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Disclosure to the security services

 

Well, applications for disclosure of care proceedings to the police is something that we are used to, but an application to disclose papers in care proceedings to the Security Services is something rather new – even if with radicalisation we should have seen it coming.

 

X, Y and Z (Disclosure to the Security Service) [2016]

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2016/2400.html

 

In this case which involved not only allegations of radicalisation but also allegations that one of the parents might have deliberately adminstered a harmful drug to the child by way of an intravenous cannula, the Security Services and the police were taking an interest.  There were materials within the care proceedings which were of interest to them and might have assisted in their investigations.

The complicating wrinkle is that whilst we know exactly what happens with documents that are disclosed to the police (the officers in the case read them, they are shared with the CPS and possibly with trial counsel to decide whether there needs to be an application to USE them in the criminal trial), we’re not at all sure what the internal processes of the Security Services are.

And understandably, the Security Services aren’t keen on walking us through their processes and what is involved, particularly to reveal those matters to people they are investigating under terrorism legislation.

The Security Services therefore wanted effective Cate Blanchett to have the documents and make such use of them as they saw fit including sharing them on a ‘need to know’ basis whereas the Court was being urged to not allow such unfettered access.

The compromise that was reached – and the judgment is very helpful on the detail for anyone in this position, was that the papers could be disclosed to the police, the CPS and the Security Services but any onward disclosure by those agencies would have to be with the Court’s permission following an application.

 

The Court set out the principles about how such an application by the Security Services might work (notably whether the parents would be served with it and allowed to attend and make representations)

 

 

  • My decision raises the possibility of the Security Service needing to make an application to this court for permission to disclose the material outside the Service. Whilst such applications are ordinarily straightforward, as set out above, given the nature of the Security Service and its manner of operation, an application in this context presents specific potential difficulties. In particular, the practice of neither confirming nor denying an interest or involvement means that it is unlikely that the Security Service will wish to give notice of such an application in circumstances where, in some situations, simply confirming or denying that an agency is interested in information or seeks information will result in risk that that agency will disclose its interest in, or alert suspects. In addition, the nature of the disclosure sought means that it is likely the Security Service will thereafter wish to adopt a closed procedure. Given the impact of these contentions on the Art 6 rights of the parties, they will need to be the subject of rigorous examination by the court. Within this context, I note that The President’s Guidance recognises that in cases in the family court concerning the issue of radicalisation the court may need to consider the use of closed hearings or special advocates. The Guidance further recognises the need to ensure that the Art 6 rights of all the parties are protected.
  • In seeking to ensure that the Art 6 rights that are engaged are properly protected, as well as fidelity to the common law principles of fairness and natural justice, I further note that both the domestic and European Courts have recognised that proceedings in relation to the intelligence services inevitably raise special problems and might not be capable of being dealt with in the same way as other claims (see Regina (A) v Director of Establishments of the Security Service [2010] 2 AC 1). In the case of R v Shayler [2003] 1 AC 247 Lord Bingham noted as follows in this respect:

 

“The need to preserve the secrecy of information relating to intelligence and military operations in order to counter terrorism, criminal activity, hostile activity and subversion has been recognised by the European Commission and the court in relation to complaints made under article 10 and other articles under the Convention: see Engel v The Netherlands (No 1) (1976) 1 EHRR 647, paras 100–103; Klass v Federal Republic of Germany (1978) 2 EHRR 214, para 48; Leander v Sweden (1987) 9 EHRR 433, para 59; Hadjianastassiou v Greece (1992) 16 EHRR 219, paras 45–47; Esbester v United Kingdom (1994) 18 EHRR CD72, 74; Brind v United Kingdom (1994) 18 EHRR CD76, 83–-84; Murray v United Kingdom (1994) 19 EHRR 193, para 58; Vereniging Weekblad Bluf! v The Netherlands (1995) 20 EHRR 189, paras 35, 40. The thrust of these decisions and judgments has not been to discount or disparage the need for strict and enforceable rules but to insist on adequate safeguards to ensure that the restriction does not exceed what is necessary to achieve the end in question. The acid test is whether, in all the circumstances, the interference with the individual’s Convention right prescribed by national law is greater than is required to meet the legitimate object which the state seeks to achieve. The OSA 1989, as it applies to the appellant, must be considered in that context.”

 

  • There is in my judgment no need to set up any new or elaborate procedure to account for the particular difficulties raised by any permission application that may be made by the Security Service. Rather, it is a question of adapting the existing, well established procedure for such permission applications. The key adaptations will be the need to recognise the greater likelihood that the initial hearing will need to be without notice to the parties to the proceedings (although it will remain incumbent on the Security Service in each instance to justify a without notice application by reference to the principles set out in Re S (Ex Parte Orders) [2001] 1 FLR 308, KY v DD [2012] 2 FLR 200, and Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412) and the possible use thereafter of some species of closed procedure involving the deployment of special advocates when determining the application for permission.
  • As to the applicable principles for determining whether a closed procedure should be adopted (if requested), the Justice and Security Act 2013 s 6(11) provides for the making of a declaration in any proceedings (other than proceedings in a criminal cause or matter) before the High Court that the proceedings are proceedings in which a closed material application may be made to the court. No such provision is made however, in respect of proceedings in the Family Court. Further, the rules of court which govern the determination of an application for such a declaration, and any subsequent closed material application are those set out in the CPR Part 82. By CPR r 2.1(2), CPR Part 82 does not apply to family proceedings and CPR Part 82 is not otherwise incorporated into the FPR 2010.
  • In the circumstances, whilst it would appear possible to transfer family proceedings to the High Court in order to secure for the court a statutory jurisdiction to consider an application for a declaration pursuant to the Justice and Security Act 2013 s 6 that those family proceedings are proceedings in which a closed material application may be made, absent the incorporation of CPR Part 82 into the FPR 2010 there are at present no procedural rules for determining that application or any subsequent closed material application in the context of family proceedings.
  • Historically however, and notwithstanding it being seemingly well-established that the fundamental principle that a party is entitled to the disclosure of all materials which may be taken into account by the court when reaching a decision adverse to that party can only be qualified or overridden by statute, and even then only expressly and not by implication (see R v Secretary of State for the Home Department, Ex p Simms [2000] 2 AC 115 at 132 and R (Morgan Grenfell & Co Ltd) v Special Comr of Income Tax [2003] 1 AC 563 at [45]), it is clear that special advocates have been utilised on a limited number of occasions in family proceedings to deal with issues of disclosure of sensitive material (see Re T (Wardship: Impact of Police Intelligence) [2010] 1 FLR 1048 at [31]-[34] and [112] and BCC v FZ, AZ, HZ and TVP [2013] 1 FLR 974 at [13] to [48]). In A Chief Constable v YK and Others [2011] 1 FLR 1493 at [112], whilst declining the use of special advocates in that case, Sir Nicholas Wall observed that “there will be undoubtedly be circumstances in family proceedings in which they are appropriate”. The President’s Guidance entitled Radicalisation Cases in the Family Courts dated 8 October 2015 and the President’s Guidance entitled The Role of the Attorney General in Appointing Advocates to the Court of Special Advocates in Family Cases dated 26 March 2016 contemplates the use of closed hearings and special advocates in family proceedings.
  • In the circumstances (and whilst there may remain an argument to be had as to whether the use of some species of closed procedure in the Family Court is permissible absent express statutory provision for the same, or in family proceedings in the High Court pursuant to the Justice and Security Act 2013 absent any rules of procedure governing the same having been promulgated) at any initial hearing of an application by the Security Service for permission to disclose the court will need to consider, inter alia, the following matters:

 

i) Whether the application for permission is properly made without notice in the first instance. The application should contain brief reasons for seeking to pursue the application initially without notice to the parties by reference to the principles set out in Re S (Ex Parte Orders) [2001] 1 FLR 308, KY v DD [2012] 2 FLR 200, and Re C (A Child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1412;

ii) Whether the Security Service invite the court to determine the application for permission on the basis of a closed procedure utilising special advocates;

iii) Whether the application is appropriate to be dealt with by means of the use of a closed procedure utilising special advocates having regard to the guidance set out in Re T (Wardship: Impact of Police Intelligence) [2010] 1 FLR 1048, A Chief Constable v YK and Others [2011] 1 FLR 1493 BCC v FZ, AZ, HZ and TVP [2013] 1 FLR 974, the President’s Guidance entitled Radicalisation Cases in the Family Courts dated 8 October 2015 and the President’s Guidance entitled The Role of the Attorney General in Appointing Advocates to the Court of Special Advocates in Family Cases dated 26 March 2016.

iv) Any further directions for the hearing having regard to the court’s decision in respect of the foregoing matters, again having regard the guidance in the authorities and Practice Guidance enumerated at (iii).

