The Petition of members of the Association of McKenzie Friends,
Declares that the Petitioners express their grief for the thousands of British and foreign families whose children were taken against their will; children who were placed in foster “care”, with private foster “parents”, in foster homes or were adopted without parental consent, especially in the case of foreign nationals, parents who are falsely imprisoned and adoptions which take place in court hearings in their absence, without full knowledge and certainly without due process.
Further declares that these serious violations of human rights also violate the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and have created incalculable damages emotionally, legally, financially and economically; further that some 2,500 hand written signatures requesting the Return of Our Stolen Children were submitted to No. 10 on 26 July 2013, after a week-long protest opposite Downing Street from 19 to 26 July 2013 stating;
Dear Mr Cameron,
Take the Lead and Return our Stolen Children
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons work with the Government to: Order the return of children to their rightful biological parents in cases where children were taken because of “emotional harm”, where this has not been proven adequately; all children taken because of the “risk of future emotional harm”; all children who were taken at or shortly after birth and thus denied their right to breast feeding (the precedent judgment by the current President of the Family Courts is persistently ignored (http://www.baili.org/ew/cases/EWHC/Admin/2003/850.html)); all foreign national children; all children whose wishes and feelings have not been heard despite their own heartbreaking letters or words, if they are too young.
Order the abolition of forced adoptions without parental consent; our petition asking the EU Parliament for Abolition of Adoptions without Parental Consent was lodged with the Petitions Committee on 31 May 2013 and it was published with different emphasis on three different platforms.
Order to lift the Secrecy of Family Courts; our online petition has now reached over 1,500 signatures (http: //www.gopetition.com/petitions/the-secrecy-of-the -family-courts-should-be-lifted-now.html) and it was submitted to the President of the Family Courts on 20 Jan 2013, together with comments.
Order a review of gagging orders in the spirit of openness, transparency, fairness and common sense.
The Petitioners also request that the House of Commons hold a debate regarding compensation for the victims of punishments without crime to include children stolen by the State and consider the role of McKenzie Friends in Courts and Prisons.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.—[Presented by John Hemming, Official Report, 3 September 2013; Vol. 567, c. 7P.]
Observations from the Secretary of State for Education:
The law is clear that children should live with their parents wherever possible and families should be given extra support to help keep them together. In most cases, support from the local authority enables any concerns to be addressed and children can remain with their families.
The decision to take a child into care is never an easy one. Where a child is taken into care via a care order, the courts will have considered all the evidence and taken the view that there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is suffering from, or is likely to suffer, significant harm.
The Children Act 1989 statutory guidance is clear that social workers must look at the unique needs of every child in need or at risk of significant harm, and take the action that is in that child’s best interests.
In addition the statutory safeguarding guidance, “Working Together to Safeguard Children”, 2013 sets out how the assessment of children in need should happen including assessments for unborn children. Pre birth assessments require particular care by social workers working with health professionals and others. The assessment should consider both the protective and risk factors for the child including the capacity of the parents to keep the child safe. Decisions must always be taken in the interests of the child.
The purpose of an assessment is to gather important information about a child and family; to analyse their needs and the nature and level of any harm they may be suffering and to provide support to address those needs to improve the outcomes for the child. In determining the nature of the risk, social workers working with the child and their family and other professionals will consider what type of abuse or combination of abuse is present and/or whether neglect is present. It is the professional judgement of the social worker which will determine what response will be required.
Keeping the child at the centre of decision making is key and we must ensure social workers look at the child and the family so as to make assessments which allow decisions to be made in the best interests of the child. This should include considering the option of placing children with family abroad where appropriate to an individual child’s unique circumstances.
The DfE is looking at revising guidance to local authorities to make it clearer that where it may be in a child’s best interests to be placed abroad the social workers should ask the court to consider this.
Our primary concern, and the primary concern of social workers, must always be the safety and wellbeing of children.
To assist the court, a children’s guardian (who is independent of the local authority) is appointed to advise what is in the child’s best interests. Parents must also be legally represented, and are entitled to legal aid.
When a court makes an order placing a child in the care of a local authority, the authority should continue to work with the family with a view to the child returning home. However, a stage may be reached when it is apparent that the child cannot be returned. It is at this stage that the local authority must make alternative plans to provide the child with a permanent family home.
Adoption is one way of providing this and is appropriate for some, though not all, children.
The final decision on whether a child should be adopted rests with the courts, before a court makes such an important decision it must always consider the whole range of powers available to it in the child’s case. It must not make an adoption order unless it considers that making the order would be better for the child than not doing so.
The term “forced adoption” is a misleading one. The law and guidance on adoption make clear that children cannot be adopted without their parents’ consent unless the court is satisfied that the welfare of the child requires their consent to be dispensed with.
This might be because the court is satisfied that the parents cannot be found; because they are incapable of giving their consent or, because it has reason to believe the welfare of the child requires their consent to be dispensed with. The paramount consideration of the court when making any decision is the child’s welfare throughout his or her life.
In deciding whether the parents’ consent should be dispensed with the court has to determine whether the benefits to the child outweigh the parents’ views and rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Government commissioned a small scale research project to consider the robustness of adoption procedures and the quality of local authority practice in 12 cases where adoption decisions were actively contested or opposed by birth parents. The study focused on the robustness of procedures. The project report was published on 6 March 2013 and the findings and recommendations confirmed routine compliance with the required procedural and legal framework for adoption. Parents’ rights to due process in contesting and opposing care, placement and adoption order applications were ensured. It would therefore not be reasonable to expect the House of Commons to hold a debate on compensation for the victims of punishments without crime to include children “stolen by the state”.
The Government agree that there is a need for greater openness in the family courts. Court rules were amended in 2009 which allow the media to attend family proceedings heard in private in all tiers of the family courts.
Court of Protection Rules also allow applications to be made to the judge to attend hearings. The courts must carefully balance the rights to freedom of speech against the family’s, and particularly the child’s, rights to privacy when considering whether to permit reporting of such cases.
It should not be forgotten that, although the courts are often making life changing decisions for families and children, the cases involve very sensitive information about them.
The question of how to open up the family courts and the Court of Protection further and balance access with proper controls to prevent the disclosure of sensitive information which might be harmful to parties in the proceedings if released (including vulnerable children and adults) remains a difficult and controversial issue, which requires careful and serious consideration.
The President of the Family Division is currently considering how progress can be made by changes to Rules of Court, practice directions and guidance to further the public understanding of family proceedings, whilst respecting the right to privacy of vulnerable individuals and children in particular. The President recently published draft guidance on publication of judgments which will begin the important public debate we need to have about transparency in these courts.
In regards to a review of gagging orders it must be remembered that restrictions on providing details of court hearings are needed in certain cases when there may be good reasons based on the individual facts of a case e.g. protection of privacy, to protect children or to prevent vexatious allegations against a sound witness.
However, parties can pass on information about proceedings to regulators and their MP in order to investigate a complaint without this being a potential contempt of court.
If individuals have concerns about experts or other professionals, they can ask the appropriate regulator to investigate. The rules of court enable a party to communicate information relating to proceedings to a regulator where it is necessary to enable that party to make and pursue a complaint against a person who was concerned in the proceedings. Sanctions—such as removal from the register—can be applied if allegations are found to have substance.
Therefore we do not feel a review is required at this time.
Mr Hemmings’ support for the use of a McKenzie Friend, to help parties put across their case, is welcomed, both McKenzie Friends and observers are of course already a feature of the family courts. An accused prisoner may also already request legal representation or a McKenzie friend at a hearing.