By Christopher Booker
The judge has forbidden anyone to tell me what he wanted me to hear
The secrecy of the family courts system has reached a bizarre new extreme, says Christopher Booker.
The attempts by judges to hide the strange activities of our family courts from public view are becoming ever more surreal. Last week they reached a bizarre new extreme, at the end of a case which I reported on last year more than once – a case that illustrates, chillingly, what has gone wrong with a system that too often allows social workers to seize children from blameless and devoted parents, on highly dubious evidence and for no apparent reason.
For some time before the final hearing of this case, there was considerable effort made to let me know that the judge wished I should attend. I knew he was irked by what I reported of the story last year, although I had been careful to observe the reporting restrictions. Naturally, I was curious to know why he now seemed so anxious for me to be present. As it happened, however, I was not able to attend. I have therefore only been able to surmise what occurred.
It seems the judge issued a very strict warning to everyone in court that they must not communicate anything of what had gone on to any outsider. Had I been present, I have no doubt that his remarks would have been particularly directed at me, and I would of course have been prohibited from reporting the case at all, on pain of contempt of court and possibly prison. If this is what happened, however, the judge overlooked one important point: there was no way that anyone in the court was allowed to communicate the judge’s warning to me.
I can only guess – on the basis of my detailed knowledge of what happened earlier – that the case ended in a way which, had I been able to report it, would have deeply shocked my readers. Had it gone otherwise, I would be free to report it in detail.
Judicial gagging orders have been much publicised of late, thanks to the determined campaign being waged to expose what is wrong with them by John Hemming MP. But almost all the media attention has focused on the power of the courts to suppress reporting on the alleged sexual activities of footballers. Less notice has been paid to the real purpose of Mr Hemming’s campaign: to expose the much worse scandal of the secrecy surrounding our family courts, and the horrible injustices too often inflicted on innocent parents who are treated like criminals without their voices being allowed to be heard.