 

 

And here’s a photo of Rupert Penry Jones for Spooks fans  (gratuitous, yes, but I’m sure that a Margot Robbie tenuous connection will come up soon enough to balance it out)

 

Richard Armitage was good, but Rupert was THE GUY

Richard Armitage was good, but Rupert was THE GUY

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Jihadi Toddler

Of course the toddler himself didn’t have any Jihadist inclinations, but this is the judgment from the care proceedings where a mother actually took her toddler to Syria, into the war zone and photos were taken and used by Daesh for propaganda of both her and her toddler. She then came back to England and was arrested and convicted in a criminal Court.

This case contains really valuable information about what really went on in Syria and what awaits these Jihadi brides – it makes a very useful companion piece to the recent Hayden J decision about a teenaged girl who had been sucked into this radicalisation and recruitment.

 

Re Y (A child : Care Proceedings :Fact finding) 2016

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWFC/HCJ/2016/30.html

 

 

  • This is a judgement deciding issues of fact and welfare concerning a little boy who was born on 22nd August 2013 and is now two and three quarter years. He was removed by the police from his mother’s care when she arrived back in the UK from Syria in early 2015 and she was arrested by officers of the Counter Terrorism Unit. He was the subject of protective measures for 18th February 2015 when taken from his mother by the police. He has been the subject of an interim care order since 20th February 2015. At first he was placed with foster carers then moved and placed with another foster family in June 2015 and there was some delay in the local authority carrying out assessments.
  • Y’s mother (T) is in prison serving a six-year sentence following her convictions for intentionally encouraging acts of terrorism and being a member of a terrorist organisation (Daesh).

 

The mother’s case, broadly, was that she accepted the facts that she had travelled to Syria and lived  there with her little boy, and then came back to England. She had little choice about that, given the conviction, but she disputed that these events had caused significant harm to the boy – with a view to fighting for his return to her care on her release from prison (which will probably be in about 2-3 years time)

 

Conviction for terrorism offences

 

  • T was convicted on 1st February 2016 at Birmingham Crown Court. The jury found the prosecution case proved that T had been in touch with a known terrorist and was a supporter of ISIS; developing a following on Twitter. T was found to have published statements that encouraged terrorism; images that supported Daesh/ISIS and were intended to encourage people to commit, prepare or instigate acts of terrorism.
  • T was found to have travelled to Syria via Turkey, in order to travel without arousing suspicion. She had had the assistance of a named member of Daesh and as a result was transported to Raqqa in Syria which is a Daesh/ISIS stronghold; Daesh had declared a caliphate in Raqqa. She had left letters for her family saying that she did not intend to return. In the sentencing remarks of the Recorder of Birmingham, His Honour Judge Melbourne Inman QC, said “Exactly what occurred in Raqqa is far from clear. You told lie after lie to the Police and to the Court between February and November 2015 including that you were kidnapped, were not responsible for any tweets and any incriminating photographs were staged against your will. You pleaded not guilty and told more lies to the jury which they have understandably rejected.”
  • The judge continued, “What is clear from the evidence is that you had researched and were well aware of what assistance women could provide for ISIS. Your role would not be to fight; it would be to be a wife and mother – to produce the next generation of fighters“. The expert evidence before the Crown Court was to the effect that women, single women in particular, were subject to very strict rules and allowed virtually no personal autonomy and were subject to savage penalties, including death, for disobedience. This was accepted by T in her evidence before this court.
  • As could be seen from the pictures posted by T she was, as the judge said, “…trusted to have access to firearms and indeed you stated that you had fired one accidentally. You boasted to your family that you had an AK47 and a pistol. The photographs recovered from your phone show you posing with a pistol and at least one form of rifle or automatic weapon”. Unusually for a woman under Daesh control T was allowed to travel alone to Raqqa, it is not clear from the evidence before this court or the Crown Court why this was allowed but T has said that she was married to a fighter.
  • In the sentencing remarks the judge spoke of the fact that T had taken Y with her; “Most alarmingly however is the fact that you took your son and how he was used. In your own evidence you described Raqqa as the most dangerous place on earth. That is one aspect of the aggravating feature of exposing your son to life with terrorists. The most abhorrent photographs however were those taken of your son wearing a balaclava with an ISIS logo and specifically the photograph of your son, no more than a toddler, standing next to an AK47 under a title which translated from the Arabic means ‘Father of the British Jihad’. Someone else took that photograph and sent it to you but it can only have been done with your agreement. You have no control over that image or reproduction.”
  • As the judge observed T was “well aware that the future to which you had subjected your son was very likely to be indoctrination and thereafter life as a terrorist fighter”: this was said after a lengthy criminal trial throughout which he had been able to observe her demeanour. The judge continued in his summing up to say Having seen you give evidence I saw no evidence of remorse about what you had done or done to your son”.
  • T was found to have intended to encourage terrorism; she had 75 followers on Twitter, the statements she posted were considered to have been focussed, published over a period of two months and concerned with the conflict in Syria and the encouragement of terrorism. The promotion of terrorism via the internet is considered a matter of national concern by the criminal courts. T was found guilty of serious offences. She was convicted of a “course of conduct” in travelling to Syria, via Turkey, to join Daesh. The judge considered that particular factors were of great significance in considering culpability and harm and that taking Y with her was a major aggravating feature. In supporting Daesh/ISIS she had been “willing shamelessly to allow your son to be photographed in terms [or poses] that could only be taken as a fighter of the future.”
  • In mitigation it was accepted that T had returned to the UK; that she may have been more vulnerable to recruitment as her marriage had ended after considerable unhappiness; and, that there was the possibility that she had had a change of heart; there was some reduction in her overall sentence as a result. Nonetheless T was convicted of terrorism offences and the sentence of six years reflects their seriousness. She is now subject to an order under the Counter Terrorism Act 2008 (s 47) which places a requirement on her to notify the police of personal details, including her address for 15 years.
  • T will be eligible for release on licence in 2018. She agreed to Y being cared for by his paternal grandmother while she is in prison but it would seem likely that she will seek to have him returned to her care on her release.

 

 

 

 

It may seem to the casual reader that it would be hard to dispute that taking your two your old to a war zone which was being bombed and associating with terrorists would pose a risk to him, but as the criminal court had not convicted her of child cruelty (no doubt having bigger fish to fry) it was open to her to at least argue it. And she was entitled to a fair hearing, so she had very able lawyers to put her case the best way that anyone could.

 

 

  • The local authority asserted that Y would have been likely to have been frightened by the bombing which took place in Raqqa (which T sent WhatsApp messages about at the time) which would have caused Y to suffer significant emotional harm. T denied that Y had suffered significant emotional harm.

 

Let us look at a bit of the detailed evidence about the bombing – remember that her son would have been around two years old

 

  • It is a matter of common sense that Y was likely to have suffered significant emotional and psychological harm during the three months when he was in Raqqa and that it would have been as a consequence of living in conditions where, not only was his mother in fear and crying during the night, but the house they lived in was in an area that was constantly being attacked and bombed. Before I go on to consider the evidence of the frequency of the bombing, the lack of any real concern displayed or voiced by T that Y might have been affected by his experience is, in itself, worrying. If she remains unable or unwilling to think about the effects of her actions in the future, the risk of future harm to Y will remain.
  • The evidence before this court was that the level of bombing was very frequent indeed, this is based on T’s oral evidence and on what she put in her messages on WhatsApp, where it (the bombing) was a constant topic of discussion and a regular occurrence. I set out some examples here:

 

•    On the 1st December 2014 on WhatsApp “no bombs today” and images of buildings on fire.

