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A tale of two Telegraphs

 

Two recent stories in the Telegraph about Court cases.

 

The first, here

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/11412971/Why-dont-the-family-courts-obey-the-law.htmlr

 

is from a writer that you all know Christopher Booker.

 

Mr Booker’s story here is that a mother in care proceedings lost her child at an interim stage because of ‘one small bruise’ and was not allowed into the Court room during most of the hearings, and that this was because of their lawyers.

 

On a court order, the two boys were taken into care, and over the following months, through several court hearings from which the parents were excluded by their lawyers

 

Last April, the couple were summoned to a final hearing to decide their sons’ future. The mother was represented by lawyers she had been given by Women’s Aid, which works closely with the local authority. As an intelligent woman, studying for a university degree, she and her partner arrived early at the court, for what was scheduled to be a five-day hearing. They were armed with files of evidence and a list of witnesses they wished to call, all of which they believed would demolish the local authority’s case.

But the mother describes how they were astonished to be told by their lawyers that again they would not be permitted to enter the court. Half an hour later, the barristers emerged to say that the judge had decided that their two boys should be placed for adoption. There was no judgment for them to see, and no possibility of any appeal against his decision. This Wednesday the couple will have a final “goodbye session” with their sons, never to see them again.

 

 

Mr Booker names His Honour Judge Jones as the judge behind this story. [He doesn’t quite give him that courtesy, instead assuming that he is on first name terms with a Judge who he’s about to rip apart in a national newspaper]

 

Now, there are two distinct possibilities here.

 

  1. Everything that Mr Booker reports here is true.
  2. What Mr Booker reports is not what happened and something has gotten lost in the telling of the story.

 

As ever with Mr Booker, he doesn’t make it explicit that there’s a single source for his story, but I can’t see a second source anywhere. Now, that doesn’t mean that it won’t turn out to be true, but I’d feel happier when dealing with extraordinary claims to see confirmation of the story from more than one source.

 

We simply don’t know until we see the judgment from His Honour Judge Jones. In fact, if the latter of those two possibilities is true, we may not even recognise the judgment as relating to this case at all.

 

It would be utterly wrong, and utterly appealable, for a Judge to make an Interim Care Order removing a child from parents without letting them into the court-room, and utterly wrong, and utterly appealable for a Judge to make a Care Order and Placement Order without allowing the parents into the Court room and allowing them to have their opportunity to fight the case if they wished to. If this happened, it would be tremendously wrong.

 

If what Mr Booker says is what actually happened, then he is utterly right to rage against it and I would join him in his rage. If I was a betting man, my money would be on the second possibility, and that he has not been given a full and complete account of what happened.

 

HOWEVER, and I will be absolutely fair to him, if he had told the story of the case before HH J Dodds where the parties attended the first hearing and the Judge made three Care Orders in a five minute hearing, I would not have believed that either, and Mr Booker would have been right and I would have been wrong.

 

I would have said so had that happened. He is also right to draw attention to that Court of Appeal decision about HH J Dodds, and it does highlight that sometimes things happen in Courts that fly in the face of everything you believe and that really unfair things can happen to people. If it happens to you, it is small consolation that it is rare and shouldn’t happen, it must be utterly devastating. Some of the people who come to Mr Booker, or any of the other campaigners, are coming with completely truthful accounts of dreadful injustice, and it is important that they have somewhere to turn, someone who will listen to them.

 

As George Orwell said – We sleep safe in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.

 

And although I’m not asserting that Mr Booker or any of the campaigning groups are either rough men, or would be willing to visit violence on anyone, you hopefully get the general thrust of the point. In being willing to listen to the stories of injustice that people tell them, they provide a mechanism for injustice to come to light, and that is an important thing.

 

I hope that Mr Booker is wrong here, but I accept that he could be right, and if he is, it is important that people hear of it.

 

Sometimes Judges do behave in appalling ways. Sometimes social workers do too. So sometimes, the sort of stuff that Mr Booker rages about does happen, and when it does, he is right to be bloody cross. Even if I think that sometimes Mr Booker is the boy who cries wolf, there are wolves in the world, and that boy was eventually right.

 

If and when I see a case from HH Judge Jones that relates to Care Orders, involving Denbighshire Social Services, two boys and a bruise, I will update you. Perhaps Mr Booker is right. If he is, it is a scandal and I will commend him for bringing it to light. If he is mistaken, then no doubt there will be a correction and an apology, not least to a Judge who has been accused of acting in a way that would make anyone reading it think much less of him.

 

 

[Here is an idea, which I’m sure won’t be taken up – if a parent comes to a journalist with a story that sounds extraordinary about the way they were treated in Court, get the parent to sign an authority allowing the journalist to approach the solicitor representing them, and for the solicitor to read the proposed article and tell the journalist whether that’s an accurate depiction of what really happened, or if the facts have got a bit mixed up]

 

 

Second case

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/health/news/11412861/Judge-refuses-mothers-plea-to-treat-terminally-ill-son-saying-he-should-be-allowed-to-die.html

 

In which Mrs Justice Hogg, sitting in the Court of Protection made a declaration that the hospital could lawfully stop treating an 18 year old with a brain tumour, even though that withdrawal of treatment would end his life and his parents were arguing that the treatment should continue.

 

Now, this is a story which feels much more solid. It is easier to believe when reading it that what it says happens is what happened. (Booker’s story may well turn out to be true, but it has question marks over it that this one does not)

 

The hearing was in public, which makes it a lot easier for a reporter to put out a strong story with sources – in this case, there are quotations from the judgment and comments from both sides, and the report gives the sense of what a difficult decision this must be either way. It also has the sense of being the sort of thing that happens in the Court of Protection – these are the sort of decisions that have to be taken, the evidence heard and issues raised are consistent with the way one might imagine such a hearing to take place.

 

Again, until we get the judgment, it is difficult to analyse whether the Judge was right or wrong in making that decision – we simply don’t have enough of the key pieces of information or to see how the Judge balanced the competing arguments. So when it comes up, I will share it with you, and we can have the debate – hopefully it won’t be long.

 

It is hard not to have an emotional response however, and my sympathies on an emotional level are with the parents. I don’t think there tend to be many such decisions that go with the heart rather than the head (or with the parents rather than the medics) and I tend to think that the wishes of the family ought to carry rather more weight than they often seem to at the moment, as an overall criticism of these decisions rather than saying that the Judge in this particular case got it wrong.

 

It will be interesting to see how the Judge dealt with the right to life issue, article 2 being something that binds the Court as a public body, and that being an unqualified right. There are previous decisions which do sanction this withdrawal of treatment, largely connected to the right to die with dignity

 

It does make me somewhat uncomfortable that where a family want that for a person it is generally resisted, but when the medics want it and the family oppose it, it generally happens. Is the judiciary too deferential to the views of medical professionals? That’s a much wider debate.

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