John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Wednesday, March 27, 2013
  Yesterdays speech about adoption apologies
This is a link to yesterday's speech.

The text is here.

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): I refer the House to my declaration of interest as the chairman of the Justice for Families campaign.

I remain concerned about cases in all the secret courts in the UK. The more secret the court, the more the system acts against the rule of law. Narrow freedoms of speech are at least as important as broad access to publicity—reporting wrongdoing to regulators and asking for advice are important narrow freedoms. Without academic scrutiny, nonsense can be spouted and experts can lie for money with impunity.

Care proceedings are an area of difficulty. I remain of the view that around 1,000 children a year are wrongly forcibly adopted in the UK. Gradually, I am getting more Government support in this area—sadly, still not from the UK Government. Last week I spoke at the Polish embassy, at a conference about care proceedings. Concerns have now also been raised by Nigeria, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Latvia, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Spain and Turkey.

For the avoidance of doubt, my concern is that a material proportion of care proceedings go way beyond being plainly wrong and hit the threshold of “totally nuts”. I must stress, however, that I see the appointment of Sir James Mumby as president of the family division as a positive step. I also welcome judgments such as [2013] EWHC 521 (Fam) of Mostyn J.

When the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) apologised to the children who were forcibly sent to the Commonwealth, I asked what confidence he had that such an apology would not be issued in the future for what we are doing today. His response was to ask me to send details of individual cases. I have, of course, sent many individual cases to UK Ministers. The standard response is “It’s nothing to do with us, guv”. The fact is that, according to our constitution, the UK Government must publicly accept judicial decisions, although in practice they often criticise them—except in the family division.

More recently, Australia has apologised for forced adoption. The question was put by Florence Bellone to Professor Eileen Munro about whether in the future we may see an apology in the UK. Her response was:

“I would not be surprised if a future generation looks back and thinks how horrific the quality of our work was and the damage that we did to families.”

What we have developed—this is mainly through a mathematical error in the use of the number of children in care for the denominator of the adoption target—is a care system that is obsessed with adoption. It is so obsessed with adoption that it does things that objectively have to seen to be irrational. I will not go into the details of Angela Wileman’s case, as I have referred to it before and I do not have time. I was pleased to hear that the arrest warrant was removed from Susan McCabe, the daughter of Councillor Janet Mockridge, who has been living in France with her two children for over five years. The attempts to remove her son for adoption in England, whilst leaving her daughter, gave the message of a system more concerned about winning than about the best interests of the child.

In another recent case, I read a note about the effect of the proposal for a child to be adopted out of her family. The report said:

“Since being told about the adoption, A’s mood has changed, she is clearly concerned and upset by this move, which perhaps is to be expected. However, she has nightmares most nights and is not getting adequate sleep, two weekends ago she vomited 5 times in one night.”

This case is not unique. There are even international cases where the system has taken children from people visiting the UK and refused to give them back, even though the system clearly does not have jurisdiction. That is damaging to the children, and I am prevented by the sub judice rule from giving more information here.

The international cases are particularly interesting as the assessments in England can be compared against assessments from professionals in other countries. Professionals in other countries wonder why such strange things are done—things that cause serious psychological damage to children in the UK. Working with Slovak politicians, I have managed to establish an inquiry by the Human Rights Commissioner in the Council of Europe. However, it remains the case that a problem that arises basically in secret courts is constitutionally difficult to fix, because it needs scrutiny to fix it. There is an additional challenge in that the people affected who are UK citizens are generally poorer people and less articulate. Hence, although stories about people who are foreign citizens maltreated in the UK get substantial coverage in the foreign media, there are only a few journalists such as Sue Reid, Christopher Booker and Ted Jeory who are willing to report on these cases. The speech of Denise Robertson, “This Morning’s” agony aunt, at the justice for families conference in Birmingham last December should be broadcast on TV to explain the truth.

What we actually have is a failure of democracy. In the same way as the cover-up over Hillsborough and the failures at the Mid Staffordshire hospital, we have a system that is going wrong in a large number of cases and maltreating families. In maltreating families, it is maltreating the children and the adults. It is reasonably well known that this is going on. However, the Government deny it. The inquiries that occur in Parliament do not look at the individual cases. Without looking at the individual cases, we cannot see the things that are going wrong. Inquiries such as the family justice review are dominated by the people who run the system, and hence are unlikely to recognise the failures of the system.