•    On the 13th December 2014 in conversation with her brother on “They do bomb a lot but we will stay in another place when you visit…”

•    On the 17th December messages with a friend “Do they bomb close to your house?” T answers; Yes very close to the housethe house shakes” and “they just bomb from the sky“.

•    On the 25th December 2014 at 10.58 from T “they bomb my house every day – – my house shakes…

•    On 25th December 2014 conversation with her friend who asks “why won’t I like it” – “because too much bombs and not like England war here never going to end???”

•    On the 27th December from T “they bombed once today – gave number to friend if we die she will WhatsApp u

•    On the 30th December 2015 a message from M referred to “30 bombs” falling in one day

•    When she was interviewed by the police on 19th February 2015 T is recorded as saying “it’s no place for a child…. when they would bomb we would have to go into the basement – you could see the smoke – close smoke …”

 

  • In her oral evidence, however, T tried to minimize the frequency, impact and close proximity of the bombing giving a different picture from the one that had emerged from the messages she had sent in December, including of the house shaking and of bombing being every day (so much so that it was remarked on when there was no bombing on 1st December 2014). The images on her phone and the messages she sent are of frequent bombing close to the house, and as she said to the police, of close, smoking buildings.
  • In her oral evidence T said that on the first occasion, when they were in Raqqa, that bombing took place “everyone was ordered to go to another place in the house…we went to the basement and waited…” T said she was “panicked” felt “frightened and scared” and was worried she would be killed. Y was with her while all this was going on; it is inconceivable that her fear and panic was not transmitted to him. She said “All the women had gone to this place and we stood together and there were looks of fear, some were crying. Everyone walked to a basement and waited in fear”
  • T then tried to minimise the event she had been describing by saying that there had been no immediate panic and that there was a lot of women who were quite content to die as they would have been seen as martyrs. In a further attempt to diminish the dangerousness of their situation she said, when questioned about an image on her phone of a building with a large column of smoke coming from it taken on 1st January 2015, that the building was not on fire it was just smoke and that the building “looked closer than it was.” To try to reduce the evidence of frequent bombings she said that on occasion they would hear a bang in the distance. As she also said that “on one occasion there was 30 bombs” dropped, this was a further contradiction in her evidence which raised questions as to her credibility. It was her evidence that while she and Y were in Raqqa there were about 15 occasions altogether when bombs were dropped, this contradicts the messages she was sending at the time. Nonetheless she did concede that; “It’s not a place for anybody …I would never want my family there.”
  • When she was asked during her oral evidence about the effects of the bombing on the children T said that Y would not have been aware of the bombing or upset because “we just distracted them [the children]“. She had and gave no further explanation of how they had distracted the children or why she felt sure or understood Y to have been unaffected by the bombs going off, the noise, the building shaking and the panic and fear surrounding him.
  • I find it very unlikely that Y, or any of the children, could have been unaware of the bombing. I find it unlikely that he was not upset by it; it is simply not credible. In reality T’s oral evidence amounted to further evidence of a chronic lack of insight, empathy and understanding of what her child must have gone through. T said of Y that “he never cries, on one occasion it startled him but [he] never cried. It made him jump once”. This was in stark contrast to her evidence about the effects on her; when 30 bombs fell she said that the missiles “sounded like when a firework goes off…its very scary…the most scared I have been in my life.” Moreover, I find that it is most unlikely that Y did not wake up and that he stayed asleep as bombs fell all night and the house shook around them as T suggested in her evidence to me.

 

 

 

Even ignoring the risk to her son’s life and limbs in being in a warzone where bombs were being dropped that frequently, the loud noises and panic must have been very frightening for him.  One might argue – I don’t think anyone tried here – that surely not all of the children who lived through the Blitz in World War II also suffered significant harm though of course none of them had mothers who deliberately chose to put themselves and their children at such risk.  I suspect we really won’t know the impact on this little boy until much later in life. I hope with loving care from his grandmother and the right sort of support he will have very limited memories of the experience.

 

 

The mother did describe the impact that it had on her

 

 

  • When she returned to the UK from Syria T said that she had continued to be affected by her experiences “when I first came back a loud bang would make me think what is that!” She went on to agree, when it was put to her, that the bombing did make Y jump and that he was “probably scared“. I find that it is more likely than not that Y was frightened by the bombing in Raqqa. When taken as a whole it is T’s own evidence that she, and therefore Y too, had lived in situation of heightened anxiety and fear, which was also experienced by the other families and children around them. This must have had an emotional impact on Y that was harmful, exposed as he was to frequent bombing, noise, anxiety and the panicked reaction of the other children and their mothers; and, most significantly, given his tender years, the fear and anxiety of his own mother. He was present when, as she told me, she was fearful for her own life. I have little doubt that he suffered emotional harm as a result.
  • The emotional harm would have been compounded by the fact that his mother had taken him away from all that was safe and familiar to him, and from the rest of his family. T severed those relationships and placed him in what was, on her own account, a harsh, restrictive and punitive atmosphere where he was kept imprisoned in a house full of total strangers. It would be quite remarkable if he was unaffected psychologically. T has never given any evidence, description or detail of how she manged to ameliorate this situation to the extent that Y remained unaffected; at the very least he would have suffered harm as a result of being taken away from home, family and safe and familiar surroundings; when one adds the bombing, fear, panic, restriction and threatening atmosphere along with the effects of fear on his mother it is not credible to suggest that he did not suffer significant emotional harm.
  • I find on the evidence before me that there was frequent, if not daily, bombing close to the house; so that on occasions the house shook and that the bombing resulted in damage to other buildings that were close enough to be photographed on a phone. The bombing meant that the other people in the house, adults and children alike, were repeatedly panicked, scared and anxious, that Y, too, would have been frightened at the time of the bombing and that afterwards he would have been anxious about it all happening again. He would have been worried, anxious, distressed and frightened by his mother’s fear and panic. I find that Y was emotionally and psychologically harmed as a direct result of his experiences in Syria.
  • The flight from Syria as described by T must have been a frightening experience for Y, she certainly found it to be so. Later in the detention centre in Turkey, surrounded by yet more strangers, he became ill and was hospitalised. The court was given no details of his illness and treatment by his mother, in what can only be a further attempt to minimise or deflect attention from the effects of her actions on her very young son.

 

 

 

The Court also considered the emotional harm to the child of being drawn into the propaganda and manipulation of Daesh for their own ends.

