"he can also be a loudmouth whose favourite subject is his own rights"
September 14, 2016 7:50 AM   Subscribe

Court judgments are often long, dense and full of legal jargon. But in the English Family Court case of Lancashire County Council v A & B Mr Justice Peter Jackson has given a judgment carefully written to so that the children involved, and their mother, can understand it.

Judgments are usually written more to be read by lawyers than by those involved in proceedings. But when those proceedings concern the sensitive question of whether children should be taken into the care of the state, then there's a strong case to be made that those directly affected - the parents, and if old enough, the children themselves - should have the court's decision presented in a way they can readily understand.

That was very much the view of Mr Justice Peter Jackson in this matter. The case arose from concerns that the father of two children and stepfather of two others was trying to take all four to Syria, and involved allegations of controlling behaviour by Mr A over the children's mother. It featured difficult questions of when parenting behaviour (particularly from parents hostile to social services) ceases to be merely unconventional, unpopular or a cause for concern and becomes such a risk that the state should intervene, and the judge felt it essential that the mother and older children understand why the children had been removed.

The resulting judgment is not only an example of how a difficult and sensitive decision can be explained in plain and colloquial English, but also offers an interesting insight into the work of social services and the courts in such matters.

Some notes for those not familiar with English family law:

The case is brought by the local government authority with social services responsibility for the children (here, Lancashire County Council.)

The 'Children's Guardian' is a lawyer appointed by the court to represent the interests of children not old enough to give instructions to lawyers themselves.

There are separate legal teams for all the parents involved, because of the potential conflict of interest between parents.

'Sue Smith QC and Joe Bloggs instructed by Jones & Co Solicitors' means that Jones & Co are the law firm representing that party, and that they have instructed a senior barrister of the rank of Queen's Counsel to represent their client in court, assisted by a junior barrister. Such dual representation is common in complex and serious cases in the English courts.

As this is a case about children being potentially taken into care, the children and parents have their legal representation paid for by the state under the Legal Aid scheme.

Family hearings in England are usually held in private. However, there is now a policy that judgments, particularly in complex or high-profile cases, should be published, subject to being anonymised to protect the identities of the children in question.
posted by Major Clanger (62 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
 
- Mr Justice Peter Jackson is one thousand kinds of win.

- My heart aches for this family.
posted by cotton dress sock at 8:10 AM on September 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


"so that the children involved, and their mother, can understand it."

And their mother? Really?
Should I link the relevant MeTa(s)?
posted by wonton endangerment at 8:10 AM on September 14, 2016


This is deeply humane. Thanks for posting.
posted by lalex at 8:11 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


so that the children involved, and their mother, can understand it.

Ready between the lines, I get the impression that the mother might have some cognitive disorder, hence that particular construction?
posted by MartinWisse at 8:13 AM on September 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


wonton endangerment: “And their mother? Really?”

The judge makes it sound like she may have a mental disorder, yes:
15 One reason why the problems have become so serious is that the mother and Mr A are so different. The mother is a quiet and peaceful person. She would like a happy home and for the children to do well at school. She wants to be loved. She is not interested in politics or religion and does not know much about what goes on in the world. She is not at all curious and often finds things hard to understand. In a day-to-day way she is a good mother and she certainly loves her children very much.

16 But there is more to being a parent than that. You have to make good plans for your children. You have to know what is right for them and be strong enough to try to make it happen. You have to protect your children from bad influences.

17 I'm afraid that in that way the mother has not been a good parent. She has been weak and foolish. She has allowed her feelings for Mr A to blind her to what he is really like. Even now, she is struggling to see what everyone else can see. She feels sorry for him and makes excuses for him. That is what Mr A wants her to feel. He has got inside her head and it will take time for her to recover.
Not sure if that's a fair assessment.

I also got the feeling the judge didn't much care if the children's father understood the proceedings.
posted by koeselitz at 8:17 AM on September 14, 2016 [15 favorites]


And their mother? Really?

