Apprenticeships - why Labour are wrong to scrap the Intermediate Apprenticeship
The Deregulation Bill is called as "Christmas Tree Bill". That is because it has lots of different baubles attached to it from a legislative basis. I happen to have been on the pre-legislative scrutiny committee for this as well as the regulatory reform select committee. In fact a lot of the issues in the Bill are both interesting and important.
Yesterday, for example, there was a discussion about Apprenticeships. These are important as they are a good route into work for young people. There has been a big growth in apprenticeships under this government. Labour have been critical because many of the apprenticeships are at NVQ level 2 rather than level 3 or 4. In fact about 60% are at level 2.
Labour, therefore, proposed an amendment to the bill to ban apprenticeships that are level 2 (ie scrap the Intermediate one, the Advanced one is Level 3 and the Higher one level 4).
I will hunt up the record of the debate from yesterday when it is published. However, I think that is wrong. It is not a bad idea to do what we can to increase the standards. However, there are over half a million young people on Intermediate Apprenticeships. Scrapping this type of apprenticeship is not something that seems to have merit to me.
It would be better to simply aim to increase the quality and skills involved without excluding people from the process.
Shale Gas, Oil Reserves and Energy Prices
story today reports that there may be more Shale Gas in Northern England than was previously thought. Within the report it says: "But it could take two years to see if the gas is commercially viable."
Realistically no one knows with any great certainty what fossil fuels remain under ground. It is important to remember that it takes energy to get fossil fuels out of the ground. The harder to get hydrocarbons take more energy. That is a key factor in whether the fields are "commercially viable".
On the right hand side of this blog I display the Oil prices for West Texas Intermediate and Brent. The difference between the two historically was low. Shale gas production in the USA drove down the WTI price (gas could not then be exported from the USA). What is happening now is that the prices are coming together (or moreso WTI is going up to Brent).
The conventional wisdom is that with the USA becoming an oil exporter again and additional oil from Iraq and Iran that prices will go down. That is not happening now, but we shall see. I would be interested in a continuation of Chris Skrebowski's forecasts as they operate over a 5 year time scale, but I have not seen a recent production of those.
None of this changes the need to get more energy efficient. Energy prices do, however, underpin economic activity and if we see a big jump then that will pull back the worlds economies. If there is a big drop then the worlds economies will pick up further.
We also must not forget the issue of climatic change. I recently read a paper written by G S Callendar published in 1938 which is interesting in the context of current debates. I can email a copy of the PDF to anyone who is interested in the science of the issue.
Leicester Couple emigrate to Northern Cyprus
case shows that Habitual Residency is not just an issue as to where someone is living. I think the court decision is in fact wrong as the links to the UK had been cut. However, I am aware of cases where people have left the UK, but continue to claim benefits in the UK. That would mean that they are inherently habitually resident in the UK. To change habitual residence is more than just flying out.
Badger Demonstration - speech from Saturday
More information about Badger vaccination.
Further progress on fair trials in the family courts
story in the Daily Mail reports on This case (Re NL (A child) (Appeal: Interim Care Order: Facts and Reasons)
where Pauffley J has looked at the issue of a case in the FPC where the Justices basically rubber stamped a document from the local authority. Another important case is Re C (A Child)
where the president of the Queens Bench supports a call for proper procedure to be followed in terms of dealings in the court of first instance.
The President of the Queen's Bench Division:
- I agree with both judgments. Having seen the judgments in draft, Ms van der Leij has expressed concern about the comments at paragraphs 10-11 of Macur LJ and paragraph 36 of Aikens LJ dealing with the e-mail exchanges subsequent to the hearing. She observes that "it is by no means unusual for practitioners in the Principal Registry to e mail district judges directly seeking clarification of matters raised in a hearing". It is one thing, if invited, to make submissions in relation to the terms of an order provided that every communication is copied to every party; it is another to express dissent and seek to engage in further argument. If that is not unusual, it is important that the problems which it generates should be recognised and that the practice should cease. First, it suggests (even if it is not the case) that advocates can go behind the scenes to resolve issues in favour of their clients and, as Macur LJ observes, will give rise to allegations of 'stitch up'. Secondly, it will encourage litigants in person (who do not have the same understanding of the law or practice) to adopt a similar approach thereby disrupting the finality of the judgment of the court and generating continued uncertainty.
Progress is being made. If we can stop corrupt legal advisors and advocates from undermining their own clients that would help as well. However, a key to this is getting evidence that is reliable. (as I say in the Daily Mail article).
Last Year's Mawrey Judgment in Woking
I have had this
judgment pointed out to me. The election commissioner was the same person as handled the election petition in Aston and Bordesley Green. This was a case where the criminals were Lib Dems. I shall extract some parts of the judgment:
The judgment is worth reading as a whole.
11. Sadly, therefore, this is yet another case where the United Kingdom's shambolic electoral system has led to an election being challenged on the ground of widespread fraud.
- The Birmingham judgment was the first arising from mass electoral fraud resulting directly from the introduction of postal voting on demand. I had hoped that, by drawing attention to the flawed basis of the scheme and the opportunities it had created for vote-rigging on an industrial scale, public and Parliament would be alerted to the problem and that something might be done about it.
- I was wrong.
- In Slough, where the problem of roll-stuffing came to the fore and where the combined effect of a wholly insecure registration system and postal voting on demand had allowed the creation of phantom armies of 'ghost voters', once again I hoped that some action might be taken.
- I was wrong again.
- Nine years have passed since the fraudulent Birmingham election and five since the Slough judgment. The media and the public are fully alive to the threat that electoral fraud poses to our democracy. The politicians are in denial and, it must be said, the approach of the Electoral Commission would appear optimistic even to Dr Pangloss.
- I concluded the Birmingham Judgment with the words:
"The systems to deal with fraud are not working well. They are not working badly. The fact is that there are no systems to deal realistically with fraud and there never have been. Until there are, fraud will continue unabated."
- And the Slough Judgment with:
"It would have been pleasant to conclude this judgment by saying that this had now all changed. But I cannot. Despite the 2006 Act, the opportunities for easy and effective electoral fraud remain substantially as they were on 4th April 2005."
