Saturday, 2 May 2009

Family courts system accused of hiding evidence from parents

Parents fighting in the family courts for contact with their children are being denied access to their personal files by a corrupt system, a leading parental rights campaigner has said.
Alison Stevens, head of Parents Against Injustice, has called for Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, to force social services and individual courts to comply with the Data Protection Act.
She said: Local authorities have to send the requested files within 40 days . . . but they are often not following public law guidelines. Its corruption within the system. They are playing God, and there must be some reason why perhaps to hide things they have got wrong in the cases.
Evidence is gathered from a variety of sources before children are taken from their parents in family courts. Tracking down and obtaining these documents can be very difficult because they are held by various bodies and must be applied for in different ways.
Ms Stevens said: Parents should be entitled to their files not just social services files but all files: from health visitors, GPs, different hospitals, the ambulance trust, psychologist reports, paediatrician notes and so on.
The Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming has written to all MPs calling for a parliamentary review into the operation of the family courts. He said: One of the ways legal practitioners prevent parents from fighting cases is by not giving them the paperwork. Often the paperwork doesnt add up, so if parents got hold of it they would see what was going on.
Many parents have welcomed the call for greater accountability. Roland Simpkin (not his real name) received his social services files seven years after his children were taken into care in 2001 amid allegations of abuse.
When the allegations were shown to be unfounded, he sought to obtain the evidence held on him by social services to find out why he was still not allowed to see his children.

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