Legalese is its own language.
posted by benzenedream at 8:18 AM on September 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


I assumed it was a reference to limited English skills.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:19 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


That judge is a good judge for thinking of that.

And that's a magnificently-written document.

Thank you for sharing this.

(I'm only about midway in, but “People can tell lies about some things and still tell the truth about other things.” is going to stick with me.)
posted by seyirci at 8:21 AM on September 14, 2016 [18 favorites]


I think the judge's treatment of the mother and the children in this judgement was compassionate, something that is very hard to get from "normally written" ones and I appreciate the effort put into it.
posted by like_neon at 8:21 AM on September 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


And I assumed it was a reference to the issue of legal jargon being difficult for laypersons to parse, but after actually reading the ruling I'm inclined to think that the mother may have cognitive issues -- the part about how she "does not know much about what goes on in the world" reads like a very polite British way of saying that she's differently abled.
posted by palomar at 8:21 AM on September 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


"so that the children involved, and their mother, can understand it."

And their mother? Really?


Well, that's really what the judge said - we have no idea why he chose that particular construction. As MartinWisse says, it may well be a question of specific factors about the mother.

In my view, it's an eminently clear and useful piece of legal writing, addressing the appropriate issues in the appropriate way, and only using the language of the relevant legislation where absolutely necessary to do so. I don't work in family law, but I have a reasonable amount of tangential involvement with this side of it - personally I think that the civil and criminal courts could learn a lot from the innovative approaches the family courts can take. Justice, to be done, must be seen to be done - and that includes by those affected by it.
posted by howfar at 8:21 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Note: that section about the mom is followed immediately by this:

But there is more to being a parent than that. You have to make good plans for your children. You have to know what is right for them and be strong enough to try to make it happen. You have to protect your children from bad influences.

I'm afraid that in that way the mother has not been a good parent. She has been weak and foolish. She has allowed her feelings for Mr A to blind her to what he is really like. Even now, she is struggling to see what everyone else can see. She feels sorry for him and makes excuses for him. That is what Mr A wants her to feel. He has got inside her head and it will take time for her to recover.


So it also sounds pretty clear that the mom isn't getting her kids back because she won't protect them from their father/step-father. The judge is trying to explain why as clearly as possible.
posted by palomar at 8:22 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


palomar, the postscript notes that in fact all four children have since been returned to the care of the mother and maternal grandmother. Mr A is now well out of the picture, having been sentenced to a lengthy period in prison for firearms offences.

(I used to do cases like this, and I suspect what has been made is a 'supervision order' under section 35 of the Children Act 1989, meaning that the local authority social services will provide support and oversight of the care of the children.)
posted by Major Clanger at 8:28 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm reading this a bit differently than everyone else.

They all had moments when they were scared of Mr A. The mother could see that but she did nothing to control him.

It sounds to me like the judge is repeatedly blaming the mother for not being able to control an abusive husband, and for not standing up to him, and it is making me deeply uncomfortable because it smacks a bit of victim blaming and shaming.
posted by mudpuppie at 8:30 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


B-

1. It was very nice of you to do it this way.

2. I think you got into a bit of a muddle with the order sometimes.

3. You did not give people initials very consistently. Mr B came before Mr A and later on you had a Mrs B who is not married to Mr B. At one stage you called some people Mrs A1 and Mrs A2. I don't know why they had numbers, and they were not related to Mr A.

4. Making every sentence a separate numbered paragraph doesn't really help.

5. Spending some more time planning how to be shorter and deciding what you really needed to put in might have helped. You repeated yourself sometimes, for example about the kind of man you think Mr A is.

Thank you!!!
posted by Segundus at 8:31 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Whether the mother has cognitive issues or limited understanding of English or something along those lines doesn't really seem that relevant. Any layperson can have difficulty parsing legal documents.