- And here we are again.
Local Government Finance Debate
This is the debate:
This is me arguing my view that spending cuts should be in proportion of spending power.
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I thank the Minister for meeting MPs from Birmingham to look at this issue, and I congratulate hon. Members generally on highlighting the difficulty of working out what a fair system is for allocating local government finance. The Government have focused on percentage reductions in spending power. Does the Minister agree that, after incentives, looking towards the reduction in percentage spending power, not absolute spending power, provides an equality of pain that gives us a way forward? It takes into account the fact that in areas like Greater Birmingham, where people work in Birmingham but live around it and require services from Birmingham but are not contributing towards—
Brandon Lewis: Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. The hon. Gentleman made that point in the meeting we had. As I said to him, I will happily go through it in more detail over the next couple of months, meeting him and officials to look at some of the ideas he is talking about.
I also managed to get Labour's position confirmed:
John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): If the Labour party wins the general election it proposes further cuts. What formula would it use to identify the equity or fairness of any distribution of cuts?
Andy Sawford: The Labour party has said that we accept the Government’s spending plans, but what we will not do is cut in such a fundamentally unfair way. I will come on to what the Labour Government will do.
later he said: "Hon. Members have asked about the next Labour Government’s plans. We will not be able to stop the cuts or turn back the clock, but we will put fairness at the heart of the relationship between central and local government, and at the heart of our approach to local government finance."
He would not, however, give any details as to how Labour would approach the issue of the distribution of cuts. I think it is possible that they may come to a conclusion not dissimilar to that which I have argued.
Other MPs also tried to draw Labour on what they would actually do (with a similar lack of success)
Mr Graham Stuart: I am grateful to the shadow Minister for giving way; he is being most generous. I notice that he did not respond to the question from my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) about where Labour would make cuts. On the issue of need, density was given four times the weighting of sparsity, even though there is no link between density of population and increased cost and delivery of services. How was that fair?
Andy Sawford: If the hon. Gentleman will be patient for a moment, I will, of course, come on to what Labour will do if it forms the next Government. On sparsity, I took part in the debate that he and others led last year, which I thought was excellent. I recognise many of the issues that he raised and there is a sparse rural authority in my constituency in East Northamptonshire. The formula should of course take account of rural sparsity, as well as urban deprivation. There is always a debate to be had about fairness within the system, but what is critical is that the part of local authority funding with fairness at its heart—notwithstanding the debate that will be had—is now being eroded, so the opportunity to ensure that funding is fair and according to need is being lost.
I am making some progress in arguing that cuts should be linked to spending power (as a proportion). However, it is important to note that MPs for rural areas continue to express concern that their spending power per person or per dwelling is much lower than urban areas even though many rural areas are quite poor. Their argument is that they get lower services as a result. My view is that a system based upon spending power is more likely to get consensus (which will never be 100% anyway).
The big issue for Birmingham, however, is that if Labour win the general election there will be further cuts in support for local government. Hence Birmingham has to plan on the assumption of Liam Byrne's note from the last government to David Laws "Dear chief secretary, I'm afraid to tell you there's no money left."
I don't like cuts. I accept that there are some politicians who wish to see state spending as a proportion of GDP driven lower. I take the view that a 40% or so figure is not unreasonable. What is now clear is that the government's policies are based upon necessity rather than an ideology of cuts.
English Refugees in France - The Brown Family in Caen
This is a video I produced yesterday for a family now living in France
Their story has been reported in the Sunday Telegraph and last appeared on Sunday in Christopher Booker's column.
French Judges conclude English Local Authority is wrong
story relates to a french case where the judges have indicated that an English LA is wrong. That is added to the Italian case reported before Xmas and a number of Irish cases.
When you add this to all the foreign governments complaining this should have a bit more concern from government. It is true that progress is being made and now more appeals are being given in England and Wales. In fact it may appear that the system is getting worse when actually it is getting better. In the past the appellate system basically didn't work. It is now starting to work, but it has a long way to go. The appointment of non family judges to family court of appeal cases is clearly having a positive effect as well.
Miscarriage of Justice Compensation - why I agreed with the Lords
I rebelled against the party whip today voting to keep the lords amendment 112 on Miscarriage of Justice compensation. My reasons are that the government position shifts the burden of proof. The lords amendment, which was supported by the majority of law lords basically creates a threshold which is that a conviction with the new evidence would be guaranteed to fail.
I did not support government or opposition on the amendment in lieu. I think it marginally improves the wording, but creates a mixed message as I am unhappy with the burden shifting.
Ireland starts opening up family courts
story from Ireland highlights a number of issues. Obviously there is a lot about this case (I am not aware of the case myself) which is not known.
In essence, however, it confirms my advice that the authorities in Ireland will apply to take children into care at the request of English authorities whether or not they would ordinarily take the children into care were they not to be English families.
Interestingly, however, the courts still follow the law from time to time in Ireland. I am aware of cases where the Irish courts have not followed the law properly.
DNA Marking offer for 125cc Motorbikes in West Midlands
The following is from WEST Midlands Police and benefits constituents who have 125cc Motorbikes
Motorbike marking a UK first
WEST Midlands Police are the first force in the UK to offer free motorcycle
DNA marking for cyclists in a bid to beat bike thieves.
Thieves are stealing 125cc motorcycles and breaking them up for parts. The
parts, which are not individually marked, are then sold on making them difficult
to trace and, if recovered, hard to reunite with their owners.
In what is believed to be the first initiative of its kind in the UK, the
Force have teamed up with six motorcycle dealers across the region to offer free
DNA motorcycle marking.
Each of the dealers has 150 marking kits, paid for by money under the
Proceeds of Crime Act. The kits, which normally retail at about £30, consist of
a bottle of DNA fluid, with which each part of the bike is painted. This fluid
dries and is not detectable by eye but contains micro dots that are then unique
to that bike.
The motorcycle dealers will mark the motorbikes for free and then register
each bike on a dedicated website. If the bike or any part of it is then stolen
and later recovered anywhere in the world officers will be able to identify the
owner and gather much needed intelligence about where these stolen bikes are
To take advantage of this free offer, motorbike owners simply need call one
of the dealers taking part in the scheme and make an appointment to visit them
and get their bike marked.
