18 Dec 2013

Troubled’, judge releases critical ruling in grandparents’ adoption case

A family court judge has taken the unusual step of releasing a judgement into the case of Essex grandparents who were fighting to prevent their granddaughter from being adopted.

His Honour Judge Newton agreed to the publication of the judgement following an application from Channel 4 News, which was supported by the grandparents.

The judgement, dated November 15, 2012,  followed an appeal by the grandparents, Katrina and Lee Parker, who had been excluded from the care proceedings.  By the time it had been agreed they could appeal against this, the Parkers’ granddaughter was two days away from being adopted.

Pre News refresh player – this is the default player for the C4 news site – please do not delete. Ziad

Judge Newton granted Mr and Mrs Parker, from Colchester, the right to apply for guardianship of India, now aged two.  In the strongly worded judgement he is critical both of the local authority involved in the proceedings and of the judicial process.

He said that a previous court hearing in October in which the Parkers were excluded was “manifestly unfair”.  He said: “It was manifestly unjust, not just to the grandparents but to ‘P’ (who we are now allowed to name as India, the granddaughter) and could in no circumstances be thought to be European Court of Human Rights compliant.”  In other words,  both the grandparents and the granddaughter’s human rights had been breached because they were denied, under article 6, the right to a fair trial.

Last week Channel 4 News revealed what had happened to the Parkers during their fight to keep their granddaughter.  They were critical both of Essex local authority and the secrecy of the family court system which prevented them from speaking out.

It was only because they eventually won and were allowed to bring India home in August that we were able to report some details of the case.  But we were not – until now – allowed to say what happened in the court, nor were we able to say what the judgement in that crucial appeal had been.

What we were allowed to say was that the Parkers had firstly not been told their granddaughter had been taken in to care after their daughter was no longer able to look after her.

They were then excluded from applying to be part of the care proceedings.

They had their legal aid withdrawn and had no legal representation when they stood before Judge Newton.

Now we can see that when he heard their case, Judge Newton was “deeply troubled about what occurred”.  He says:  “Without any hesitation, I give Mr and Mrs P permission to appeal.”  He goes on to say that they should have legal representation and legal aid.

Like all family court cases, there is a degree of complexity, although the judgement is simple and to the point. But what we can now report is that having learned their granddaughter had been taken into care, the Parkers applied to have contact.

But in an August hearing, a solicitor from the firm originally representing the Parkers told a hearing that they no longer wished to be part of the proceedings.  Even now the Parkers do not know why he said this and it was not true.  But it was to have a bearing on the October hearing when they were excluded from proceedings.

The Parkers have six children, five of them still at home.  In a viability assessment commissioned by Essex and carried out by an independent social worker described as highly experienced, it is stated that the social worker did not support their application for any form of order.  She said that the grandparents would be unable to meet the child’s needs, given their busy lifestyle and the number of children already in their care.

The local authority then submitted to the court that because of this report they opposed the grandparents’ application.   That October judgement said “The local authority’s plan is for [redacted] to be in a permanent secure placement away from the birth family at this stage.”

They also invited the court to discharge the maternal grandparents as parties to the proceedings.  The court at the October hearing duly agreed.

Mr and Mrs Parker had tried to submit that the viability assessment was only a “snapshot” of their family at the time.  This was rejected.

And that is what Judge Newton appears to be so angry about.

He says that they were not given their voice, they were not allowed to put their side nor to cross examine the witnesses.  He is also critical that the court at the time appears to have relied on a  “submission that was not made”.  In other words, the false claim that the grandparents had withdrawn their application.

Judge Newton said:  “We are dealing here with interested grandparents, and the law could not be clearer.  None of the case law seems to have been brought to the justices’ attention.

“It is overwhelmingly obvious that in circumstances where grandparents wish to argue that their interest in their grandchild when before the court, the court should welcome that opportunity of hearing the grandparents’ contribution and case.”

And he adds:  “I am deeply anxious about what occurred.  I am deeply anxious that it has been necessary for this matter to be dealt with in the way that it has.”

Judge Newton does warn the Parkers that they have a significant hurdle to overcome because of that viability assessment and that by granting the appeal he was not indicating what “might ultimately happen”.

But for the Parkers it was a glimmer of hope.  It took them until the following July to fight the case.  But they did win.

Yet what their case highlights is the considerable difficulties of family court cases. And yesterday this was reinforced by Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division of the High Court.  Following the case of the baby of a mentally ill Italian woman who gave gave birth following a caesarean section, Sir James said that radical changes to end the culture of secrecy in the family courts were needed.

Judge Newton, who also presided over the care proceedings in the Italian case, had already published his judgement explaining why he was supporting Essex local authority in an application for the baby to be adopted.

What happened to the Parkers is entirely different, although it is the same judge and the same local authority. Yet Mrs Parker wept as she recalled those moments when she thought they were going to lose India:

“The possibility of not having her in our lives, that is so difficult to bear.  We could have lost her, we might not have her now.”