 

 

  • Y would have been confused and probably caused some anxiety and distress as a result of being photographed in a number of poses which are potentially abusive as they were taken with the intent of promoting violence and terrorism. His image was posted under the title “Abu Jihad Al Britani” next to an AK47 which had been arranged with a caption; it can only have been taken with the purpose of reproducing his image to use as propaganda. There are five images of Y wearing a Daesh logo balaclava and a further three images of Y wearing a Daesh balaclava in the court bundle. There are also images of Y and his mother under a Daesh flag; on the 27th December 2014 T sent a message to a friend asking that they “send me the pictures of me and Zaeem by the flag at Umm Salama maqar.”
  • While the fact that Y was only two years old means that he will not have fully appreciated the potentially exploitative and abusive nature of the photographs it does not alter the fact that his mother manipulated him or allowed others to do so. I accept the local authority’s case that there remains risk of emotional harm when the child becomes aware of these images in the future and of his mother’s role in their production.
  • I find that T was well aware of the use that such images could be put and was aware of the use of children as part of Daesh propaganda as she had stored an image on her own phone of a very young child reading with Daesh flag. T’s explanations in her evidence for the photographs were confused and evasive. T had told me that she had something of a celebrity status in the house in Raqqa because of the activity she had been party to online before leaving the UK and because of the notoriety her case had attracted in the media when members of her family had spoken about her after she left. She attempted to deny knowledge of the pictures such as the “Abu Jihad” photo she said to me “I have no knowledge of this picture…. I didn’t know this photo existed…” She tried to suggest that the picture was a fake by saying, “If there was an expert to tell me this is a real picture…” When she was asked what use the photo may be put to she said “it was never used” thus contradicting her assertion that she did not know of its existence. When it was pointed out to her that she said Y was always in her care and so no-one could have taken pictures of Y without her knowledge the best explanation she could come up with was, “I could have been in the shower…”
  • T’s evidence about the other pictures was equally unconvincing; she said that those in which Y was wearing the ISIS balaclava had happened because it “it belonged to the man of the house….at the time my son liked to wear hats and things on his head at that time. It was not about what it had written on it”. Once again she betrayed in her evidence an absence of any concern or consideration about the potential harm to her son. T claimed, somewhat bizarrely, that the picture taken under the flag was “to show where I was from.” T claimed that she did not think the person who had it would use it for propaganda. As T had both notoriety and “celebrity” status that it was a wholly disingenuous suggestion.
  • From the pictures taken in the house in Raqqa and from T’s evidence Y had been living in an environment where there were a range of guns and where those weapons were used and brandished by his mother and others. Self-evidently the risk of physical harm or even death is high in such a situation. The court had before it numerous images of T and others with guns, including images of T next to a firearm, images of T and other women posing with guns on the balcony. In one such picture there is an image of a child in the foreground which is more likely than not to be Y. There were numerous images of T and other women posing with guns. On the 1st December 2014 she sent a message to M “I have a gun” followed by 11 images of a gun in which a female hand is seen holding the gun and that person is wearing a garment in which T was frequently photographed. On 17th December T sent a WhatsApp message to M “– Wallah I have the same gun as you – AK 47”. Despite telling M in the WhatsApp conversation she had a gun she then claimed in her oral evidence never to have owned a gun; she then said all people involved in Daesh have a gun and said that the “man of the house” and his wife had a gun but could not explain how she came to be holding it in a photograph.
  • T told me in respect of a picture of her with an AK 47 “I’m not holding it in this picture…I am taking a selfie and the person next to me is trying to get me to hold the gun”. To say that T’s evidence in respect of this and other pictures lacked credibility would be to understate the case, her oral evidence is directly contradicted by the images in the court bundles which were also seen by the jury in the Crown Court. In one instance T claimed that she had taken a picture of a woman holding a gun rather than accept that she was the woman in the image herself. She had frequently said that Y was not present while insisting in her evidence that Y was always with her and then, finally, said, “not sure if Y would know what a gun is”. The evidence of the social worker is that Y is all too aware of what a gun is and becomes over-excited by the suggestion of guns and shooting, and runs around mimicking shooting and makes noises of gunfire.
  • T’s evidence regarding the pictures, their use and the role of Daesh “logo” is a brazen attempt to deny something that she is well aware of; when she gave evidence to this court she had not long been convicted of being a member of Daesh/ISIS and of encouraging terrorism (as set out above). The impact of being in the environment of the Daesh household on Y would have been emotionally harmful, and her evidence to the contrary is wholly unconvincing.

 

 

What a world we live in, when a mother could even contemplate this being a suitable life for a toddler. I despair.

 

 

 

If you found this piece interesting, or you’ve enjoyed the blog generally, please pre-order my book, which should be out around December with your support. Many thanks!

 

https://unbound.com/books/in-secure

We’ve gone on holiday by mistake

 

 

The outcome of the President’s case involving parents who were found, with their four children (aged between 20 months and 7 years old) around the border between Turkey and Syria, with the suspicion that they intended to cross the border and join up with the conflict going on in Syria.

 

I wrote about the initial decision here, in which the President set out a detailed routemap for recovering such children and bringing them back into the jurisdiction

https://suesspiciousminds.com/2015/05/21/isis-and-children-being-taken-to-syria/

 

At that time, there were competing explanations

 

(a) The parents had become radicalised and sought to join the conflict in Syria, potentially with ISIS and thus exposing the children to significant danger

or

(b) the parents explanation, that they were on holiday in Turkey as a family, with no sinister motives at all.

I note that the family had travelled to this holiday in Turkey by way of ferry from Dover, and then by public transport all the way, and did so without telling anyone.  Perhaps that’s to avoid detection and suspicion (option a) or perhaps the family really like buses or are afraid of flying, and have a strong sense of privacy (option b)

In any event, one would now think in retrospect that holidaying with a baby and 3 young children near the Syrian border was something of a mistake.

 

The next bit of the hearing is to look at what should happen next.

 

Re M (Children) No 2  2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2933.html

 

The outcome of this hearing is that the children are all at home with their parents, under no orders at all, and the children’s passports have been returned.

 

Now, there’s always been a background residual concern that in the concerns about radicalisation and terrorism that a wholly innocent family could be caught up and subjected to what must be a terrifying process. So if that is what has happened here, that would be hugely newsworthy.

Equally, if option (a) is what actually happened, and the family have subsequently satisfied a Court that they are safe now, that would be hugely newsworthy.

 

Annoyingly, we can’t be 100% sure of either option. The Court do not set out what findings, if any, were made about the children’s time near the Syrian border in Turkey.  It may be that the Court was not asked by any party to make such a finding, or that the parents made concessions. We just don’t know.

The closest we come is this :-

 

At a further hearing on 2 June 2015 I directed the appointment of an independent social worker, Ms RT, to address matters which, understandably, the guardian did not feel qualified to address, in particular the question of whether the parents can care adequately for the children and prioritise their needs, having regard to their religious beliefs and in circumstances when their allegiance to those beliefs could compromise the safety of the children. Ms RT’s report is dated 16 August 2015. It is a detailed, impressive and compelling piece of work. Because the family’s identity is in the public domain, I do not propose to go through the report in any detail. It is enough for me to quote one brief passage:

It is my assessment that the intervention of the state has been a wakeup call for this couple … It is my assessment that their current beliefs do not pose a risk or will compromise the safety of their children … [They] are good parents and they are able to care for all their children. I see no reason whatsoever to remove the children from their care.”

The local authority and the guardian accept that conclusion and the analysis that underpins it. So do I.

 

It doesn’t feel ideal that we have to infer from one sentence fragment in a judgment  ‘that this has been a wakeup call for these parents’ that the more likely explanation for the children’s presence near the Syrian border was a malign one, not a benign one.

 

But, one could also read it that the ‘wake-up call’ is that the parents now realised that Syria was a dangerous part of the world and that their holiday to Turkey was ill-advised and they would never make that sort of foolish mistake again.

I know which reading I think is right, but the problem legally is that an allegation that the parents had planned to take their children into Syria is an allegation that needs to be proven – the parents don’t have to prove their innocence. In the absence of a clear finding, then it didn’t happen.

 

The order says

 

  1. Having regard to all that material, and all the other evidence before me, I had no hesitation in agreeing with the course proposed by the local authority, endorsed by the guardian and agreed by the parents. Accordingly, at the final hearing on 5 October 2015 I made an order in the following terms:

    “UPON the court receiving the independent assessment of RT dated 16 August 2015 and the position statements of the applicant local authority and children’s guardian, the contents of which recommend the discharge of the wardship orders currently in place on the basis that the identified risks are manageable under child in need plans and ongoing cooperation by the respondent parents with the applicant local authority

    AND UPON the parents agreeing in full to the terms of this order

    AND UPON the court indicating that a brief anonymised judgment will be handed down in writing on a date to be notified

    BY CONSENT IT IS ORDERED THAT:-

    1 The wardship orders first made in respect of the subject children on 4 May 2015 and renewed thereafter on 8 May 2015 are hereby discharged.