Dealers taking part in the scheme are:
Sergeant Andy Gregory from the force’s Crime Reduction department
said: “The more bikes
we can get marked, the bigger the deterrent for would-be bike thieves and the
more likely we can track where bike parts are being stolen from and sent to.
“ I would encourage as many people across the force who own 125cc
motorcycles to take advantage of this offer and make
appointments soon to get their bikes marked.”
The Lobbying Bill - Lords Amendments
The Lobbying Bill returned to the commons and the following lords amendments were agreed:
Increasing the spending limits in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from the levels originally set out in the Bill, giving an uplift of £20,000 to each nation.
. Removing all burdens from low-spending participants in a campaigning coalition by allowing larger campaigners to provide a single report on their behalf.
. Removing the requirement for a return, or a nil return, in relation to spending returns, donations reports and statement of accounts, if a recognised third party has not spent above the registration threshold.
. A review of the effects of the provisions of Part 2 of the Bill to report following the 2015 General Election, to ensure the regulatory system remains effective and proportionate.
. Reducing the length of the 2014/2015 regulated period during which campaigners have to limit their expenditure from 12 to 7 ½ months, meaning it will now start after the referendum on Scottish independence. This gives more time to produce clear guidance so that the changes in this Bill can be fully understood and prepared for.
. An exemption for the costs of translating material from and into Welsh, and for campaign costs relating to disability and security.
There were also some lords amendments that were rejected. One was a Lords Amendment which excluded the costs of staff time from third parties if the staff were not specifically employed for election campaigning. The idea is to have transparency about election campaigning. If you have a major section of the campaigning that is excluded then it isn't really transparent.
Public Statement: JUDr Marica Pirosikova
First off, I would again like to thank to the British politician John Hemming
MP, who notified me during the search for adequate solution in the case of Boor
on the possibility for the Slovak Republic to enter into the proceedings before
English courts as a third party. The judgment of Sir James Munby confirms that
such approach of the Slovak Republic was accurate. It is a challenge also for
the other countries claiming not to be able to help their citizens
facing separation of children from their parents without relevant reasons in the
United Kingdom, to intervening actively in a such proceedings before the family
courts. At the same time it is very important for the intervening country to
assess the cases also with regard to the ECHR case law. I remind that the PACE
on 30 November 2012 adopted a resolution where it stressed that the children
should be separated from their parents only in very exceptional circumstances.
The adoption of the resolution was based on a report by Christopher Chope
criticising the functioning of family courts e.g. in the United Kingdom. (http://assembly.coe.int/nw/xml/XRef/Xref-DocDetails-EN.asp?FileID=19190&lang=EN)"
republiky pred Európskym súdom pre ľudské práva
spravodlivosti Slovenskej republiky
(written by her in English rather than translated)
A45 Coventry Road Safety Update
Further to our work and the petition that was raised on this matter last
year, we recently met with a representative from Birmingham Community Safety
Partnership and local Police Inspector James Gooderidge to discuss developments
in how safety concerns on the A45 could be addressed.
We presented the
views of our constituents who have conscientiously written letters and emails to
our office and from this, the following points have now been forwarded to the
BCC Highways Department to look into further;
Tesco lane merger down towards to pedestrian crossing near Yew Tree
for drivers on the A45 into City (at the traffic light junction with the Bill
& Bull onwards) there are 4 lanes of traffic to cross and only a single
traffic light column on either side
signage for pedestrians near to shops, parks etc to inform them where crossing
are located. (i.e pedestrian crossing 50 meters this way → )
monitoring of the data to assess how recent road alterations may have impacted
upon both driver and pedestrian behaviour.
I will continue to post further developments in due course.
Statement on the Child Protection System: Women Against Rape
WOMEN AGAINST RAPE
We are increasingly concerned about social services removing children from their mothers, especially after the mothers faced domestic violence. Mothers have come to us who, instead of getting support, were blamed for the situation and had their children taken into care or even adopted. In some cases, the children were given to the father without a thorough and independent investigation of the violence allegations. Mums are then sent to prison for breaking contact or gagging orders in order to defend their children and their relationship with them.
At the same time, women and children who ask for protection are being raped and even murdered following neglect by police and social services. The benefit cap is also trapping women and children in violent relationship, impoverishing those who escape. See our petition about this: here
To remove children from their mother or other primary carer is in itself irreparable child abuse and should never be undertaken unless there is an immediate and significant danger to the child.
The secrecy of the family courts are a major obstacle to justice and protection for mothers and children at risk of domestic violence. Their lack of accountability prevents any thorough examination of the facts, putting lay people at a disadvantage in relation to unscrupulous professionals who often have a vested interest in having children removed from their mothers. This is increasingly true as legal aid is also being cut. We support the call made by numerous parents and organisations and by John Hemming MP for these courts to follow the principles of open justice.
To contact us, firstname.lastname@example.org
The failings of the family courts in public family law (more children are dying)
Today Face the Facts
went into more detail about the various networks across Europe that are helping refugees from the English and Welsh Family Courts. It is a good programme and worth listening to.
This and Panorama from Monday are, however, only one side of the argument. The key objective of the Child Protection System is to protect children. One way of measuring how well the system is doing is to consider how many children are dying from child abuse and neglect.
There are a number of sources of information. One I use is the number of prosecutions for manslaughter or murder of a child (Baby P's). In 2011 according to the CPS there were 16, in 2012 there were 19 and in 2013 there were 34.
There are also significant incident notifications sent to Ofsted. However, Ofsted have now decided that they will refuse to give me the anonymised list (something they have done up to 2012). This gives a larger number as obviously there will be cases where a child has died, but there is insufficient evidence for a prosecution. There will also be cases where abuse and/or neglect is suspected at first and it turns out that it was not NAI. In itself I think it is wrong for Ofsted to cover up their failure to properly manage this information.
