| UK Access to Justice: Draft Transparency and Accountability Bill 2014 launched!

The Draft Transparency and Accountability Bill 2014 has been launched today. ~ John Hemming MP.

The objective of the bill, which is to have its second reading on 17th October 2014, is to make a number of improvements to public services and the courts.  The short title is as follows:

“A Bill to make provisions to improve the transparency and accountability of the public, including the courts, and private sectors when relating to ensuring that the numbers of miscarriages of justice are reduced and public services are improved.”

The bill is available on MP John Hemming’s website here:
http://www.john.hemming.name/taab2014v1.pdf

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| John Hemming MP: We must change the way UK family courts are run!


Birmingham MP says a lot of human misery is being caused by the UK’s family law.  

John Hemming, is Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley
John Hemming, is Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley.

Family law, particularly when it involves more than one country, is a complex issue involving a number of very sensitive issues. However, the machinery has been hidden away and is only now partially coming to the surface.

The story of the woman who was sectioned on a visit to Essex, subjected to a forced caesarean and then had her baby put up for adoption had a lot of publicity last year. As a result of this we can see some of the detail behind this.

I always think it is a good idea to look at things from the perspective of the children. Her baby daughter is now one. She has two sisters. Families are important to people and sibling relationships are important to children and adults.

When she gets to be a teenager she will find out more about what has happened in her life. Her question will be why was she not brought up with her sisters?

If she meets her sisters she will find they are fluent in a language she cannot speak and she won’t know anyone in her wider family.

It is true that the grandmother does not feel she can deal with all three children.

However, the aunt of the baby’s step-sister offered to look after the two sisters and the baby in the same household.

Essex County Council, however, refused this. Their argument was that the aunt was not a blood relative of the baby. That is a silly argument.

I know, however, that Essex have an adoption target. In their corporate plan of 2012/3 it was 12 per cent of the children in care and they were below target. Previously they were paid £2,469,200 by the Blair government for increasing adoptions.

Hence when it comes to the care plan it is clear that the local authority employees are under a lot of pressure to propose a care plan for adoption.

It is in fact only the younger children that can be adopted. Nationally a very high proportion of the children that leave care under five do so through adoption.

So we are saying to that baby in 12 years time that she was kept away from her family for no good reason and that the local authority had a bureaucratic target to divide families.

My view is that this target lies behind the decision to refuse to allow the aunt to care for the children.

Many foreign governments have complained about what is done in the English family courts.

However, they are not properly subject to scrutiny in England.

Successive governments have been pressing for children to be taken into care earlier and then adopted quickly. Not only does this lead to more miscarriages of justice, but it also makes it harder to protect children from harm.

It is nigh on impossible to predict that a child will starve to death at the age of seven when that child is born. The low threshold for intervention with babies also drives a higher threshold for intervention for older children.

When I say “the wrong children are taken into care”, I mean both that children are taken into care who shouldn’t be, but also that older children are abandoned by the system and end up dying from child abuse and neglect when they need not.

There is very little scrutiny of how the system operates. It does not actually require people to be identified to have more scrutiny.

We also should not imprison people whose only offence is complaining about problems with the system.

I proposed a system of academic scrutiny of family proceedings, but the children’s services directors rejected this.

I could write a lot more about this. I believe a lot of human misery is being created unnecessarily.

We need a change in approach urgently.

John Hemming is Liberal Democrat MP for Birmingham Yardley

• In response to this article, a spokesperson for Essex County Council said: “The suggestion that Essex County Council, or any other Local Authority, treats adoption targets as more important than the welfare of vulnerable children and their families whose welfare is our paramount concern is utterly baseless and we would refute it in the strongest possible terms.

“As we have previously stated the long term safety and wellbeing of children is always Essex County Council’s priority.

“Adoption is never considered until we have exhausted all other options and is never pursued lightly.”

| MP John Hemming to raise Essex forced Caesarean claim!

MP John Hemming to raise Essex forced Caesarean claim ~ BBC News.

An MP is to raise the case of a woman who he says had her baby forcibly removed by Caesarean section, and taken by social services in Essex.

Liberal Democrat John Hemming said the Italian woman had had a panic attack linked to her bipolar disorder and was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

She was sedated after authorities obtained a court order.

Essex County Council, which allegedly took the baby into care, said it could not comment on “ongoing” cases.

It is understood the woman was pregnant when she came to the UK to work for Stansted Airport in 2012.