    2 The order dated 8 May 2015, requiring the applicant local authority to retain the parents’ and children’s passports to the order of this court is hereby discharged, whereupon the local authority has agreed to return the said passports to the parents.

    3 There be no order as to costs save for detailed public funding assessment of the respondents’ costs.”

  2. It follows that the proceedings are now at an end. I leave the final word to the parents, who say, and I accept, “wish to put the incident behind them and concentrate on being the best parents for their children, with the continued support of their family and friends.”

 

 

Again, that order sets out that there are identified risks, but doesn’t actually identify them. Are those ‘identified risks’ that the parents had planned to take the children into Syria but have now come to their senses, or that the parents are the worst holiday planners since Withnail?

 

"Are you the farmer?"

“Are you the farmer?”

 

Perhaps the people involved in the case know definitelively what happened, but given the importance of such cases nationally, particularly if these parents were exonerated from suspicion, it might have been rather important to actually spell it out.

 

[It may be that the fudge here is because unusually, the identity of the family is known, and they have to live within their local community, but the ambiguity isn’t helpful if they were actually exonerated and considered by a Court to have actually just taken a really badly located holiday.]

 

 

Totally radical, dude

"Put them in the Iron Maiden"

“Put them in the Iron Maiden”

 

The President has published guidance on radicalisation cases within the family Court, which you can find here:-

 

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/pfd-guidance-radicalisation-cases.pdf

 

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. ]

 

"Omar comin' ! "

“Omar comin’ ! “

 

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)

Radicalisation of children and ISIS – Jihadi Brides

 

This is a very powerful and disturbing case. As Hayden J says, this is a whole new category of child abuse which professionals and Courts are learning about very quickly, it just wasn’t something that had even entered anyone’s thinking two years ago.

 

London Borough of Tower Hamlets and B 2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2491.html

 

It has a somewhat stellar line up of advocates,  indicative of the serious nature of the case.  In broad terms, the issue was this :-

 

Was a 16 year old girl being radicalised to prompt her to travel to Syria and became a “Jihadi Bride”,  if so, were the parents to blame in any way, and what should happen to her and her brothers?

 

In this case, the girl had been caught at the airport trying to catch a plane with that intent – rather like the recent cases before the President that resulted in ankle-tagging.  Unlike those cases, where the President was satisfied that there had been no overt or abusive radicalisation of the child, in this case there was plenty of evidence.

 

14. I have already referred to a very significant amount of what I will for shorthand call ‘radicalising material’ being removed from the household. During the course of this hearing before me I asked Mr. Barnes, on behalf of the Local Authority, to distil the material that had been removed into an easily accessible schedule identifying to whom the material was attributable. The schedule, which has not been disputed, requires to be summarised in detail.

  1. There were a number of devices attributable to B herself:

    (1) A document headed “44 Ways to Support Jihad” with practical suggestions as to the support of terrorist activity;

    (2) “The Macan Minority” urging participation in Jihadi activity;

    (3) Internet searches relating to terrorist manuals and guides to terror activities. That also included queries as to the response times of the Metropolitan Armed Response Team and the Queen’s Guard;

    (4) Internet searches as to the preservation of on-line anonymity, including, as confirmed by a police officer at an earlier hearing, the downloading of software to hide the IP address of the user’s computer when on-line;

    (5) A downloaded version of “Mujahid Guide to Surviving in the West”. Possession of that document is, of itself, a serious criminal offence. It gives guides to weapon and bomb making and to “hiding the extremist identity”.

    (6) “Miracles in Syria”. This contained information as to how to get to ISIS territory and many photographs of what are referred to as “Smiling corpses”.

    I had not understood what that meant, but I have been informed that it involves photographing the corpses of fighters whose faces are set in a smiling repose and said to reveal pleasure at their glimpses of eternal reward

    (7) “Hiraj to the Islamic State”. This contained information and advice as to how to avoid airport security. It had particular advice in relation to females intending to travel to ISIS territory via Turkey.

    (8) Footage of attacks on Western Forces in the Middle East.

  2. On one of the siblings devices there was the following:

    (1) Numerous articles, some in what are referred to as “glossy magazine format” urging flight to ISIS territory and recommending its “lifestyle”.(2) An edition of Islamic State News showing men being prepared for execution and asserting community support for it.

    (3) An edition of Islamic State News showing before and after shots of human executions.

    (4) A video of terrorist training.

    (5) A video containing images of actual executions and beheadings.

  3. On another sibling’s devices there were the following:

    (1) A number of lectures and video biographies encouraging support for ISIS activities, including videos of attacks upon Western Forces in the Middle East.(2) ‘The Maccan Minority’, seen earlier in B’s own devices, suggesting that files had been shared between the siblings.

    (3) A document called “The Constance of Jihad”. This was a five hour lecture on the need to participate in fighting against non-Muslims.

  4. Finally, from the parent’s own devices:

    (1) Lectures encouraging participation in armed attacks on non-Muslims.(2) Issues of Islamic State News showing the same executions as those seen on the devices attributed to one of the siblings, again suggesting file sharing.

    (3) Photographs of teenagers holding grenades.

  5. Reducing the material in this way to this stark list was, at least to my mind, an important exercise. The impact of the material set out in this way is both powerful and alarming. It requires to be stated unambiguously, it is not merely theoretical or gratuitously shocking, it involves information of a practical nature designed to support and to perpetrate terrorist attacks. I have noted already bur reemphasise that it provides advice as to how to avoid airport security, particularly for females. In addition, the videos of beheadings and smiling corpses can only be profoundly damaging, particularly to these very young, and in my judgment, vulnerable individuals

 

 

Deep breath. You can see therefore that the material was far beyond a ‘come to syria for a life of glamour’ blandishments that anyone could come across on the internet  – there were very strong and graphic images and terrorist manuals. You can also see that the parents’ electronic devices also contained this sort of material.

 

Importantly, much of this material involved how to conceal extremeist views and that was certainly something which had played out with these parents, who had previously come across as concerned and anxious about their daughter’s actions.

 

20. It is not uncommon in my experience, which I am confident is shared by the experienced advocates in this case, for adults in public law proceedings or child protection proceedings more generally to seek to deceive social workers. Sometimes it can be successful for protracted periods. They may conceal a drinking habit, substance abuse, or a continued relationship with a violent partner. Usually these come to the surface eventually. I am bound to say I do not recall seeing deception which is so consummately skilful as has been the case here. I have found myself wondering whether some of the material may have educated this family in skilful concealment of underlying beliefs and activities.

  1. The parents’ joint statements require revisiting. Thus:

    “We are a very strong family unit and we are doing our very best to help prevent such a situation from reoccurring. We are keeping extremely close eyes on B and trying to be encouraging of her moving without ridiculing her for her actions to the extent that this incident forever haunts and affects her day to day living. I, the mother, am particularly sensitive of how we manage the situation which we view as very serious due to my work…
    I understand how to empathise and assist those in need of support through open questioning techniques and motivational encouragement, and have done this with B at great length since the incident to help understand what went wrong. We had thought that we were nearing a stage of putting the incident behind us, having worked together as a family, convening weekly family discussions and opening up about how to move on…”

    “The police officer ‘x’ offered a piece of technology costing £79 which allows complete monitoring of the computers in the house. The instructions were followed and it was bought and a friend who is technologically minded (which neither if us are) installed it for us. The children are not aware of it. We completely understand the police and Social Service’s concerns, but we don’t want any intervention to further impact our family lives for the unforeseeable future. The risk in our minds is not high at present of B leaving the UK, particularly given that all of our passports are being held by our solicitors. We would agree with whatever measures are deemed necessary to prevent risk to B and following the explanation given at the initial child protection conference have agreed, or already carried out, the protective tasks itemised in the assessment report.”