I put forward proposals in my private Member’s Bill, but it was squeezed out by the Government, who have still not explained why in detail. I have had a conversation with the Minister with responsibility for children, but I have no hopes from that. I have very little time left. I would like to give a much fuller speech, as a lot more needs to be said, but I will end by saying Happy Easter.

 
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
  Statute and Press Regulation
There has been some confusion about the issue of statute and press regulation. To me it is important not to have in statute the details of any press regulation.

However, if you look at Section 12 of the 1998 Human Rights Act you will find:

(4)The court must have particular regard to the importance of the Convention right to freedom of expression and, where the proceedings relate to material which the respondent claims, or which appears to the court, to be journalistic, literary or artistic material (or to conduct connected with such material), to—
(a)the extent to which—
(i)the material has, or is about to, become available to the public; or
(ii)it is, or would be, in the public interest for the material to be published;
(b)any relevant privacy code.

This, which was introduced at the request of the newspapers, makes clear reference to press regulation in (b)any relevant privacy code..

None of the statute that has been produced as part of the process of establishing a royal charter goes any further than S12(4)(b) as above.

The scheme is optional. It would most likely include this blog as there are articles by a number of authors. However, given that most libel actions are about costs bullying I would be quite happy to sign up to such a scheme if the charges were relatively low.

 
  Allan Norman on the Haringey Case
This is a link to an article written by Allan Norman that goes into the Haringey case. It is worth reading.
 
  Press Regulation
There is some confusion about the Royal Charter rules as agreed yesterday. My primary concern is to stop politicians controlling the media. The underlying problem with a Royal Charter is that normally this would be subject to modification by the government. The changes in the House of Lords to the Enterprise Bill mean that any industrial royal charter can only be modified in accordance with its terms. Hence the Royal Charter is no longer the creature of government nor it it a creature of parliament. It will be difficult to make any contentious changes because it has essentially been frozen, but that has the advantage that it keeps the politicians away from controlling what happens.

There are then the questions as to the pressures on the newspapers to join such a scheme. The final draft of the clause about exemplary damages (21a) to my reading of it merely made it less likely that scheme members would face exemplary damages. It does not to my reading increase the likelihood of facing exemplary damages beyond where they are at the moment. There was not a division on the clause relating to the claiming of costs (I think 27a).

My perception is that these changes encourage newspapers and others to use a regulatory arbitration to resolve disputes rather than litigation without heavily punishing those who don't.

 
Sunday, March 17, 2013
  The Hacked Off Campaign don't answer questions
Every so often I get a lobbying email from the Hacked Off campaign. At the end of those emails they offer to respond to questions. I have on a number of occasions. sent them questions or comments in response, but they don't respond - even though they claim that they will.

I have also spoken to Evan Harris who has said they will respond, but nothing ever happens.

This particular campaign are using a valid grievance (the hacking of phones) as a mechanism to bring in a substantial restraint on the investigation and reporting of issues involving powerful people and the establishment. The least they could do is to answer questions.

Notes: Letter to Chris Jeffries 3rd December 2012 - no response, Email to John Dickinson-Lilley 18th January 2013 - no response, Email to John Dickinson-Lilley 17th March 2013 (no response, but to be fair this is only today). Also an email to the Media Standards Trust Gordon Ramsay 11th February 2013 - no response. (The Media Standards Trust used to be the same as Hacked Off, but now they have been separated).

 
  Birmingham St Patrick's Day Parade 2013
The party conference being last weekend (in Brighton) I was able to attend the Birmingham St Patrick's Day Parade today. Last year the Lib Dem conference was at Gateshead. That made it impossible for me to attend the St Patrick's day festival (particularly as I was up until 2am playing piano at the Glee Club). I have stopped taking around a camera as I think the camera in my mobile phone is good enough for most purposes. I have uploaded a number of stills to my account at flickr. The set is here. I also took a few short videos, but have not uploaded those as yet. I will try to collect links to other sets of photos from the parade as I have done in previous years. Early today I visited the Ackers Trust in support of their fundraising and to highlight the success they have had with Sport England. Adam Yosef's set on Flickr is here St Patrick's Day | Birmingham 2013
@traceythorne has some here, but I cannot link to a set.
Youreviewuk has a set here
 
Friday, March 15, 2013
  FJC debate on multiple removals
This is a link a debate by the family justice council about cases where mothers have 10+ children removed from them in sequence. Often the response to a removal is the bereavement response of getting pregnant which means that the strategy is very damaging.
 