Hence it is quite clear that on a very basic measure of the system that things seem to be getting worse. There is a good reason for this which is that it is very difficult when a child is born to predict that the child will die as a result of abuse or neglect many years later. Often the circumstances change. However, the system has been pressurised by government to go back to what was happening until 2008 which is a high priority on young babies.
As far as babies under 1 month are concerned 1,400 were taken into care in 2010 1,480 in 2011, 1,750 in 2012 and 2,030 in 2013. However, at the same time the evidence is that child deaths have risen.
Obviously when I say "the wrong children are taken into care", that is shorthand for me saying that many decisions are wrong. Some younger children are taken into care unnecessarily and the pressure on the system then means that older children are left to die. Whichever way this is not something that should be ignored. Hence I have tabled a motion about it.
AIMS statement re child protection system
Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services
PRESS RELEASE 13 January 2013
AIMS, run entirely by volunteers, has been a national pressure group for 53 years, for expectant and new parents. Because our help-line is totally
confidential, we are trusted with a great deal of information which parents no longer give to doctors, midwives and nurses because information about children is now shared.
Without their knowledge, every pregnant woman (and expectant father) is screened by the NHS to see if they may be a risk to the child, and they are monitored for risk factors like previous mental illness, domestic violence, being a teenager, unemployed, homeless, a former or current drug user, etc. They are then automatically referred to social services, who may hold child protection planning meetings before the baby is born.
At a time when both the current and previous government demanded increased adoption numbers, and newborn babies are the most wanted and adoptable material, such referrals evoke huge fear in parents, and the stress levels this causes have been shown to cause long term damage to unborn children. It also means that mothers are mow concealing mental illness (like post-natal depression) for fear of having their children removed, as many studies (including postnatal suicides in mothers) have shown.
President Jean Robinson, who sat on the GMC for 14 years and its Professional Conduct Committee for 6, says that, having seen many court
Documents in AIMS cases, and been a witness in Family Court, she is appalled at the quality of expert evidence accepted without question. This could only happen because hearings are secret; in medical negligence cases expert evidence is of higher quality. And the lack of integrity in social workers’ evidence is so common that we are no longer surprised by it.
There are no studies showing whether current social service policies in fact do more harm than good, and we have seen hundreds of families who have suffered long term damage as a result of even minor interventions.
WHERE IS THE EVIDENCE-BASE FOR BENEFIT AND HARM FOR THIS EXPENSIVE AND INCREASINGLY COMMON INTERVENTION?
Beverley Beech, Chair, AIMS
Jean Robinson, President AIMS
Response to comments from CAFCASS
It is an error to say that because there are more children in care that there are "more children protected".
a) The most important question is whether or not we are seeing a reduction in children being subjected to serious abuse. In particular those children that die from child abuse and neglect.
b) The secondary point is that it is not true to say that just because a child is in care that that child is "protected". The situation in care at times is worse than it was whilst with the family.
Panorama - "Emigrate to get a fair trial"
The advice for pregnant women to emigrate to get a fair trial is nothing new. There are many cases of people who have emigrated (particularly pregnant women). I would highlight two cases (although there are others on my blog).
A. Michelle Freedman whose case was reported here. It is important to note that she is a family court barrister. I tabled an EDM about her case here which says:
That this House notes the withdrawal of care proceedings against Michelle Freedman by Barnet Council; further notes that Barnet Council has caused psychological harm to Michelle's elder daughter; further notes that had she not left UK jurisdiction both her daughters would have suffered further psychological harm; further notes that Ms Freedman is a family court barrister with over 10 years' experience and she left the jurisdiction because she was aware through her experience of similar cases that any local authority in this situation would be likely to invent allegations against her in order to win the case had she remained; further notes that legal proceedings were initiated because Ms Freedman had made a complaint against a social worker; further notes that Barnet's case included a criticism of Ms Freedman that she had done what she had been asked to do by Barnet Council which it then claimed put her daughter at risk and that the rules of estoppel should normally have prevented this being used against Ms Freedman; further notes that the Government intends to reduce the access of parents to truly independent assessments which will make it easier for local councils to win cases by making things up; recognises that if a barrister has so little confidence in the system that she leaves the jurisdiction to avoid being subjected to false allegations by a local authority there are serious difficulties in the system; and calls for parliamentary committees and the Government to review this issue.
The second is the Cootes family. Their case has been reported in lots of places. Here is a Daily Mail story.
It is important to remember that there have been a number of suicides (one a fortnight ago) as a result of the trauma of proceedings in the UK.
My advice is always to ensure that people take their paperwork and talk to the authorities whichever country they go to. Many countries already know how silly things are in England and are sympathetic. Also remember you need to be self financing and don't go to Ireland.
Emigrating when pregnant is not illegal. The situation is different if court proceedings have started.
There are lots of reasons why people don't get a fair trial. The secrecy has allowed a lot of bad practice to develop. However, the fundamental problem is with the nature of the evidence. The assessments and care plans are normally done by the local authority. Hence they are subject to the managerial policies of the local authority.
There is a european court of human rights case Lashin v Russia that explains why this is procedurally flawed.
The underlying question is whether Local Authorities are so perfect in their analyses of situations that parents should not expect any independent opinion. The system operates on the principle of the infallibility of local authorities. At the same time LAs have adoption targets to hit. This results in managers telling social workers not to return baby to their parents. And in one leicester case that I have documented firing a social worker because she recommended the return of a child against managerial dictat.
It is also worth reading This Birmingham Post Article
I must stress that this option is not one for everyone to consider. If court proceedings have started it is futile and counter productive. Also the finances are really difficult and need to be well thought through. However, it has been successful for a number of families. The Webster case (aka Hardingham) started with the family going to Ireland. Effectively it is form of forum shopping rather than evading justice.
Ireland is now a bad place to go as so many people went there that the authorities now push people back to England.
Birmingham City Council - why can't they keep the streets clean?
I have received a number of complaints recently about the failure of street cleaning across Yardley (and a considerable number specifically from Acocks Green).
My constituents have asked why Solihull MDC can keep the streets clean, but not Birmingham. The Labour Party would like to say "money". Well I have the estimated budgets for the next financial year (which starts on 1st April 2014).