Up for adoption

Mr Hemming, MP for Birmingham Yardley and chairman of the Justice for Families Campaign, said he planned to raise the case in Parliament.

He claims to have seen documents proving Essex social services obtained a court order for a Caesarean section, and for the child to be taken into care.

He said the girl, who is now 15 months old, was still in the care of Essex social services and was being put up for adoption.

Solicitor Brendan Fleming issued a statement in which he said he had been instructed by the woman’s lawyers but would not discuss the case.

“We remain committed to fighting for our clients and shall fight tooth and nail to help mother be reunited with her baby,” it said.

A council spokesperson said: “Essex County Council does not comment on the circumstances of ongoing individual cases involving vulnerable people and children.”

 

BBC Essex

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| Child taken from womb by social services after mother’s panic attack!

Child taken from womb by social services , The Telegraph.

Exclusive: Essex social services have obtained a court order against a woman that allowed her to be forcibly sedated and for her child to be taken from her womb by caesarean section.

A pregnant woman has had her baby forcibly removed by caesarean section by social workers.

Essex social services obtained a High Court order against the woman that allowed her to be forcibly sedated and her child to be taken from her womb.

The council said it was acting in the best interests of the woman, an Italian who was in Britain on a work trip, because she had suffered a mental breakdown.

The baby girl, now 15 months old, is still in the care of social services, who are refusing to give her back to the mother, even though she claims to have made a full recovery.

The case has developed into an international legal row, with lawyers for the woman describing it as “unprecedented”.

They claim that even if the council had been acting in the woman’s best interests, officials should have consulted her family beforehand and also involved Italian social services, who would be better-placed to look after the child.

Brendan Fleming, the woman’s British lawyer, told The Sunday Telegraph: “I have never heard of anything like this in all my 40 years in the job.

“I can understand if someone is very ill that they may not be able to consent to a medical procedure, but a forced caesarean is unprecedented.

“If there were concerns about the care of this child by an Italian mother, then the better plan would have been for the authorities here to have notified social services in Italy and for the child to have been taken back there.”

The case, reported by Christopher Booker in his column in The Sunday Telegraph, raises fresh questions about the extent of social workers’ powers.

It will be raised in Parliament this week by John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP. He chairs the Public Family Law Reform Coordinating Campaign, which wants reform and greater openness in court proceedings involving family matters.

He said: “I have seen a number of cases of abuses of people’s rights in the family courts, but this has to be one of the more extreme.

“It involves the Court of Protection authorising a caesarean section without the person concerned being made aware of what was proposed. I worry about the way these decisions about a person’s mental capacity are being taken without any apparent concern as to the effect on the individual being affected.”

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is an Italian national who come to Britain in July last year to attend a training course with an airline at Stansted Airport in Essex.

She suffered a panic attack, which her relations believe was due to her failure to take regular medication for an existing bipolar condition.

She called the police, who became concerned for her well-being and took her to a hospital, which she then realised was a psychiatric facility.

She has told her lawyers that when she said she wanted to return to her hotel, she was restrained and sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

Meanwhile, Essex social services obtained a High Court order in August 2012 for the birth “to be enforced by way of caesarean section”, according to legal documents seen by this newspaper.

The woman, who says she was kept in the dark about the proceedings, says that after five weeks in the ward she was forcibly sedated. When she woke up she was told that the child had been delivered by C-section and taken into care.

In February, the mother, who had gone back to Italy, returned to Britain to request the return of her daughter at a hearing at Chelmsford Crown Court.

Her lawyers say that she had since resumed taking her medication, and that the judge formed a favourable opinion of her. But he ruled that the child should be placed for adoption because of the risk that she might suffer a relapse.

The cause has also been raised before a judge in the High Court in Rome, which has questioned why British care proceedings had been applied to the child of an Italian citizen “habitually resident” in Italy. The Italian judge accepted, though, that the British courts had jurisdiction over the woman, who was deemed to have had no “capacity” to instruct lawyers.

Lawyers for the woman are demanding to know why Essex social services appear not have contacted next of kin in Italy to consult them on the case.

They are also upset that social workers insisted on placing the child in care in Britain, when there had been an offer from a family friend in America to look after her.

An expert on social care proceedings, who asked not to be named because she was not fully acquainted with the details of the case, described it as “highly unusual”.

She said the council would first have to find “that she was basically unfit to make any decision herself” and then shown there was an acute risk to the mother if a natural birth was attempted.

