Friday, 19 September 2008

I do not remove a child unless it is the right thing to do

Full Article:

The Afro-Caribbean father cut a lonely figure in his open-necked shirt as he faced the judge in the echoing court.
He had not seen his children for two years. There were no lawyers and the mother could not attend.
The setting was one of the grandest of the Victorian Gothic courtrooms at the Royal Courts of Justice scene of many a highly publicised battle. But today the oak benches and public gallery were empty. It was a family court where justice is dispensed behind closed doors.
The fathers words were almost lost in the lofty ceiling vault. If he expected a final decision, he did not get it. Mr Justice Hedley wearing a suit (no wig or robe) told him he was sending the case to Croydon where the mother lived. This had two advantages: a single district judge could take charge of the case and a contact regime could be set up at a special centre. I would appreciate it, the man said. 'Ive not had any contact with my children since 2006.'
In his room the judge explained that the intractable family dispute had run for years. The man had been offered contact under supervision. He had refused but wanted to reapply.
As the family liaison judge for Greater London Mr Justice Hedley, 62, is responsible for family courts in the capital outside the High Court. But this was holiday time and he was doing a stint of vacation duty a mix of emergency or procedural applications in continuing cases that need attention.
Judges, and the system, feel beleaguered. The Times has accused family courts of operating in a conspiracy of silence particularly in care cases. While injustices may occur, judges feel that the picture is distorted. So The Times had been granted rare access to sit on the bench and witness family justice from a judges-eye view.
Mr Justice Hedley, who with his wife had two children and fostered three others, adopting two of them, admits that he may have handled more childrens cases than any other judge. By the law of averages over 16 years judging he must have made mistakes, he admits. When he has been troubled over a decision, it had not been over removing a child from its home, rather over returning a child to where it might be at risk.

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