Regarding the attitude of a concerned public about the dismal state of our justice system in New Zealand this was printed today in a few words Christchurch Press newspaper, letter to editor section;
It is little wonder that I am a disillusioned constituent and bewildered father of four children when it is deemed normal to have a tranny granny sitting behind a High Court bench at the same time a Law Commissioner proclaims that our law books are in a state of chaos?
Death sentence for family courts ?
Sep 16 2007
by Michael Kelly, Sunday Sun
THE Government is coming under increased pressure to open up the family courts after a number of scandals and contentious decisions. Those for change say such incidents have proved that the authorities require public scrutiny to ensure they do their jobs properly. Those against say it could harm children at the centre of sensitive proceedings. PHIL DOHERTY looks at the arguments . . .
IN May last year, Harriet Harman, then Minister for Constitutional Affairs, said: "It is impossible to defend a system from accusations of bias and discrimination if it operates behind closed doors."
Many campaigners saw this as a prelude to the family courts being made open to the media again.
Harman's statement followed a series of high-profile scandals -- including mothers being wrongly jailed for murdering their children -- on flawed medical evidence which is often used in family courts as well.
Yet, when the changes did come, announced earlier this year by Justice Minister Lord Falconer, they did not include the courts being opened up.
More than 200 MPs and a growing number of former heads of social services, judges, solicitors and even Government Ministers are now campaigning to change that.
Ironically, it has long been believed that the courts were closed to the media in 1989 because of the Cleveland child abuse scandal, where around 120 children from Teesside were taken into care thanks mainly to evidence from experts using what was, even then, not an accepted method of diagnosis. It has now been wholly discredited.
The scandal came to the public's attention after a media campaign, and many of the children were returned to their parents.
Charles Pragnell, a former senior social services manager, was involved in exposing the Cleveland Sex Abuse scandal. He said: "Many parents report that social workers and medical witnesses often fabricate, embellish and distort evidence against them. Some have even been found out in the law courts, but judges have just ignored it.
"Often, so-called evidence owes more to fanciful speculations and imaginative construction than to the presentation of observed facts. Unproven, discredited and scientifically fraudulent and other professionally disputed theories of child abuse are often presented to courts as facts or to cover up the absence of evidence. This is why the family courts must be opened up to the media."
Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social workers, is quick to disagree. He said: "We fought for 25 years to get independent regulation and in 2000 the Care Standards Act came into force.
"Social workers' practices have improved considerably in recent years and we don't feel that having open courts will improve those practices further.
"In care proceedings there is always going to be conflict and differences of opinion and we need to be very careful that we do not base perceptions of social work on one side of the story."
A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said: "We need instead a new approach which concentrates on improving the information coming out of family courts, rather than on who can go in."
Recently, the Sunday Sun highlighted the story of Fran Lyon -- an expectant mum who could have her unborn child taken from her by Northumberland Social Services.
It is claimed she suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, Msbp, where the sufferer harms somebody -- usually a child -- to get attention.
The paediatrician who diagnosed Msbp has never even met her and based his opinions on information from social services.
Fran, of Hexham, was able to highlight her plight in full public view because her case hasn't been to court yet.
Maggie Atkinson, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said it was not against greater public scrutiny . . . as long as proper safeguards were in place.
She said: "We must ensure, above all else, that sensitive information about families and individuals remains private and is treated as sensitively and confidentially as possible.
"Many court hearings deal with matters that genuinely need to remain confidential, to protect both the young children concerned, and the other people involved.
"The last thing we would want is for cases to be made public in a way that would present further harm to already vulnerable children and young people."
However, Jack Frost of Fassit -- an open justice campaign group -- said the odds were stacked against families.
He said: "In criminal proceedings, the police provide evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service who then see if there is a case to answer. But these checks and balances do not happen in the family courts.
"According to the Government, 200 people have been jailed by secret family courts for speaking out against the injustices they say have happened to them.
"If you are falsely convicted in criminal courts you can campaign to clear your name. But you can't in the family courts.
"There is no faith any more in the closed court system."