications, it is important that the family justice system works together in cooperation with the criminal justice system to achieve the proper administration of justice in both jurisdictions, for the interests of the child are not the sole consideration. So the family courts should extend all proper assistance to those involved in the criminal justice system, for example, by disclosing materials from the family court proceedings into the criminal process.
13 In the same way, the police and other agencies will wish to be alert to the need of the court for early access to information, for example, information derived from examination of seized electronic equipment, so far as such information is relevant to the issues in the family proceedings. Accordingly, the court should be careful to identify with as much precision as possible in any order directed to the police or other agencies: the issues which arise in the family proceedings; the types of information it seeks; and the timetable set by the court for the family proceedings.
I have been worried about the balance between confidentiality and national security on the one hand and fairness and article 6 on the other for a long while in relation to radicalisation. I think that it is helpful to have published guidance as to the very difficult issues that Judges dealing with these cases are faced with. How they will be dealt with in practice is something I’ll be very interested to read about (assuming that I’m allowed to)