Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Family Courts; Manchester

At one point in proceedings, the judge asked the pregnant mother before him whether she was in the habit of giving birth on the due delivery date. Normally, on time, she replied cheerily.
Judge Ian Hamilton, sitting at the Manchester Civil Justice Centre yesterday, was not being solicitous about her welfare. He was simply anxious to fix a date for a hearing to decide who will care for the unborn child and its two older brothers.
The parenting of the mother, a drug addict on a methadone programme, and her partner had given such cause for alarm that her eldest son was already being cared for by his paternal aunt.
Now aged 12, he was said to have suffered a neglectful childhood and been so emotionally traumatised that he lived in fear and had withdrawn into a shell, spending many hours in his bedroom playing computer games.
It was clear that Judge Hamilton was growing exasperated at the lack of progress of what had become a long-running case. It did not help that counsel for the local authority had not turned up on time, and then appeared to have no plan of action to push the matter forward.
Judge Hamilton brought proceedings to a close by ordering the local authority to come up with a care plan by May 11 and then fixed three days for the final hearing in July. It will certainly give Mum time to have recovered from the birth of the new baby in any event, he said.
Cases involving an abusive family and traumatised children, although dismally routine in such a building, would have been closed to the media until the change in the law came into force yesterday.
It was clear that the court staff at the centre, known as the Filing Cabinet because of its distinctive design, had been briefed about possible media interest.
When I presented my press accreditation to the court usher and then to the court clerk, they were aware of the changes of the law. I was told that the various counsel would have to be informed, and this may mean a delay.

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