Last week Essex County Council said in a statement:

“This case involved very complex and finely balanced decisions which took account of a range of professional advice. As the case progressed Essex County Council was able to change its position to support these grandparents but at all times the final decision was one to be taken by the courts.”

This week, we went back to Essex but they refused to comment further.  So we are still unclear about when it was they changed their position to support the grandparents.  Nor are we clear on why they did not include the grandparents in the initial care proceedings, as is recommended under the Children Act 1989.

What the Parkers are clear about is that this is not a “social worker bashing exercise”.  They said it was just a few that they came up against.  But they also say how grateful they are to those social workers who went out of their way to help them.

Their desire to speak out is driven, though, by the shock they still have today of discovering that grandparents do not have any rights under these circumstances.

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Read more: Why are family courts so secretive? And will it change?



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10 reader comments

  1. Natalie Winterfrost says:
  2. katrina says:

    This should never of happened the fact that lee and Katrina have other children means nothing they are all amazingly polite well brought up children and the love in this house is amazing. Im do glad they won custody of India and am proud to call them my friends

  3. nicola giles says:

    Dear Victoria – very interesting reading, we took over the care of our grandson for 8 months under a voluntary agreement – his mum withdrew consent and he has been in foster care for over a year now – we applied to the family court to prevent this happening as we were not given any other reason for his removal and this was refused as ss came back saying we were not co-operating with them – when we later challenged this they told us that because we had gone to the family court (following our solicitors advice) this was not co-operating.
    How can family courts make decisions like this, especially as we were unable to make comments or see any of the paperwork they were presented with about ourselves?

  4. Andrew Dundas says:

    Along with your argument for change, I’m disturbed by this statement:
    “But in an August hearing, a solicitor from the firm originally representing the Parkers told a hearing that they no longer wished to be part of the proceedings. Even now the Parkers do not know why he said this and it was not true”.
    If the substance of this allegation were found to be correct (and it may not be correct), that statement suggests a serious lack of professional standards by the solicitor that should be investigated by the Law Society.

    1. HeartBrokenDad says:

      Utterly pointless going to the Law Society or the SRA. Completely ineffective and non-independent organisations that are frankly in existence just to protect the solicitors themselves.

      They purport to publish all cases that are upheld on their website but this is completely untrue and I have proof that they don’t.

      The figures regarding complaints made to them frankly say it all. Remember – this is the most complained about profession, yet they only uphold less than 1% of all complaints? The Financial Services Authority by comparison upholds over 60%.

      Here are some outrageous figures to consider:

      In 2012 the SRA received a total of 10,551 complaints.
      As of June 2013 *351 of these cases had been considered and the cases closed.
      But of these 8351 cases only 52 of them were referred to the Solicitors Disciplinary tribunal (SDT) where punishments such as a fine or striking off can be handed down.
      Of the remaining 438 complaints that were upheld all the solicitor in question got – was a letter of disapproval!!

      These figures make it hard to have faith that the SRA is fit for the purpose of protecting the public and upholding standards if 94% of complaints are not upheld, and just 0.6% end with even a possibility of quantifiable punishment.

      And that is clearly why these abuse continue unabated in our corrupt and secretive Family Courts. As a father who has not seen his 3 girls for 2339 days today thanks to the ‘justice’ they dispense, I am not going to rest until their self-protecting house of cards has come down and some of these judges and solicitors are in the dock to answer their crimes.

  5. worried nanny says:

    i am a grandmother, going through the exact same thing, with my 2 baby grandsons,
    my assessment was turned down also, because i had a breakdown some 25 years ago
    those little boys are my life, and i dont know how i will cope if they are adopted,
    there has been no enabling by social services to put the boys back with the family
    just excuses as to why not,
    its beyond me, there is a loving blood family that want and love them so much, but its just not enough

    1. Lee Parker says:

      Worried nanny, can point you in the direction of some helpful references, please contact me.

  6. Freda Brodie says:

    I have already lost 2 grandchildren through “forced” adoption and am currently fighting with SW to be considered as a carer for 2 other children with the same birth father. The children have been in care since birth (one is 2 years old the other 10 months). I have been told I can have no contact because I didn’t have a relationship with the children before they went in care, I can’t have access to information about the case because I am not a “relevant person”. These children are in Scotland and I am in NW England so there is a cross country problem but I can totally relate to how these grandparents must have felt. It’s about time the SW departments had a major overhaul and stopped sticking to archaic rules and start seeing the people they are dealing with as human beings and not just caseloads.

  7. upset grandmother says:

    Im so glad the Parkers have won their grand daughter back, I just wish we could, I dont know how we are going to cope when they find adoptive parents for her. I want to go to the papers to tell them whats happened but the local paper just makin excuses not to print anything the court case and appeal is over now! Anyone got any ideas how i can get my story out there?

  8. Colin Peters says:

    Having had more than my fill of corrupt judges in our incestuous legal and judicial system, it comes as a pleasant surprise to hear of one displaying some humanity.
    Judge Newton, I salute you sir.

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