In August THAT Muslim foster carer story hit the press (‘Christian child forced into foster care’, The Times, 28 August 2017). The Times journalist Andrew Norfolk, lauded for his expose of the Rotherham child sexual abuse scandal, was the subject of trenchant criticism for what was widely perceived as anti-Islamic coverage of a case involving a white Christian child placed with (it was said) Muslim foster carers who did not speak English and who withheld a crucifix and spaghetti carbonara from the child. The case has caused all sorts of consternation – about the state of our foster care system, about the importance (or not) of religious and culturally matched placements, about the state of our family justice system, about the state of journalism. We wrote about the case at the time (see below) – in short whilst we had significant concerns about some aspects of the coverage, we later became concerned that some of the criticism of Norfolk might itself not be entirely fair or accurate. However, the case raised a more general issue about transparency and the role of organisations such as The Transparency Project, which we think is worth highlighting in this column. From the end of August there was a lull in commentary on the foster care case – the Issues Resolution Hearing (IRH) was due to be listed on 2 October. Perhaps more information could come to light so we could make a better job of working out where the facts lay, about the placement, the decision making, the court process, the news coverage. Perhaps not.
It was apparent from the media coverage following the last hearing (see HHJ Sapnara’s published case management order (CMO)) that permission was given to report at least some matters covered in the course of that hearing – s 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 was relaxed by the judge. (Reported remarks during the hearing were clearly within the ambit of s 12). But the remarks we saw reprinted in The Times by the journalist who attended were his selection and we saw the points that he thought were significant. What else, we wondered, might we have been able to work out about what was really going on in this case had we been there? What might we have been able to add to the public’s understanding?So we considered attending the IRH on 2 October on the basis that the press were likely to attend and were likely to be given permission to report at least some aspects of that hearing. We thought it would be interesting to see whether, with a lawyer’s eye, we might spot points of significance that would shed a different light on things than might be seen by a journalist. The account we might write of that hearing – not pressured by the need for a story or a headline, or to defend our past journalistic choices – might not be the same as the copy submitted by a journalist or approved by an editor. But ultimately we did not go (although we have written about the press coverage arising from the hearing). The reason we did not go is what this month’s column is really about.
OUR BLOGS ABOUT THE MUSLIM FOSTER CARER CASE ARE AS FOLLOWS:
A WORKING OUTLINE OF OUR PROPOSED RULE CHANGES IS AS FOLLOWS:
(2) When this rule applies, no person shall be present during any hearing other than:
a. an officer of the court;
b. a party to the proceedings;
c. a litigation friend for any party, or legal representative instructed to act on that party’s behalf;
d. an officer of the service or Welsh family proceedings officer;
e. a witness;
f. duly accredited representatives of news gathering and reporting organisations;
g. a duly authorised lawyer; and
h. any other person whom the court permits to be present.
…(8) In this rule a ‘duly authorised lawyer’ means a lawyer who is authorised in accordance with any administrative scheme for the time being approved for the purposes of this rule by the Lord Chancellor.(9) In this rule ‘duly authorised lawyer’ means a qualified lawyer who is:
a. currently entitled to conduct litigation or advocacy in the family court in England and Wales;
b. a qualified lawyer employed by a Higher Education Institution in England and Wales in a role involving legal teaching or research; or
c. a qualified lawyer employed or acting on behalf of an authorised educational charity registered in England and Wales.
(10) An ‘authorised educational charity’ is a charity that has been approved by the Lord Chancellor or the President of the Family Division as such.
4A. Identification of lawyers as ‘authorised’ –
(1) Authorised lawyers will be expected to carry with them identification sufficient to enable court staff, or if necessary the court itself, to verify that they are ‘authorised’ lawyers within the meaning of the rule.
(2) By virtue of para 8 of the rule, it is for the Lord Chancellor to approve a scheme which will provide for accreditation. The Lord Chancellor has decided that the following forms of identification provide sufficient information and production of such identification will be both necessary and sufficient to demonstrate authorised status:
a. A current practising certificate accompanied by picture identification;
b. Confirmation on headed notepaper from the relevant Higher Education Institution of the lawyer’s position, accompanied by picture identification;
c. Confirmation on headed notepaper from the relevant educational charity of the lawyer’s position, accompanied by picture identification.
Chair, The Transparency Project
Family Law publishes a regular blog series by The Transparency Project. This blog originally appeared in the November 2017 issue ( Fam Law 1267). View PDF version of original.