Tuesday, March 12, 2013
  Saving Energy in Acocks Green
Guest Article written by Alison Crane It’s important for everyone’s health and wellbeing that their home is warm enough and that fuel bills aren’t too high. With this in mind, and to reduce carbon emissions, Birmingham City Council has introduced a scheme for all residents of the city to benefit from grant aided and subsidised insulation and heating improvements.

Birmingham Energy Savers can arrange the installation of new boilers, improved heating controls, wall insulation for solid walls or cavity walls, and loft insulation, at no cost for people on certain benefits, and with subsidies and no upfront cost for everyone else. Whether you are a homeowner, tenant or landlord, we can help you. This pilot scheme is for a limited time only and subject to availability.

In Acocks Green, Energywise, a local co-operative of energy professionals is working with organisations, local businesses and neighbourhood groups to promote Birmingham Energy Savers, answer questions, give talks, and register people for the scheme by making referrals to Carillion, who are managing the surveys and installations.

Birmingham Energy Savers operates two initiatives, depending on the circumstances of the householder:

The Green Deal - This is to encourage people to make their home more energy efficient through installing things like an energy efficient boiler, draught proofing, loft and cavity wall insulation. These measures will be fitted into homes at no up front cost to the householder through a loan which is repaid through the electricity bill, at a rate no more than the savings made by having the improvements.

Energy Company Obligation [ECO] - The government has passed legislation which means that energy companies must make available significant funding to help people reduce the amount of energy they consume and help people out of fuel poverty. This money is to help eligible people get new energy efficient boilers, loft, cavity wall and solid wall insulation installed in their home - in some cases completely free of charge.

If you are interested, or want to discuss in more detail, please contact us on info@energywise.coop or phone 07792 321 485.


 
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
  Secret Courts and other rebellions
Monday was the day on which I voted most against the government so far in this parliament. Public Whip provide a list of rebellions (which has not been updated yet). It is inaccurate in that not all votes are whipped votes - in particular house business is generally not whipped. The list is here.

On 29th January was a 10 minute rule bill. This was not whipped. I voted for the concept of protection of freedom of speech for those people who don't agree with marriage being redefined to include a relationship between two people of the same sex. On 28th January I voted to allow a regent to be appointed to be the head of the church of England. That was a whipped vote. On 18th December I voted against the second reading of the Justice and Security Bill. On 11th July there were a number of house sittings votes which were not whipped. On 12th March I voted for the retention of full house elections for the Back Bench Business committee. This was a sort of whipped vote. (Payroll only really). On 5th December 2011 I voted for greater parliamentary accountability. 30th November was a 10 minute rule bill as was 4th May 2011 and 13th Oct 2010 where I did a "both". On 10th October I voted for greater freedom of speech, but since the government have changed position to support this. (this was the "your horse is gay" arrest issue). On 9th September 2010 I voted for withdrawal from Afghanistan.

On Monday I voted four times against the extension of secret courts. The situation is quite straightforward. Secret courts are unreliable courts. The evidence tends to go astray. These are more secret than the family courts or the court of protection in that even the litigant is not allowed to attend. I accept the need to protect informants. However, PII certificates can do that - even though they have problems of accountability.

Given that the right not to be tortured is an unqualified right it is difficult to work out what evidence the government has that it needs to present to the judge in secret. An additional difficulty with this is that there is a gradual movement away from fair trials.

I have also rebelled by supporting the Yeo amendment on the Energy Bill. This, to me, is not such a different position to that of the government which is progressing on getting more cost effective sustainable energy. In a coalition compromises do need to be made and at times that can get a better result than a rebellion on the floor of the house which fails. Hence I do need to keep this issue under review.

There are two other positions I have taken which differ from the party recently. One is against statutory regulation of the media and the other is in support of an in-out referendum on the EU (once we know what the constitutional settlement is).

 
Sunday, March 03, 2013
  MP writes free widget for Android Phones
I recently obtained a new mobile phone. I have used an Android Phone for a number of years. What irritates me, however, is that they are not that efficient as phones.

I, therefore, looked at writing something to make the process of dealing with phone calls more efficient and have written what is called a widget to sit on the home screen telling me who I have been talking to (or missed calls from) on the home screen. It also has a nicer contacts search using the keyboard by tapping the title line.

I have made this widget available for free to anyone who wishes to use it.

I have put it on Googles Playstore here.

It is easiest to find by searching for "john hemming".

My daughter has agreed to help me with anyone who has any problems with it. Her email address is the one registered. I have only tested it on my own phone.

If people are interested my casework system that I have used since 2004 is also written in Java. Hence I found the learning curve of writing an android widget not particularly steep.

 

Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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