An Essex county council spokesman said the local authority would not comment on ongoing cases involving vulnerable people and children.

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| Tragedy of 4,000 UK babies placed on ‘at risk’ register… before they’re born!

Tragedy of 4,000 babies placed on ‘at risk’ register… before they’re born ~ MARTIN BECKFORD and STEPHEN ADAMSThe Mail on Sunday.

 

  • New figures mark a 13per cent increase over two years deemed at risk of physical or emotional negligence
  • Campaigners said to put unborn children on register presumes parents will be negligent

 

Thousands of babies are being put on ‘at risk’ registers by social workers before they are even born, The Mail on Sunday can reveal.

And campaigners say the system is weighted to presume that parents will be unable to adequately care for their children.

New figures released under Freedom of Information laws show that more than 4,000 child protection plans – which are automatically implemented for those registered as at risk – were initiated last year in England for babies still in the womb, which represents a 13 per cent increase over two years.

The figure for the UK as a whole is likely to be nearer 5,000, and hundreds of babies are being taken into care each year within days of birth.

Most put on the registers were deemed at risk of neglect or of physical or emotional abuse, while others were exposed to dangers associated with having parents who were drug addicts, alcoholics or had serious criminal convictions.

Child protection experts insist it is right to keep newborns away from potentially dangerous parents, and argue they have to be more cautious following cases such as the death of Baby P, later named as Peter Connelly, and four-year-old Daniel Pelka, who was starved and beaten by his mother and her lover, finally dying of a severe head injury.

But opponents of the system say that it presumes guilt and that social workers are removing children to cover their own backs.

John Hemming, a Lib Dem MP and vocal critic of the fostering and adoption process, said: ‘There can be good reasons to put an unborn child on a child protection plan.

‘But the system can lead to the wrongful removal of very young babies for all sorts of strange reasons. Once children are removed, only about 20 per cent go back to their parents.’

 Failed: Baby P, Peter Connelly died after abuse was missedFailed: Baby P, Peter Connelly died after abuse was missed

 

He continued: ‘With child protection, not every case is a Baby P case. But I know that social workers have been fired for saying that a child should go home to its parents. If you put them under that sort of pressure, they are going to say the child should be adopted.’

Ian Josephs, who provides informal legal advice to parents, said: ‘These parents are being punished without committing a crime. In the family courts, they are guilty until proven innocent.’

A child may be put on a protection register if doctors or social workers fear for its safety. The parents are invited to discuss the matter but do not have to be present for the child to be placed on the register. No court order is needed.

Cautionary tale: Four-year-old Daniel Pelka died from a head injury after being starved and beaten by his mother and her loverCautionary tale: Four-year-old Daniel Pelka died from a head injury after being starved and beaten by his mother and her lover

 

Once a child is registered as at risk, a protection plan will be drawn up. In most cases, it will prescribe regular visits from social workers to check on the child.

But the plans can also be a precursor to court proceedings that will have the child taken into care.

The latest figures from the Department for Education show that 52,120 under-18s became the subject of child protection plans in England in the year ending March 31 2012.

Separate statistics obtained by this newspaper show that at least 4,044 – or almost eight per cent – related to unborn babies. That number grew to 4,153 in the year to March 2013, and was up 13 per cent over two years.

The true numbers are likely to be higher still because 41 of 152 councils failed to respond.

Those that did reply took 179 infants into care on the day they were born, in the year to March 2013. Many more are likely to have been removed within a few weeks.

Bridget Robb, chief executive of the British Association of Social Workers, said: ‘No professional wants to see children subjected to child protection plans.

‘But the increased vigilance arising from baby Peter Connelly’s tragic death has inevitably exposed more instances where sufficiently serious concern exists that children’s services feel the need to at least monitor a family closely.’

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| US Drone attacks ‘traumatising a generation of children!’

Drone attacks ‘traumatising a generation of children’ ~  Channel 4 News.

Drone attacks are causing serious psychological harm to children in Yemen, an expert reports, and may also be pushing young men into the arms of al-Qaeda.

A psychological expert reports that a whole generation of children is being traumatised by the use of drone warfare in Yemen (picture: Reuters)

Dr Peter Schaapveld, a clinical and forensic psychologist, was reporting his findings from a trip to Yemen in February, in which he assessed the psychological impact of drone strikes on those communities hit by the unmanned aerial weapons.