    They were fulsome too in their praise for the social worker:

    “The new social worker explained her role and again seemed very sensitive to the need to limit and time her visits according to B’s studies. We have readily accepted the recommendations of the conference. We were impressed by the thoughtful and specific thought all there gave B. She did not feel like she was lumped together with other girls for no clear reason. The professionals at the meeting voiced confusion themselves about an initial child protection conference being held whilst the child is warded. The Chair expressed concern that it seemed a decision had been made that there must be a child protection done before the conference. In fact following the open and frank discussion at the conference, all professionals voted unanimously for a time limited Child in Need plan. We were very relieved, and repeat, we will grab with open arms practical and genuine offers of help in getting past this terrible event provided we think they will help. We also repeat we are so grateful to those who stopped S getting to Turkey.”

  2. Evaluating those passages alongside the material that was discovered in this household reveals that much of what was said was in fact an elaborate and sophisticated succession of lies.

 

 

It was a very difficult situation for the Court to deal with. There had been limited opportunity for professionals to talk to the boys.  It is worth noting here that Hayden J acknowledges that Courts are often obliged to take social workers to task for poor practice, but here the work that the social worker had done was to be commended.  Hayden J felt that there was no alternative but to remove the girl, B.  He makes a comparison with the nature of the abuse she was suffering which is a strong and powerful one. I will leave it to others to consider whether they think it is too strong or about right.

 

The decision for the boys was much harder.

 

  1. The police found it necessary, as a precaution, to limit professional access to this family. The need for that, to my mind, was self-evident. It has, however, meant that I have limited information into the lives of the male children.
  2. The Local Authority apply to remove each of the children from the household; not just B but the boys too. So corrosive and insidious are the beliefs in this household, it is argued, so pervasive is the nature of the emotional abuse, so complete is the resistance to intervention, and so total the lack of co-operation, that the emotional safety of the boys, the Local Authority says, cannot be assured. I have some sympathy for that view. Nonetheless, in exchanges with Mr. Barnes on behalf of the Local Authority the following, to my mind, important facts have emerged. Firstly, it is conspicuous that radicalised material was not found on the boys’ devices. Secondly, the boys, through a variety of sporting interests, have a much wider integration into society more generally and, on my, as yet, superficial assessment, a healthier range of interests. Between sport and study there is, I suspect, little room in their lives for radicalised interests. Thirdly, it was one of the boys who first sounded the alarm about his sister’s flight. The exact account of that, like everything else this family says, must now be viewed with very great caution, but I strongly suspect there is a core truth that it was the action of one of the brothers that foiled B’s flight to Syria. Fourthly, two of the older boys will be starting 6th Form education at college very soon, and accordingly they will be more exposed to professional scrutiny.
  3. I will require a thorough intense and comprehensive social work assessment of the boys’ circumstances. I will then be able better to decide whether their situation in this household is sustainable or not. Until I have the information I am not prepared to sanction their removal. It may or may not be necessary in the future. The balance of risk, it seems to me is, significantly different in the cases of the boys, at least at this stage. The Guardian supports such a course. Though I hope she will forgive me for saying so, I have not placed very much weight on her view. She was only appointed a few days ago. She has not had any opportunity to meet the children at all. She has an inevitably incomplete knowledge of the background of the case, and virtually no understanding of the wider issues, having, as she told me, never been involved in a case of this nature before. She is in an entirely invidious position. I am sympathetic to her and I do not intend these simple statements of facts to be construed by her in any way as a criticism. They are not.
  4. The social worker appointed in this case, by contrast, has in my assessment
    a deep, well informed and intelligent understanding of the issues. She has been working this case and with this family now for some time. It is in the nature of the proceedings that come before this court, in particular, that the actions of social workers often fall to be scrutinised and are from time to time found to be wanting and deprecated in judgments. The opposite situation arises here. This social worker has, in my judgment, made an outstanding contribution to the case. All those who have encountered her, the lawyers, the police, the guardians, have been impressed both by the extent of her knowledge of this family and by her professionalism. She has formed a very important, and in my judgment, highly effective link between social work and police operations. She has had to absorb and re-analyse her work in a dramatically changing landscape. She gave evidence. She told me she had forged a strong, open, working relationship with B, as she thought. She had been convinced, and she is not, I suspect, unhealthily sceptical, that she had achieved, in effect, a professional result with B.
  5. It is obvious listening to her that despite everything that has happened, she has some affection for B and her professional concern remains. Now, she told me, B will not sit near her or talk to her. The social worker is not deterred. She continues to work to try to engage B in a meaningful dialogue. As she gave evidence, I took the view that this social worker, though saddened by the deception on a personal level, had merely girded her loins and resolved to try to re-forge the relationship. I am not able to identify her by name in this judgment, though I should like to have done so. To do so would only risk compromising the anonymity of the children. I have not lightly rejected her social work assessment in relation to the boys. Her understanding of B is considerable, as I have emphasised, but I have the strong sense, which to her credit she readily acknowledged, that her knowledge of and assessment of the boys was far from complete. As I have said, the balance of risk, at least for the present, is different.
  6. I have no hesitation in concluding that B has been subjected to serious emotional harm, and, at the very least, continues to be at risk of such in her parent’s care. I can see no way in which her psychological, emotional and intellectual integrity can be protected by her remaining in this household. The farrago of sophisticated dishonesty displayed by her parents makes such a placement entirely unsustainable.
  7. I return to the comparator of sexual abuse. If it were sexual risk that were here being contemplated, I do not believe that any professional would advocate such a placement for a moment. The violation contemplated here is not to the body but it is to the mind. It is every bit as insidious, and I do not say that lightly. It involves harm of similar magnitude and complexion.
  8. I approach the Local Authority’s proposals by considering B’s needs at this juncture. I am required to do so by Section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989. What she needs, I find, is to be provided with an opportunity in which she can, in a peaceful and safe situation, be afforded the chance for her strong and lively mind to reassert its own independence. An environment in which there are the kind of vile images that I have described and the extreme polemic I have outlined, can only be deleterious to her emotional welfare. I hope she can be provided with an opportunity where her thoughts might turn to healthier and
    I hope happier issues. I have no doubt, as has been impressed upon me by her counsel, that she will find separation from her parents, particularly her siblings, to be distressing, though I note she was prepared to leave them to go to Syria. I do not doubt that the social worker will struggle to find a placement which meets the full panoply of her welfare needs which has been emphasised on behalf of the guardian, but I entirely see why the Local Authority plans or proposals are, of necessity, only general in outline and, to some extent, inevitably inchoate. However, I am entirely satisfied that this social worker will make every effort to ensure the best possible option is achieved for B. That is the Local Authority’s responsibility.

 

 

I note that the parents in this case have been charged with an offence,

 

On 12th August the parents and other siblings were arrested on suspicion of “possessing information likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.” That is an offence contrary to s.58 of the Terrorism Act 2000 and carries a substantial custodial sentence.

 

 

What this case really shows is just how sophisticated the grooming process for radicalising young people and families can be, and that over and above the grooming and information about going to Syria and practical arrangements there is sophisticated material and advice on deceiving professionals and allaying professional suspicion.  These things represent completely new challenges and Tower Hamlets (amongst some other authorities) have got really valuable insights and experiences to share with other agencies who might encounter these issues. I hope that there are some joined up discussions to take place about the best way to share these insights and new found expertise.

Tag, you’re it

A follow-up from last week’s case involving a decision that children whose parents were suspected of intending/attempting to take them to Syria to a war zone should be at home with the parents, with the parents being electronically tagged to prevent a recurrance.

 

You may remember that during that piece, I expressed some reservations about how the scheme would operate and who would pay for it.

 

Well, part two of

 

X and Y (children) No 2  2015

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2358.html

 

raises that particular question and then doesn’t answer it.

 

The answer is, that in THIS PARTICULAR CASE but not other future ones, the Ministry of Justice agree to pay.

