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May 27, 2016 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Again we have patent nonsense from John Bolch at the Marilyn Stowe blog (Marilyn Stowe, 5//16). I’ve eviscerated Bolch before for his blissful unawareness of basic facts about British family law and even the very laws and cases about which he writes. But the linked-to piece is so bad I would like to encourage Stowe to cease giving him a forum. The man’s an embarrassment.

Bolch’s topic is the secrecy in which British family courts function. Except, weirdly enough, he claims that they don’t. Really. He calls the idea that the courts operate secretly “nonsense.” Moreover, the aforesaid nonsense is purely a function of the Internet.

Particularly in these post-legal aid days, the Internet should be a wonderful resource for those involved in family proceedings…

The problem, however, is that not all of that advice is good advice, and many are simply, and understandably, unable to differentiate between the good and the bad…

Thus, for example, we have the narrative of the ‘secret family courts’, where we are told that justice is handed out behind closed doors, by people who have a specific agenda against YOU.

I won’t make too much of the irony of a blatantly misleading piece published on the Internet criticizing the Internet for publishing misleading pieces. But there it is.

One of Bolch’s main faults (and there are many) is his fervent belief that naked assertions equal sound arguments. They don’t, particularly when the assertion is demonstrably false as his most recent one is.

Bolch’s claim that British family courts don’t function in secret, is belied contradicted by a number of sources toward whom he might want to give a bit more respect. I refer for example to the country’s most senior judge, the president of the Supreme Court, Lord David Neuberger. I refer also to the most senior judge on the highest family court in the country, Sir James Munby. And finally I refer to the Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. In this article, Munby is quoted thus:

‘In both courts there is a need for greater transparency in order to improve public understanding of the court process and confidence in the court system.

The Daily Mail article went on to say this:

Last month the Supreme Court launched a stinging attack on secret justice, saying it is ‘not justice at all’. Its president, Lord Neuberger, said hearing evidence behind closed doors was ‘against the principle of justice’.

And Grayling was quoted thus:

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘We have been clear that there needs to be more openness in the Family Courts and the Court of Protection.

I wonder what Bolch thinks these three men, who are surely knowledgeable about the workings of family courts, are talking about if not a level of secrecy that’s “not justice at all.” The DM summarized:

Family courts are criticised for holding too many hearings in private and not publishing the results.

This can mean families whose children have been taken away unfairly are unable to tell their stories and get redress using the media.

On some occasions injustices are not exposed until the cases go all the way to the Court of Appeal.

Several secret care cases have been exposed by that court which has criticised the local authorities involved.

Now, Bolch might complain that the DM article linked to is all about a change in the rules requiring greater transparency in family courts. That’s all very well, but those changes were so minimal as to hardly make a difference. Most importantly, court secrecy in cases involving children aren’t subject to the new transparency rules. And those of course are exactly the cases in which the public’s right to know is most important.

So Bolch’s claim that it’s “nonsense” that British family courts act in secret is, well, nonsense.

But he goes on to offer the case of F vs. V to prove the danger of believing that family courts act in secrecy. Needless to say, he fails.

In that case, the father of a girl who was about 10 at the time was embroiled in a bitter court duel with his ex over the child’s custody. He and his new partner were nervous about the girl’s being interviewed by social workers with the local children’s welfare agency. He wanted to know if she was making allegations of abuse and later he became concerned that the social workers might be withholding or altering certain things she did say.

So, unknown to the girl, the man’s partner sewed small recording devices into her clothing. That way, Dad knew everything that went on between his daughter and the social workers. Now, the court found that to be unacceptable behavior on Dad’s part and so does Bolch. After all, why not simply trust the social workers?

Oh, maybe this is why.

Britain’s Family Justice Council has found that 40% of the “experts” who give opinions in family cases were either entirely unqualified to do so or were giving opinions in matters outside their expertise.

Incredibly, [Professor Jane Ireland] found that 20 per cent had been produced by people who were not qualified at all.

A further fifth had been carried out by people who were writing reports in areas entirely beyond their knowledge and qualifications.

Yes, those things might give one pause, alright, but incredibly, no one in the F vs. V case seemed to think little matters like basic competency should concern anyone.

Then there’s the well-recorded fact that, when British social workers start interviewing children, all too often, those kids end up in foster care or adopted by strangers. That’s sometimes the case even when a parent is perfectly fit and loving. Read here about one particularly outrageous case.

In that case, social workers not only railroaded a child into adoption despite having a perfectly fit and loving mother, they did so at least in retaliation for Mom’s having contacted a reporter who wrote about the case. That’s what can happen in the U.K. when courts and their appointed “experts” aren’t shielded by the type of secrecy they prefer.

So, let’s review Bolch’s “evidence” for the proposition that family courts don’t act in secret and anyone who claims they do is peddling “nonsense.” In the F vs. V case, the social workers were indeed interviewing the child in secret. They made no recording of the process, so everyone had to rely on their claims to be faithfully reporting what was said. The trial court heard the matter in secret and then refused to publish its decision.

Yes, the father’s efforts to find out the truth proved to be a factor in his losing custody of his child, but it can’t be said that he was misguided about either the fact of family court secrecy or the propensity for social workers to play fast and loose with parental rights. He was correct about both of those things. His only mistake came in his desperate attempt to learn what social workers were doing. That got him into hot water with the judge because, after all, they’re supposed to be able to work in secret.

Again, Bolch is not just wrong, he’s crazily so. Marilyn Stowe should dump him.

 

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