For the next financial year Birmingham will be spending (including government grant) around £2,587.09 per dwelling and Solihull will be spending only £1,831.52 per dwelling.
Hence Birmingham hasn't got enough money when it gets £700 per dwelling more than Solihull. Solihull has enough money.
Birmingham does, however, have enough money to spend tens of millions of pounds on wheelie bins. Politics is about choices. Labour, now they have control of the city council, have clearly decided to accept rubbish on the streets.
The Labour administration in Birmingham need to wake up and smell the coffee. They are in charge of the priorities. My constituents want the city kept clean. There is, in fact, good evidence that this reduces crime. It is not a trivial issue. My constituents are right about this.
We are poaching Solihull's Chief Executive. Maybe he will get Labour to see sense. I don't blame Stephen Hughes for the mess on the Streets I blame Sir Albert Bore and the Labour Councillors.
Stuart Syvret released from prison
For those that follow this issue. Stuart Syvret who as health minister in Jersey blew the whistle on maltreatment of children has been released from prison again. He was imprisoned for what he said. Yes I know it was contempt of court, but at the end of the day the offence was one of speech. Specifically speech criticising the failure of the authorities in Jersey to prosecute certain individuals.
There is a blog posting about this with a short interview with him here
Independent Story about Mental Capacity Issues
in The Independent looks at the issues of the variability of capacity proceedings (both in the court of protection, but more widely).
The nub of the issue is that the interests of the state tend to predominate over people's wishes. Quoting from the article:
Lawyers believe that patients who make controversial decisions are left vulnerable to the court assuming they lack capacity. “We have the impression that where decisions a person makes are contentious, there is often a swift conclusion that the person lacks capacity, and substituted decisions are made for them,” they wrote.
Mumsnet and the Naughty Step.
I have been contacted by a number of people to ask why I have been put on the naughty step by Mumsnet.
There are a number of online fora in which I debate issues relevant to public policy. One is mumsnet.com another one is netmums.com.
On Mumsnet there is poster whose user id is "spero". She happens to be a family court barrister who tweets as SVPhillimore.
She and I have had a few disagreements in the past which are not worth going into. However, I posted the link above (the twitter link) on the mumsnet forum and a couple of other similar twitter links which were linking to the debate. Mumsnet then suspended my account saying:
We're getting in touch as we've received a couple of reports about your posts on the 'child taken from the womb' thread, http://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/in_the_news/a1938715-Child-taken-from-womb-Truth-into-darkness.
It is against our talk guidelines (http://www.mumsnet.com/info/netiquette) to post information which would 'out' a poster, as a couple of your posts on here have done due to your posts containing links to posters personal twitter accounts which give their real names. We've had to suspend your account until you get in touch.
Hence I am now indeed "on the naughty step" at mumsnet. Because it is Christmas little has been sorted out about this, but I would expect something to be sorted out. I am continuing to debate issues on netmums as I have done in the past, however.
There has been an additional debate about the content of an Italian court order. The English translation is as follows:
"In the opinion of this Court, the removal of the child from her parent as soon as she was born, as evidenced by the petitioner, and contrary to the opinion of the doctors, combined with the virtually simultaneous involuntary medical treatment involving a caesarean section on the parent by order of a court, poses an irreconcilable conflict with the fundamental rules that protect the rights of the child in matters of adoption. These assert that questions as to whether a child is available for adoption and the subsequent adoption of the child shall be a last resort and assumes, in any case, that the maternal parenting skills have first been tested and this is especially the case where the separation is carried out at a point where the parent is still in precarious condition and stressed by the recent birth.
The Court therefore believes that the [UK] court decision can not be recognized on the grounds that it is contrary to the principles set out , which are in regard to adoptions an integral part of public domestic and international order, taking account of the effects that recognition would have on domestic law , as [such recognition] would then justify the permanent discontinuation of the relationship between the child , the mother , the only parent recognized , and other relatives including the two sisters as well as the the maternal grandmother.
A copy of this judgment is sent to the Italian Diplomatic Representation to the UK for feedback and in respect of issues of competence .
I do think this court order is significant because of the strength of its criticisms of the decision in Chelmsford.
As the story has developed people have concentrated on the issue as to what effect alcohol had. In fact the post that caused me to be suspended was one I wrote at 9.35 on a Saturday morning when I was sober without a hangover.
The foodbanks debate and labour dishonesty.
On Wednesday there was an opposition debate. The motion can be found here
and it said:That this House notes that the number of people using foodbanks provided by the Trussell Trust alone has increased from 41,000 in 2010 to more than 500,000 since April this year, of whom one third were children; further notes that over the last three years prices have risen faster than wages; further notes the assessment of the Trussell Trust that the key factors in the rising resort to foodbanks are rising living costs and stagnant wages, as well as problems including delays to social security payments and the impact of the under-occupancy penalty; calls on the Government to publish the results of research into foodbanks commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs which Ministers promised would be made public in the summer of 2013; and further calls on the Government to bring forward measures to reduce dependency on foodbanks, including a freeze on energy prices, a water affordability scheme, measures to end abuses of zero hours contracts, incentives to companies to pay a living wage and abolition of the under-occupancy penalty.
This has been misrepresented in various ways as "a vote against foodbanks" or a vote against investigating foodbanks.
When you vote for a motion you vote for everything in it. For example the freeze on energy prices which has already put energy prices up and caused a reduction in investment.
I am a strong supporter of having a detailed review of the effects of the various changes in the benefits system. However, I don't think Labour's proposals on homelessness and overcrowding, employment conditions, energy and water prices are actually good for those who are at the lower income end of society. Hence of course I would vote against this motion. I did make sure I read the papers to ensure what it actually said before I voted.
A Local Authority v C 2013 (mother not allowed to resist)
A Local Authority v C 2013
is a case where a mother has not been told anything about the case, but essentially the police are authorised to remove the child at birth. The key about this is that there is no-one arguing the mother's side of the argument. The allegations made by the state are essentially something that are allowed to stand without any challenge.
If, as is asserted in this case, someone is to be considered incapable of looking after her child then why also do they encourage her to get pregnant and hold out to her the chance of looking after the child.