  1. By the time the matter came on for hearing before me on 3 August 2015, Mr Alex Ustych, on behalf of MoJ, was able to tell me on instructions that it would take approximately a fortnight to put all the arrangements in place for GPS tagging. He was also able to say that, having considered its position further since filing its submissions, MoJ was willing, if I took the view that there should be GPS tagging, to meet the cost in this case without having recourse to any of the parties for any payment.
  2. That, as he made clear, was entirely without prejudice to MoJ’s position as I have summarised it in paragraph 2 above, and is not to be treated as a precedent in any future case. In particular, the fact that MoJ is willing in this case to agree to meet the cost does not mark any departure from its fundamental position that the court has no power to order MoJ or NOMS (or, I assume, EMS) to bear the cost of providing GPS tagging.

 

You may have picked up the not comforting crumb that it will take a fortnight to get the tagging sorted out.

So what about future cases?  Well, it seems fairly plain that the MOJ would at the very least want to have an argument about it, and as we learned from the Court of Appeal decision about whether the President’s suggestion that the MOJ/HMCS should pay for costs of a litigant where article 6 would be breached  (no statutory power, so no thanks)  they might well win there.

 

Can the costs be split between the parties?  Well, if you were a solicitor for the parents or child, there’s no way on Earth that you are writing that cheque without the Legal Aid Agency agreeing. And I am certain that they won’t.  Putting a tag on a parent can in no way be construed as an assessment of the parent. What are you assessing? Whether they will run away if there is an electronic device that prevents them from doing so?

 

If you want an expert to assess that, I am available to conduct the assessment.  It will be a very fast turnaround, and my report will consist of the words, “No, they won’t. I don’t know what they will do when you take the tags off”

So, that leaves the good old Local Authority.   Well, what’s sauce for the MOJ goose is sauce for the gander too.  Please find me the statutory power that allows the Court to order the Local Authority to pay for electronic tagging.  I don’t mind waiting.

 

I’m afraid that the very next Local Authority who have to go to Court because children in their area have been involved in an attempt to take them to Syria are going to have to go through this entire argument all over again.

 

And I will add in another argument – it is still really unclear what would happen if one or both of the parents does not consent – is there a proper statutory basis for an interference with their article 5 rights?  It is probably easier if both refuse, because then the children just can’t be placed with them, but if one says yes and the other says no? tricky.

 

If you WANT to enter into this arrangement, the President does set out a very useful template order.

Syria, children and electronic tagging

 

In what has been a challenging month, I have to confess that my heart sank right into my boots when I saw  Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, had published a judgment about Emergency Protection Orders.  I’m still recovering from Re X, his last major contribution to this legal domain, and that was nine years ago.

 

But Re X (children) and Y (children) (Emergency Protection Orders) 2015   http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2265.html

[Weird, the link doesn’t seem to be working. Try again

 

http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2015/2265.html      ]

 

is not actually about expanding the fourteen point guidance into a two-hundred and nine point guidance, so you can read on without fear or dread.

 

Note, I am lying. This is a judgment from the President. Have you ever seen a judgment from the President that made a Local Authority lawyer happy?  If I wrote the Top Ten list of case-law that had made my job harder, the President’s fingerprints would be on seven of them – going right back to seven days a week contact.  This does not buck that particular trend.

 

It is one of the cases where a family are accused/suspected/found  (delete as relevant to the particular case) of trying to take their children out to Syria to join up with ISIS (or whatever David Cameron thinks that we should call them this week), and what the State can do about it.

 

At the moment, this responsibility rests on the shoulders of Social Services and the Children Act 1989, and Parliament is more than welcome to produce some proper legislation that takes that off us and gives it to someone else, any time now.

 

A lot of this case is very factual about the circumstances, and I daresay that it will be very helpful to all the LA’s who are making applications to Court about such families.

 

[I have always wondered where the families go after that EPO. If a Court has ruled that you intended to take your child into a warzone and join up with terrorists and removes the child, what sort of assessment gets you the child BACK at the end of the final hearing? Aren’t the EPOs basically determinative of final outcome?  Well, that was the thrust of this case, whether there was some sort of arrangement that would allow the children to be back in the parents care with some form of cast-iron guarantee that they would not leave the jurisdiction. The important thing to remember here is that the Court had not conducted a finding of fact hearing about the parents intentions and plans and thus what risk the children were at – they had just determined that there were REASONABLE grounds to believe that the children were at risk of significant harm requiring interim protections]

 

However, the President would not be the President if he didn’t try to stretch the law a bit, and so that’s the point of interest.    [Occasionally, the President’s approach to the law reminds me of the year at school where all of us were given a brand new white plastic ruler to replace the wooden ones – the rulers were each labelled “Helix – Shatterproof” , an ill-thought out boast, which led to all of us industriously breaking them that very morning to demonstrate that they were not in fact Shatterproof.   I say ill-thought out, but of course, the school had to get on to Helix and order another 250 that same day, so for Helix it was a profitable claim]

 

Thinking about the cases over the intervening weekend, it occurred to me to think about the possibility of electronic tagging. Accordingly, on 5 July 2015 I sent the following email:

“I am sending this email to the advocates in both … cases. Please make sure that it is communicated as soon as possible to all concerned.

It has occurred to me to wonder whether in these cases it may be appropriate to consider the making of electronic tagging orders: see Re C (Abduction: Interim Directions: Accommodation by Local Authority) [2003] EWHC 3065 (Fam), [2004] 1 FLR 653, and Re A (Family Proceedings: Electronic Tagging) [2009] EWHC 710 (Fam), [2009] 2 FLR 891 (setting out a form of order).

Could counsel please consider this possibility.”

This time there are precedents (though fairly obscure ones, which I had to go and read). They relate of course to the powers under the Child Custody and Abduction Act 1985.  Those powers aren’t exactly delineated to require someone to submit to electronic tagging, but in the modern era of law as they don’t say that they DON’T give that power, it could be interpreted thus

5 Interim powers.

Where an application has been made to a court in the United Kingdom under the Convention, the court may, at any time before the application is determined, give such interim directions as it thinks fit for the purpose of securing the welfare of the child concerned or of preventing changes in the circumstances relevant to the determination of the application.

 

Of course here, though, there is not an application before the Court under the Convention. These are EPO applications, governed by the Children Act 1989.   It is beyond my working knowledge to consider whether an attempt by the persons who hold PR (when there are no Children Act 1989 orders) could find themselves foul of the Child Custody and Abduction Act 1985   (if everyone with PR agrees that the children will go to Syria, who are the children being abducted FROM?).   It would be different if the Court had made Children Act 1989 orders, or were seised with such an application, since there’s authority to say that the Court can go on to make orders compelling the children’s return to the jurisdiction.

 

Anyway, let’s see what the President does with the idea of electronic tagging.

 

It is worth noting that the parents were keen on the idea – because it was obviously their best shot of having the children returned to their care  – this being a case where the Court had not found any evidence that the children had been exposed to radicalisation.   So the Court did not have to consider whether there was power to impose it on the family.   (Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward were counsel representing the parents)

 

