By Christopher Booker
In the Court of Appeal recently, Lord Justice Thorpe said he was “completely aghast” at a case where a Derby County Court judge had ordered three children to be removed from their parents. The only evidence was that of a doctor who “expressed the opinion” that bruising on one child’s ear looked as though it was caused by pinching. The hearing had lasted just 15 minutes and the parents had not been allowed to say a word. Thorpe observed: “There is nothing more serious than a removal hearing, because the parents are so prejudiced [against] in proceedings thereafter. Once you have lost a child, it is very difficult to get a child back.” He ruled that the children should be reunited with their parents.
For once, a senior judge has spoken out about a mockery of justice which is repeated week after week in courts across the land. I have now followed dozens of such cases, where children are seized from their parents by social workers on the flimsiest of evidence, and where the parents then find themselves in the clutches of a system rigged against them in every way. Often they are not allowed to speak while they hear judges apparently accepting extraordinary lies, or evidence given by supposed “experts” which cannot be questioned.
One of the most disturbing features of this system, which protects itself behind a wall of secrecy, is how far it goes to ensure that aggrieved parents are represented only by lawyers who are themselves accomplices of the system. Again and again parents are bemused to find that the lawyers they were advised to use seem unwilling to challenge the case being made against them, however spurious.
Of all the cases I have followed, none is more bizarre than that of a couple whose six children were snatched by social workers last year on evidence which seemed at best highly questionable and was at worst an absurd fiction. The mother was advised to use a solicitor, on legal aid, who she felt was so much on the other side that she discharged him. Just before Christmas, when the council’s case seemed to be falling apart, I tracked down one of the very rare solicitors who has a reputation for fighting the system. His firm applied to the Legal Services Commission for transfer of the legal aid, and when the LSC seemed to be delaying its response, I paid £2,000 from my own pocket to enable the firm to start work.
The local authority learned, it seemed before anyone else, that the LSC would not allow the transfer from the solicitor who had been discharged – and the head of the council’s legal department then sent the mother a list of other solicitors who would be able to take her case on legal aid. By the time the solicitor to whom I had given £2,000 heard that he had been turned down, he was able to present me with a bill which, including VAT, came to exactly £2,000.
By now another solicitor had appeared, who seemed keen to take on the case for a reduced fee. Ian Josephs, who runs the Forced Adoption website, advanced £3,500 towards her fees, on an understanding that she could take the case through to its final hearing for a total of £5,000. Three days before they were due in court, this solicitor too – after a long conversation with one of the array of lawyers appearing, at huge public expense, for the other side – said she was unable to continue working on the case. She has not, so far, offered to return any of the money.
The mother now faces, without legal representation, a final hearing which could result in her losing her children forever. They live, unhappily, in separate foster homes, at a cost to the taxpayer of well over £100,000 a year. She and her husband came to this country a decade ago, full of hope: now she feels utterly betrayed by a system which seems ruthlessly bent on destroying her family. Her only wish is to escape this incomprehensible nightmare and return with her husband to their native country. But to do so, they would have to abandon any hope of seeing their beloved children again.