However, the nub of this is I would like to hear the mother's view on these issues as to what is true.
suesspiciousminds has a good look at this and concludes:
I have some problems with this judgment and decision (not as a matter of law, the Judge followed Re D and balanced things but as a matter of principle and human rights). The remedy here for the removal at birth is that the mother has the opportunity to challenge within a few hours that decision at the EPO hearing. But how realistic is that?
Forgive me if I don’t think that this is terribly fair.
Firstly, she is going to be in a state of complete shock at the removal, which will be a total surprise to her. (I know that lawyers could look at the history and say “well, an EPO application was likely” but from mother’s perspective, if social workers have been working with her and never said that the baby would be removed, she might well think that she will keep the baby)
Secondly, she is also in the immediate aftermath of childbirth, a process which is fairly stressful, painful and somewhat discombobulating (that is a huge understatement) – not putting one in the best shape to get dressed and get on a bus to court
Thirdly, when she gets to Court, she is not entitled to instruct a solicitor to represent her, as she doesn’t have capacity
Fourthly, the Official Solicitor hasn’t been warned of the pending application so that they will be ready at court to represent her
So a vulnerable woman, with mental health problems, in the immediate aftermath of childbirth will be in Court, reeling from the shock of removal and representing herself at a contested removal hearing.
Ian Patterson and Heartlands Hospital (The Kennedy Review)
Professor Kennedy's report into the practice of Ian Patterson at Heartlands Hospital has just been released. It is a good report and demonstrates how confidentiality can at times be used to protect the interests of the powerful.
The problem is a more general culture of the Health Service to cover things up rather than resolve issues.
I have two cases at Heartlands Hospital where whistle-blowers have found themselves subject to disciplinary action. I have raised these with the hospital, but am unhappy with the response from the hospital. The whistleblowing does not relate to the care of patients, but the same principles apply.
From his report:
14.36 It is wrong, as well as pointless, to seek to control the flow of information to outside
bodies so as to contain the impact of any particular event or set of circumstances. It
prevents others from taking appropriate measures. It ensures that partial information
will emerge in an unsystematic manner, thereby damaging patients and the Trust
much more than would be the case with full, open communication. And, most
important, it is a breach of trust.
Victor Nealon: case raises questions
A constituent approached me in 2011 raising concerns about the failure to consider the new evidence It seemed that this should be considered and the court of appeal has now considered this. On behalf of my constituent I spent some time working with his lawyer to get the CCRC to consider this aspect of the case.
I am mainly concerned about two things directly relating to the appeal:
a) How long it took for this evidence to be considered as part of an appeal. This is an issue as to how the CCRC works.
b) That the system continues to punish people who maintain their innocence.
Both of these issues need to be considered.
This is in fact the third criminal appeal I have assisted with where the defendant was found either to be not guilty or to have been wrongly sentenced. There are other aspects of the process that cause me concern. One is that the barrister who handles the case at the court of first instance is the person who also writes the opinion as to the likelihood of success on appeal. I am not sure that this is really sensible.
Some more about his case http://www.insidetime.org/articleview.asp?a=187&c=a_lump_on_the_forehead
Badger Cull: Clarification Statement - I am opposed to the cull (including the Pilot one)
I have been getting emails from constituents claiming that I am known to support the Pilot Cull. This confused me because I thought I had voted against. It is, of course possible, that I had made a mistake so I checked.
It is quite clear from Public Whip here
that I did rebel on the issue on an opposition day motion. And I voted in support of the words: "That this House believes the badger cull should not go ahead."
I am trying to find out which organisation is saying otherwise, but it does not help when campaigners get their facts wrong on basic things like this.
I know that opposition day first votes are a bit confusing in that the procedural resolution is in support of the original words remaining part of the motion hence to vote against any amendment you actually vote "aye".
That, however, is the way it is.
Italian Mother: further comments on the forced caesarean
I was intending to write more on this and issues relating to VBAC. Instead I will refer to two posts written on Birthrights
and Mental Health and Capacity Law
which explain the situation well. I will also refer to the following comments by AIMS.
The decision to have a Vaginal Birth after Caesarean
(VBAC) had been a huge issue in our postbag and maternity care for a long time,
and is very much associated with women's desire for control, and also their
mental health. Originally the obstetricians policy was "once a caesarean, always
a caesarean" and it was women themselves - particularly here, but also in the US
- who wanted a chance to have a normal birth and many opted out of hospital care
in this country to have home births, with private midwives or even no care,
because they were pushed into having CS in hospital. (of course this is not all
women's choice - but we support their right to choose whatever it may be)
Finally both the ACOG in the States and the RCOG and department of Health here
has come out supporting VBACs. One of the reasons for the professional's volte
face was the number of women with previous sections who had an embedded placenta
as a result of the previous operation, and removal of this (depending on degree
of penetration of the uterine wall) can lead to massive, and sometimes fatal,
haemorrhage. Having to deal with a few of these in theatre (plus maternal
deaths) encouraged them to listen to what women wanted, which proved actually to
be safer. Here are RCOG current guidelines http://www.rcog.org.uk/womens-health/clinical-guidance/birth-after-previous-caesarean-birth-green-top-45
I think it is crucial for her lawyer to get the
medical advice that Mostyn had, so that it is possible to see if it was
balanced. We do not know if a balanced picture of risks was provided. The risk
of what is called "rupture" but in fact is much more likely to be "dehiscence"
(gradual and partial separation of the scar, which can be monitored for and a
quick CS can then be done) is in fact a very small one, and in most cases of
course, risks are explained to women and she chooses between options
Here is the NICE guideline on Caesarean which would
have been in place at the time. Please note section on Woman Centred
Italian Mother: Mostyn Judgment Published (with transcript of hearing)
The judiciary have now published the judgment in respect of the Caesarean. It is here
I remain concerned that it does not appear that she was told that this was being proposed. If it is true that she had previously elected to have a Caesarean then it sounds odd that she was not asked on this occasion, but instead driven through a legal and medical procedure in which she had no input. I remain worried about how mental capacity is removed and it does not appear that the representative of the official solicitor who was "representing her interests" actually spoke to her. One would think that if she had been asked she would have agreed given that she agreed previously. Reading between the lines of the judgment the main issue appears to have been that she did not want to give birth in England. (understandably in retrospect)
There are a number of questions about the details of the judgment. (such as what her condition actually was, whether she was being treated for the wrong disorder and the true risks of the situation) All of these issues will take some time to sort out. The wrong disorder is the most concerning as this would be the reason why she would not have been recovering (and did recover in Italy) because the treatment would have made her worse.
