UK Liberty

Where are the civil libertarians?

Posted in accountability, law and order by ukliberty on May 24, 2007

The Times:

It is illegal for me to write about most care cases, or to read court papers, even when the parents involved beg me to. I can generally only write when judges go public. Yet I have discovered that even as I was writing about this case last year, painstakingly omitting much of the detail to ensure that no one could identify the child, her picture, real name and age were being published in a national newspaper. Not by a journalist, who would have been in contempt of court. But by an adoption agency, advertising for adopters.

Agencies have to find good homes for needy children. Many do a great job. But for parents who are routinely told that they will be in contempt if they dare to reveal the legal proceedings to anyone outside the court, or even to talk about the child by name, because his or her privacy is paramount, it is staggering to see their children being advertised like pets.

Contempt of court is a serious matter. Last year Harriet Harman, the Minister for Justice, admitted in Parliament that in 2005 “200 people were sent to prison by the family courts, which happens in complete privacy and secrecy”. Family court judges can send parents to prison for up to six months for contempt. Two hundred people is about four a week. That is far more than the number of suspected terrorists we have locked up without a fair trial. So where are the civil libertarians?

I don’t intend to make light of this, but surely the clue is in her article.

If people aren’t allowed to write about these cases, how are the rest of us to learn about them?

One young woman was recently sent to Ashford prison for kidnapping her child back from social workers and trying to flee the country. Others seem to be committed for minor breaches of contact orders. The threat of jail is made time and again, and it is real.

The main justification used for keeping family courts secret is to protect the identities of children. It is the argument used to gag parents and the media. How strange that seems when a little girl, whose family struggled to get the right legal advice to keep her, can be paraded around the country.

This seems wrong.  Don’t we need to know about such cases so that we can endeavour as a society to find the best solution?

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