Archive for the ‘care proceedings’ Category

(I hope you appreciate the alliteration in the title!).

Since April last year, the media have had their foot in the door of proceedings in the family court. I remember being on a number of mini-pupillages at the time at the Principal Registry. There seemed to be an initial rush of reporters to take up their newly granted rights to sit in on court proceedings. However, from what I gather, this has died down as the novelty has worn off. This is what I thought would happen. After all, media have always had access to family proceedings courts (where the real ‘bread and butter’ proceedings are dealt with) but, despite this, the media have never really taken advantage of this access.

Of course, the main reason why there hasnt been much of a takeup of these new rights is that they are pretty hollow. This is because, whilst the media can now go into the courtroom, they have no right to see any of the papers nor print anything that will indentify the children of the case. I read this morning in The Times that Jack Straw is having problems pressing ahead with further reforms to media access. Good! In essence, he is trying to remove anonymity. Whilst he says that this will still be protected, I think this is rather doubtful. Think about it this way- in care proceedings involving a child from a council estate, even if the actual names are kept confidential, it wouldn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together and find out which family is involved. Jack Straw may be able to control what happens within the confines of a courtroom, but he cannot control gossip. Gossip can spread like fire through a forest- it only takes one little spark to set the whole thing ablaze.

So my advice to Jack Straw would be to listen to the people who really know what they’re talking about- the professionals who deal with these cases on a day-to-day basis. Their jobs will be made even more difficult than they already are if they also have to contend with local newspapers spreading malicious gossip.

With the PM being accused this week of bullying members of his staff possibly weeks before a general election, you would think Mr Straw would understand the harm gossip can do!

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I just read that the Attorney-General is to review the sentences handed out to the two young brothers in the Edlington case. Such an awful story truly makes one wander whether we have learned anything as a society about how to handle unruly children since the murder of James Bulger.

I did, however, read one rather depressing article in The Observer on Sunday which suggests that, for some children, there really is no solution. The article is about a seemingly committed foster carer who took in an extremely violent boy called James (names obviously changed). James would threaten her with knives, get into fights with older kids and generally make a nuisance of himself. It must have been a rather terrifying experience for the foster carer, who ended up having to hand James back to the local authority. James was later accused of raping an 11-year-old girl.  Unfortunately, the article doesnt really delve into the boy’s background, which would possibly have given the reader a better insight into why he had become so violent.  After she gave up on him, James was deemed ‘unplaceable’ (he had been given up by a number of foster carers before the protagonist met him).

Are we allowed to call a child ‘unplaceable’?? The article really made me wander. The Edlington child murders are not the first and, sadly, I doubt they will be the last of their kind. Surely, an ‘unplaceable’ child just ends up becoming a career criminal, delving into drugs, shoplifting, prostitution etc etc. But does the term ‘unplaceable’ simply mean that society has given up on them? In which case, whose fault is it if they end up  committing crime- the child’s or society’s??

Interesting food for thought..but right now I need food for stomach. Off to the canteen!

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Mark Hedley


I wanted to alert readers to a story in The Times concerning Hedley J and his judgment regarding the care of a sick child, and the failures of two local authorities,  namely Cambridgeshire County Council and the Orkney Island Council.

The story concerns a boy of school age who was born with a serious congenital heart problem on the Isle of Orkney. His parents were unable to care for him, and so he moved to Cambridgeshire to be looked after by a professional couple who were distantly related to the parents. Orkney LA was financially assisting the child’s care, but this was later withdrawn on the premise that Cambridgeshire should foot the bill instead. What followed were drawn out proceedings, where two councils were seen to be passing the buck between each other, each saying the other should be paying for the child’s care.

Needless to say, the local authorities should be ashamed of themselves for being so petty and pathetic. And, as  is becoming all too common in these ‘Baby P-style’ stories of Council failures, at the centre of it all is a child who gets reduced to a pound sign on a piece of paper in some drab Council office.

But the real reason I wanted to talk about this story was the fact that Hedley J had to walk out of court to calm down, and to stop himself saying something inappropriate in his anger towards the two Councils. This story goes out to anyone who claims that judges are out of touch. If anyone was out of touch in this story, it was the two local authorities who claimed not to be able to afford to pay for the care of a vulnerable sick child.

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