However, the question as to how people who are deemed "too stupid" to make decisions for themselves are treated in the process of deciding whether or not they are indeed "too stupid" (ie lack capacity) or indeed what the decision should be remains open.
Italian Mother: Sarah Matthews' petition highlights problem with Caesarean Decision
Sarah Matthews, a mother living in England, has petitioned parliament to raise concerns about the way in which courts decide that people have no right to make their own decisions.
This is how it was decided that the Italian Mother was not allowed to decide not to have a caesarean section.
The petition is in Hansard here
Sarah Matthews has been gagged by Mr Justice Mostyn to stop her talking to the media about her case.
John Hemming said about the petition:"The petition shows how the deck is stacked against people who wish to keep their rights to make decisions. I am only aware of two cases where such decisions have been resisted. One is continuing at the moment and the other is the subject of the petition."
"The Italian authorities have argued that the mother in Italy should have been allowed to make her own decision and not have a caesarean. However, it appears that she was not even allowed to know that this was proposed and express a view. The system of removing capacity is procedurally stacked against the people who face the challenge."
"Querulous Paranoia", which appears in the petition, "is basically not trusting the system. Well frankly after the things that go on I don't trust the system."
St George's Healthcare NHS Trust v S; R v Collins and others, ex parte S  3 All ER 673,  Fam Law 526, CA
The above was a case which looked at the issue of forced caesarians. This
is an article that looks at the above case. In terms of the Italian case we cannot know on the information currently available the reasoning of the judge. It seems very clear, however, that there was an Article 6 contravention because the mother concerned was not made aware of the suggestion that she might have a caesarean and hence was unable to oppose it.
Italian Mother: Letter from Italian Human Rights Court Group to John Hemming MP
are similar to Liberty.
Italian Mother: Statement by John Hemming (includes comments from mother and italian judgment)
Report of Conversation with mother:
John Hemming said "I have spoken to the mother concerned who has been
very badly treated by the authorities in England. She has said to me that she
would like to thank all the British people who have sent messages of
"Now that we know that the case is still live and to be heard by Munby P it is clear that the case is sub judice. That limits the range of parliamentary proceedings that can be used. I have, therefore, tabled a Motion in parliament relating to the failures of Essex County Council in terms of Communication with Foreign Institutions. This should appear tomorrow.
Essex County Council's failure to follow international law
Under the Vienna convention article 36 and also under Brussels II Bis revised (Council Regulation (EC) No 2201/2003) articles 15, 55 and 56 the Italian authorities should have been contacted about both the mother’s imprisonment and the care of the baby. However, they were not.
In 2011 Essex (in response to an FOI request) said they had no contact with High Commissions and Embassies. In 2010-11 they had 21 children who were foreign nationals who had become "looked after". This was as part of 138 who had become "looked after" in the previous 5 years. It is clear, therefore, that they were not following international law then and have not followed international law in this case."
The government are also at fault because they have refused to even try to keep track of which children in the care system are foreign nationals. This could be done easily in the SSDA903 return.
Comments on judgment:
I welcome the publication of the judgment on bailii. It is available here http://www.bailii.org/ew/cases/Misc/2013/20.html
We still need answers.
We need answers from the Mental Health trust who need to explain why the mother was kept in England for 6 weeks prior to being given the C Section.
We need the publication of the judgment about the caesarean section from the court of protection.
We need an explanation of why no attempt was made to allow the father to participate in the court case. He may not be allowed to enter the UK for immigration reasons, but should have been allowed proper participation on the phone or via video link at least.
We also need an explanation from the local authority as to why when the grandmother is deemed capable of looking after two children she could not look after the third.
On the Italian proceedings
"More details are coming out about the proceedings in the Italian courts. It is clear that Essex has misrepresented the court hearings in Italy. The court of first instance ruled itself not competent to rule in the matter and referred it to the tribunal in Rome who in October 2013 declared that it “cannot recognise the ruling of the English court because it is contrary to
Italian and international norms of public order”.
Italian: "non poter riconoscere il provvedimento della Corte inglese perchè contrario alle norme italiane e internazionali di ordine pubblico".
Italian Mother: Statement by John Hemming
Response to statement from Judiciary:
"I welcome the transfer of the case from Chelmsford County Court to the High Court in front of the president of the family division. The appointment of the president of the family division was a very positive step and I am certain that any applications to him will be heard justly."
"I remain concerned that many decisions taken by the family courts are taken by the magistrates court (the family proceedings court) and are then appealed to the county court. This means that domestic proceedings can be exhausted without a case getting out of the area in which it is considered. This means that there is never any public judgment and the case in the UK has come to an end. All that people can then do is to take their case to Strasbourg."
Comment about failure of Essex to follow proper proceedings:
"The rules are straightforward when it comes to foreign nationals and care proceedings. The foreign country concerned should be contacted through their central authority (in Italy's case part of the Justice Ministry). This clearly did not happen and for this Essex County Council are clearly in the wrong."
Comment following Essex County Council's press release:
"Essex have not managed to explain why no-one in the wider extended family was competent to look after the baby when they were already looking after two of her siblings. Additionally Essex have not explained why this baby was in their control to get adopted when the mother always intended to return to Italy."
Italian Mother: Statement by John Hemming
Unsurprisingly there is a lot of media interest in this case. We do, however, need to remember that at the centre of this case is a mother and a baby (and the wider family including two siblings of the baby).
I will be driven as to what I say to the media about the case by the wishes of the mother concerned. I have been discussing that with her today. I have already had a short conversation with her on the telephone and we have agreed to speak further later today. However, I do not expect to be able to make any statement beyond this statement until after 5pm today or even later. I am on the train at the moment which makes it really difficult to have long phone calls.