  1. Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward take as their starting point the fact that, the precipitating events apart, the parents are, in other respects, good parents who are bringing up their children lovingly and well. Although it would seem that all the children are doing as well as might be expected in foster care, there is no doubt that they are missing their parents very much and that they are, in consequence, suffering harm. In these circumstances Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward question both the necessity and the proportionality of the children remaining in foster care. Their safety, both physical and emotional, can, it is submitted, properly be met while the children remain at home; their safety, whether physical or emotional, does not necessitate their remaining in foster care.
  2. In the final analysis, say counsel, my task is to evaluate the risk of harm deriving from the possibility of flight and balance that against the undoubted harm the children are suffering because of continued separation from their parents. Given the adequate safeguards against the risk of fight which they assert can be put in place, the balance, they submit, comes down in favour of returning the children to their parents.
  3. Both local authorities are clear that they feel unable to exercise the parental responsibility vested in them by the interim care orders unless the children remain in foster care. That being so, Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward say that the appropriate order is, in each case, an order discharging the interim care orders, making the children wards of court, and placing them in the care and control of their parents, subject, however, to a raft of stringent protective orders.
  4. What Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward propose is in each case an order containing: passport orders in the usual wide-ranging form and an all-ports alert; injunctions restraining the parents removing the children from the jurisdiction and requiring them to live with the children at a specified address; and provisions for the monitoring of the parents and the children by a combination of unannounced visits by the local authority, regular reporting to a specified police station or local authority office and, in the case of the parents, electronic tagging. It is proposed that the order should include a provision requiring the parents to swear on the Quran that they will abide by each and every provision of the order and that the order should spell out the consequences (including but not limited to committal for contempt of court) in the event of any non-compliance.
  5. There is no need for me to consider whether I would have power to impose such orders on unwilling or recalcitrant parents, for all the parents here are willing to submit to whatever restrictions, including electronic tagging, I think it necessary to impose for the safety of the children. That said, I am inclined to agree with the views expressed by Singer J in the passage from his judgment in Re C (Abduction: Interim Directions: Accommodation by Local Authority) [2003] EWHC 3065 (Fam), [2004] 1 FLR 653, para 46, which I refer to below.
  6. Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward realistically accept that, however stringent the protective measures which might be put in place, there will always be some risk that the parents will be able to flee with the children. But they counsel me against being too concerned by remote or fanciful possibilities. An order the court makes is not, they submit, to be measured by the standard of certainty or infallibility but by reference to what Mr Rowley called real-world possibilities. Judged by that standard, he says, the risk is slight indeed, in reality reduced to an effective nullity if the parents are, as they propose, subjected to GPS electronic tagging (as to which see below).
  7. To get the children to Syria, he says, the parents would: have to cut the tag (thereby triggering an immediate alarm), having made arrangements to travel immediately to a point of exit from the United Kingdom; have to evade detection while in transit there; have to evade detection at the point of exit despite their being in a family group, the all-ports alert, and publicity about them being on the run; have to be able to pass through the immigration controls of a second country without detection; and have to be able to cross from that country (or some third country) into Syria. Whilst he accepts the possibility that the parents have the connections and means to achieve all this, Mr Rowley disputes that there is any evidence upon which I could reasonably infer it.
  8. More tellingly, perhaps, Mr Rowley makes the point that if the parents do indeed have the means to achieve this, the children are not safe in their foster placements. For if they have the resourcefulness and determination postulated by the local authorities and the guardians, the parents would by the same measure be able to track the children down and abduct them. The reality, he suggests, is that nothing short of actual incarceration of the children would ensure the complete eradication of all risk of their being removed to Syria. In truth, he says, the local authorities and the guardians are prepared to countenance a level of risk in the present placements while requiring from the proposed placements with the parents the certainty that all risk has been eradicated.

 

 

Mr Rowley (and no doubt Miss Woodward) go high up on my list of people who have been able to develop a compelling argument from unpromising beginnings.  They manage to make the parents position sound completely reasonable and the Local Authority’s anxieties utterly unreasonable.  In an atmosphere where the pulbic concern about terrorisim and children going to Syria could not be higher. That takes some skill.   One has to remember, of course, that the Court had not conducted any finding of fact hearing about the circumstances and intentions of the parents in making those trips or plans for the trips.

 

To Local Authority lawyers, I’m sorry that I wrongly suggested that you could read this judgment without dread. Of course you know what is about to happen now.

 

  1. The law, even the criminal law in the days of capital punishment, has never adopted a standard of absolute certainty or infallibility. So the mere fact that there is, as Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward accept, some risk that the parents will, if so minded, be able to flee with the children, the fact that it is no doubt possible to construct hypothetical scenarios of how they might achieve this, is not determinative of the question I have to decide. That question, in the final analysis comes down, in my judgment, to two linked inquiries: how great is the risk that the parents will, if so minded, be able to flee with the children, and is that a degree of risk which the court is, in all the circumstances, prepared to accept as tolerable?
  2. Given the potential consequences if the parents, being minded to flee with the children, were able to achieve their objective, it seems to me that what the court needs is a very high degree of assurance, albeit falling some way short of absolute certainty, that the protective measures put in place will be effective to thwart any attempted flight. This is ultimately a matter for judgement and evaluation, in relation to matters, in particular those dealt with DS Y, DS Z and Mr Fearnly, which I am in as good a position to assess as any of the social workers or guardians, none of whom can bring to this particular exercise in evaluation either professional training or (as they all accepted) any previous experience of any remotely comparable case. Accordingly, I have to come to my own conclusion, though obviously feeding into my overall evaluation the expert views of the social workers and the guardians as to the impact on the children of their continuing separation from their parents.
  3. At the end of the day, and having given the matter the most anxious thought both during and since the two hearings, I have concluded that the comprehensive and far-reaching package of protective measures proposed by Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward does provide the necessary very high degree of assurance that the court needs, that I need, if the children are now to be returned to parental care. Taking into account all the points pressed upon me by those opposing such an order, I am at the end of the day persuaded by Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward that I should make the orders they seek, and essentially for the reasons they have articulated.
  4. I accept that there is some degree of risk of successful flight. I cannot go quite as far as Mr Rowley when he asserts that it is reduced to an effective nullity by the protective measures he proposes, but taking a realistic view, though not forgetting that we are here in the realm of unknown unknowns, my considered assessment is that the degree of that risk is very small, indeed, so small that it is counter-balanced by the children’s welfare needs to be returned to parental care. I should add, to make plain, that in relation to their welfare (leaving flight risk on one side), the benefits all of these children will derive from being returned to their parents clearly, in my judgment, outweigh any and all of such contrary welfare arguments as have deployed by the local authorities or the guardians. Conclusion
  5. I shall therefore make orders essentially in the terms proposed by Mr Rowley and Miss Woodward. The orders will contain the additional provisions proposed by Mr Crabtree and Mrs Crowley. The orders will spell out that nothing is intended to prevent the police exercising any powers which would otherwise be available to them, including, in particular, their powers under section 46 of the Children Act 1989. I invite counsel to consider two further matters: whether the proposed oaths on the Quran should be sworn before a notary or an imam, and what, if any, provisions should be included in the orders to enable the relevant local authority to remove the children in an emergency if there has been some breach of the order and there is no time to apply even by telephone tothe duty judge. I am inclined to think that the local authorities should have that power, but strictly confined to circumstances of emergency and subject to an unqualified obligation to make an application to the court immediately

 

 

The judgment then goes on to set out the protocol for such matters. It will, I’m sure, calm the nerves of every social worker who is now going to be driven to leave children like this at home under the protection of their parents wearing electronic tags that the tagging system is provided by Capita, whose record is flawless.

 

I am perhaps missing what actually stops these children’s uncles or cousins taking them to Syria if it is the parents who are tagged?  Yes, the parewnts would be stuck her to face the music, but how great a feature is ‘fear of the consequences’ a major inhibitor to terrorism? I have always rather missed how one is to stop these things happening if the parents book a package holiday to Turkey and then just travel onwards once they are out there. Are we going to stop all families going to Turkey on holiday? Or only those who are on some sort of Watch list?  And if only those on the Watch list, given that social workers don’t have access to that, how are they supposed to intervene?

 

Whilst of course, it can’t be imposed on a parent, I’m sure they will be queuing up to agree to it.

The judgment of course does not set out who will be paying for the tagging and monitoring, but we all know that it will be the Local Authority  (or under what power the Court is apparently imposing this expense on the LA – it will be the theoretically limitless powers of the inherent jurisdiction, if anyone ever challenges it)

I wonder how any parent facing an ICO hearing for neglect, or consumption of alcohol will feel, knowing that they too are meeting the same “Reasonable grounds to believe” test as parents of this type, but that parents suspected of taking their children to join a warzone will keep them at home with electronic tags, whereas they may be separated from their own children.

Where exactly is the bar for removal under Interim Care Order, if a case like this isn’t over it?

 

And if tagging works in the interim, what stops these children being tagged for the remainder of their childhood at final hearing, even if the allegations are proven to be true?