Speaking near the Houses of Parliament on Monday, Dr Schaapveld said the “most disturbing” finding from the psychological clinics, over three days in the southern Yemeni area of Adan, was the impact on children.

He said the appearance of the children he saw was of “hollowed-out shells of children” who looked “sullen” and had “lost their spark”.

‘Her dreams are of dead people’

He gave the example of eight-year-old Yasmin (not her real name), who was next door to a house targeted in a presumed drone strike.

“Her father said that she vomits every day, and also when she hears aircraft, or drones, or anything related,” said Dr Schaapveld. “She said, in her own words, ‘I am scared of those things because they throw missiles.'”.

They breed animosity and tear apart the fabric of some of the poorest and disenfranchised communities in the world.Kat Craig, Reprieve

Dr Schaapveld also said the girl suffered from nightmares. “She has been waking terrified from her sleep,” he said. “She points to the ceiling and says ‘people there want me to suffocate’.

“Her dreams are of dead people, planes and people running around scared.”

‘Breeding animosity’

Other effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on children, and in the case of Yasmin, include not wanting to go to school, being unable to form relationships or play with other children, and arguing with siblings.

Kat Craig, legal director at Reprieve, which led the fact-finding mission to Yemen, said: “These findings represent further evidence that drones not only kill innocent civilians, but that their use amounts to a form of psychological torture and collective punishment.

“Children are afraid to go to school and adults are unable to work, socialise or function with any semblance of normality.

We did hear young men say that ‘they are forcing us into the hands of al-Qaeda, what else are we supposed to do?’Dr Peter Schaapveld

“As a result drones abjectly fail to achieve their purported purpose: instead of keeping us safe, they breed animosity and tear apart the fabric of some of the poorest and disenfranchised communities in the world.

“A hellfire missile costs over $60,000 which could be spent building schools and wells. Yemen needs aid and our support, not drones.”

Driven towards al-Qaeda?

Dr Schaapveld said the overriding concerns of the people he saw was for the children in their communities, and for the future of the communities.

He said: “There was one man I recalled as saying “They know where al-Qaeda are – why are they attacking us?'”

“There was concern about what the Yemeni government was doing and why they were letting it happen”.

However, Dr Schaapveld also told Channel 4 News that some of the young men he saw felt they were being driven towards al-Qaeda by the perceived western drone threat.

“We did hear young men say that ‘they are forcing us into the hands of al-Qaeda, what else are we supposed to do?’

“Another young man, 17 years of age, he said prior to this, prior to the strikes: ‘I was very interested in the western culture. Me and my friends followed western fashion, listened to western music and watched western films. Now we have no interest in the west because of what has been done to us.'”

Drones attacks in Yemen are reported to have been responsible for the deaths of 38 to 58 civilians (picture: Reuters)

John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP who chairs the all-party group, said: “I think the use of armed drones is not reducing the amount of terrorism. I think it is maintaining it or maybe even increasing it. We want to have a strategy that achieves peace in the world.”

Psychological abnormality

Dr Schaapveld was invited to Yemen with charity Reprieve, and has reported his findings to the all-party parliamentary group on drones. He held clinics in the Adan region over three days, during which he saw 34 people.

He said that of the 34 people, 28 gave information that he was confident was of “scientific value”. Of those 28, he said 71 per cent were suffering from “full blown” post traumatic stress disorder, that 90 per cent “had symptoms” and that “99 per cent, almost all of them” had psychological abnormalities.”

Research from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism suggests that there have been a total of between 188 to 220 drone strikes in Yemen.

Though the source of these strikes cannot always be verified, the BIJ says that 41 to 51 of the drone strikes are confirmed US attacks.

In Adan and the neighbouring Abyan province there have been 92 to 110 strikes in total, the BIJ data says, of which 18 to 22 were confirmed US drone strikes which killed 112 to 171 people, 4 to 34 of whom were civilians.

The intensity of drone strikes across Yemen increased in 2012, in which there were 111 to 135 strikes in total, of which 28 to 35 were confirmed US drone strikes. Of all the drone strikes in Yemen in 2012, 491 to 705 people were killed, 38 to 58 of whom were reportedly civilians, and nine of whom were children.

Drone warfare has been most publically observed being used in Pakistan, in the war against al-Qaeda militants.

In January, the UN launched an inquiry into the extent to which drones were causing civilian deaths in a range of countries, including Yemen.

The CIA declined to comment.

More on this story

Recommended Reading

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