In the mean time my team have been contacting the Italian Embassy to find out what their position is on this issue. In previous cases the Polish, Czech and Slovak embassies have all been very supportive of their citizens facing unjust proceedings in the family division in England and Wales. However, I do not know what the view of the Italian Embassy or the Italian authorities more generally will be.
When it comes to international public family law each country has a central authority. In the UK the central authority is the Official Solicitor. Italy also has a central authority. In the case of the Slovak grandmother last year the Slovak Central authority applied to intervene in the appeal on behalf of the Slovak Republic. It is, of course, open to the Italian Central Authority to do the same.
The case does highlight the rather selective approach that the Court of Protection has been taking to issuing public judgments. There are many judgments that can be found on the bailii website, but this case does not appear. There has to be an improvement so that proper accountability can occur of judicial processes.
In the mean time I have been referring to the case of the Cootes family. This family who had to leave the UK and go to Spain to keep their daughter are now back in the UK. I know they are willing to be interviewed about what happened with them. My office will give out the grandfather's phone number to any journalists who ask for it. One similarity between this case and that of the Italian mother is the local authority's resistance to the proposal that a baby should be cared within the wider family rather than placed for adoption.
In terms of the question as to how I will raise this in parliament. There are lots and lots and lots of ways of raising something in parliament. I will not decide precisely how to do this until after speak to the mother concerned.
Italian Mother Case: Bipolar UK issue statement in support of mother
The following is a statement by Bipolar UK:
Bipolar UK response to media reporting on forced caesarean and continued separation of mother and child
The forced caesarean and continued separation of mother and
child is, we believe, unprecedented.
sometimes the case that if someone is very ill they are unable to consent to a
medical procedure which those caring for them consider is urgently needed. But officials should make every effort to
consult with the family before decisions are taken, a procedure made more
difficult in this case because the woman was only on a short stay from
Italy. Moreover, if there were
continuing concerns about the care of the child, one would have thought Italian
social services would have been involved in determining what was best for the
Women with bipolar
may become unwell during pregnancy and are at high risk of becoming ill
following childbirth. The majority of
women recover fully, they manage the impact of the illness through strategies
involving medication, health care, therapy and self management and they are
Between 600,000 and 1.2 million individuals in the UK (1% to 2% of the population)
have bipolar. The impact and devastation
of bipolar are not about the sufferer alone.
Including parents and partners for example, bipolar affects over three
million people in the UK today.
Compared with other mental health illnesses that have a similar or lower
impact, treatment of bipolar is still hampered by misunderstanding and severe
It takes an average of 10.5 years to receive a correct
diagnosis for bipolar in the UK. The
2012 survey by Royal College of Psychiatrists, Bipolar UK and Bipolar Scotland
for the first Bipolar Awareness Day in 2012 suggested this could be as long as
Bipolar UK can provide case studies, interviews and comments from the
charity and individuals affected by bipolar.
Careful visiting the UK whilst pregnant. They just might take your baby for adoption.
story in The Telegraph is a step beyond the normal abuses in the family courts (and court of protection). This was a pregnant mother visiting the UK for a training course lasting only two weeks. It ends up with her baby being taken through a forcible caesarean and then placed for adoption for the usual spurious reasons that are used.
Oddly enough last night I had another case of someone who was a foreign mother having her children taken for the system whilst she is deported. This is much like the case from which I highlighted a JR decision earlier this year. Mum was deported and the child kept.
The Italian case is one about which more will be heard. Also the one raised with me last night. The USA case is one which has had some attention.
In essence families count for nothing in the modern family court. The "best interests of the child" are "paramount" which means that what the social workers say goes. If a social worker does not say what the management want then the social worker can be fired as had happened. There is no independence in the system and family ties carry no substantial weight.
I did speak to Michael Gove about this on Wednesday. I do not think that he has this as an objective. It is clearly an unintentional consequence of the government policy of the last 12 years or so. It is, however, a real consequence and has to be brought to an end.
Additionally this video raises questions as to whether powers are being used to undermine demonstrations or appropriately. I am not opposed to fracking (we have use fracking for a long long time) However, I don't think child protection procedures should be used to stop people demonstrating. It is entirely possible that there is an appropriate use of powers, but it is also unlikely.
A child's view of the Family Court System
Megan Coote and Dale Coote discussion with John Hemming of their case
Mark and Kerry McDougall
The case of Mark and Kerry McDougall who went to Ireland because she was considered not to have the capacity to marry or look after children is an important case. They have lived with two children in Ireland, but have now returned to Fife. The authorities have suddenly decided to take an interest without any good reason.
This raises serious concerns about the way in which assessments are done in the UK.
Birmingham's problems in childrens services are caused by government policy amongst other things.
Lets look at the story today:
The children's services department at Birmingham City Council could be taken over by the Department for Education (DfE), the BBC has learned.
and that of October
More than a fifth of frontline social worker posts are unfilled in Birmingham, it has been revealed.
A manager in Birmingham told me that he knew of experienced people who could be employed as social workers in Birmingham, but the government would not allow them because they did not have the right piece of paperwork. We should not be surprised of the existence of problems if only 80% of the staff are in place. Temporary agency staff are not the solution.
Re: B - Why do the English Courts think there is a problem when the Swedish courts do not
case is an interesting one just reported by the Court of Appeal. The first question that should be asked is why it took the English judicial system over a year to decide it did not have jurisdiction.
The second question is why the English Courts have decided there is an issue when the Swedish Courts have not. They cannot both be right. It is my view that the evidence in the family courts in England is frequently intellectually unreliable and as a consequence the decisions are not well grounded in reality.
This case seems to substantiate my view and give good reasons why the system in England takes the wrong children into care.
Birmingham Public Transport
I noted that the current council proposals are now much like my proposals of 2003.
I voted against Metro in 1992. I thought that we should stick to heavy rail and bus/trolley bus. The image is my proposal from 2003 for Birmingham which is pretty well the current council proposal. I have a personal minority view historically otherwise I would have prioritised buses in the city centre rather than metro. However, c'est la vie.
Stuart Syvret's video relating to his imprisonment