This post is by Delia Minoprio. We asked Delia to look at a news article we saw in the Liverpool Echo, and to consider it alongside the judgment in the case it related to.
Let me start with a confession: I’m a family law barrister and I feel a little embarrassed by it all sometimes. Professionals involved in family law (I include all lawyers and the judiciary…) can come across in court as really quite self-congratulatory. The higher up you get, the worse it is. There’s a certain exquisitely British type of politeness, fawning and often vom-inducing sycophantic exchanges. Don’t get me wrong, there is a place for the formalities, traditions, and gravitas that should be maintained, but it’s more than that. On a recent case a lay party commented to me that we all seemed quite pleased with ourselves, and I had to agree. Not limited to court rooms and online hearings, it creeps onto social media too. (Ok you’re a QC and you’re in a restaurant. Do you really need a hashtag about that?).
But then you read a judgment like this : A (A Child) (Injunctive Relief) (Rev1)  EWFC B53, and for a moment, the cringe disappears and you feel that proud fire in your tummy which fuels you through those really tough days and nights and reminds you of the privilege it is to work in such a challenging area of law.
Who doesn’t love a judgment that starts off with a paragraph about the wider canvas of life and where this case fits into it?
A more powerful opening of recent times I challenge you to find:
“Families come in all shapes, sizes, colours and creeds.”
It goes on to reflect on the concept of family life, a reality with which we are perhaps now all familiar but that is still often overlooked: “For many children ‘family life’ is not a singular concept but a reality which is made up of a network of connections with a wide variety of individuals for differing reasons…”
I’m nodding as I read the rest of the paragraph, thinking YES YES YES and doing the hands-up emoji in my mind. The paragraph that follows hits hard:
“In the case with which I am concerned that reality was either wholly ignored or completely misunderstood by Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council (the Local Authority) in its decision-making in respect of Adam (not his real name), the child who is the subject of these proceedings, and, as a consequence, his family life was significantly disrupted without justification but with considerable and unnecessary emotional upset to the child.”
This style has been commented upon before (specifically on these pages), but what an opening!
I imagine (I obviously have NO idea) that any journalist on first glimpse is thinking this is a bit of a gift and I better get my pitch in to the editor pronto. It’s going to be a gripping story to share and you know it from the first line.
So here is the headline which they’ve chosen to run: LITTLE BOY TAKEN FROM FAMILY FOR NO GOOD REASON AS JUDGE SLAMS SOCIAL SERVICES
It’s the sort of headline you see as a practitioner and wince at as you click the link. You skim through with a grimace, fully expecting another salacious and lazily inaccurate rendering of something complex and extremely sensitive.
And then you unclench.
Normally a ‘clickbaity’ word to read in a headline like this, ‘Slams’ seems justified here. It may have been a sub editor’s choice but Mr Humphries then does a great job, extrapolating important and relevant sections of the judgment to write about and expand upon, not just the saucy bits. He includes and invites comment from the firm acting on behalf of the child in that case and indeed from the local authority itself.
Rather than simply reporting on the horror story of this child being wrongly removed from a family to stoke ire, Mr Humphries includes the positive plea from the Judge to the local authority for much better practice in the future and there is a comment from the local authority to the Echo post-judgment which, brilliantly, includes part of the judgment aimed at them needing to do better. They then get a chance to explain, with apology, how they aim to do just that and with what extra resources.
The reporting of this judgment comes across as balanced and accurate. It’s nothing less than the judgment itself deserves, although, to be frank, you could have just cut and paste the full judgment itself because it’s completely brilliant. (Now who’s the sycophant?!)
Feature pic : Ink Stained Wretches by Jeff Eaton on Flickr (creative commons – thanks!)
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