On the face of things, Major Clanger's explanation of the final outcome sounds pretty ideal. The problematic father has been removed from the family, and the mother has been allowed to retain custody of the children, with appropriate support to help her compensate for her own deficiencies (whatever they are). Assuming that a naive reading of things yields an accurate picture of what was really going on (a big assumption, but hey, what more do we have to go on?) that sounds like a very humane outcome.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:32 AM on September 14, 2016 [11 favorites]


If I gave the impression that the judge treated mothers as inherently needing simple explanations in the manner children might, that was certainly not my intent, and it was clearly not what the judge meant.

As others have noted, there is a strong implication in the judgment that the mother in this particular case may have some issues with understanding complex matters and may need to have things explained to her in simple and straightforward terms. I will note than when I did this sort of legal work I often represented clients, irrespective of gender, who had such difficulties and I would have to explain to them what the judge's decision meant. I am impressed that in this case the judge took that responsibility upon himself rather than implicitly delegating it to the lawyers.
posted by Major Clanger at 8:37 AM on September 14, 2016 [30 favorites]


The last line is chilling:
In May, Mr A was convicted of firearms offences and in July he was sentenced to imprisonment for 18 years.
I don't know the details of his case, but 18 years for firearms offences? What would it take?
posted by hat_eater at 8:38 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


It sounds to me like the judge is repeatedly blaming the mother for not being able to control an abusive husband, and for not standing up to him, and it is making me deeply uncomfortable because it smacks a bit of victim blaming and shaming.

It's worth noting that the mother will have had considerable support from social services in this, and has clearly had support and assistance from other agencies, and that she actively deceived social services and the courts about her continuing relationship with Mr A. Sometimes it is necessary for judges to judge people - Jackson J has taken the view that the mother has failed in her responsibility to protect her children. The likely ultimate order is designed to offer her further support in doing so, while protecting the children from the risk of her failing in that task.
posted by howfar at 8:40 AM on September 14, 2016 [18 favorites]


Regarding "blaming" and "shaming" the mother- I don't agree with that interpretation of the judge's explanation. The judge in doing his job is taking in to account the situation that the children are in and why he chose to act on this (which will likely be used to guide later cases). In terms of "shaming"; this is anonymised. In terms of "victim blaming;" the children are victims with very little power- that the mother may feel that she too has little power is unfortunate but the judge seems focused on ensuring that the outcomes for the children are the best, and explained well, which seems to me to be the way he should be operating.
posted by Gratishades at 8:41 AM on September 14, 2016 [18 favorites]


>>They all had moments when they were scared of Mr A. The mother could see that but she did nothing to control him.

>It sounds to me like the judge is repeatedly blaming the mother for not being able to control an abusive husband, and for not standing up to him, and it is making me deeply uncomfortable


Yeah, that bugged me too. On the other hand he is stating clearly why she should not be given charge of the children.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:43 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


mudpuppie: "It sounds to me like the judge is repeatedly blaming the mother for not being able to control an abusive husband, and for not standing up to him, and it is making me deeply uncomfortable because it smacks a bit of victim blaming and shaming."

Judges' orders have to do lots of things. This order, because of its phrasing, has to do even more than usual. Simple writing doesn't always allow for nuance.

If Mr A had committed crimes, and the mother were on trial as an accomplice, I wouldn't dare to assign her any blame. But her culpability matters not at all to the question of whether the kids should remain in that household. The mother can be both a victim and a participant in an environment unsuitable for raising children.

Luckily, the outcome here is that Mr A went to jail and the mother got to keep the kids.
posted by savetheclocktower at 8:49 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


A similar approach to the language of a court decision, in an Ontario sentencing case.
posted by Clandestine Outlawry at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't know the details of his case, but 18 years for firearms offences? What would it take?

A number of firearms offences could result in this outcome. Among other offences, the sentence for possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life or injure property can be up to life (remembering that "life", here, means a sentence without an automatic right of release, rather than a full-life term of imprisonment). The sentencing guidance is here.
posted by howfar at 8:50 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


4. Making every sentence a separate numbered paragraph doesn't really help.

It does if someone (say, for whom this was written) has a question and can refer to the relevant numbered paragraph.
posted by Celsius1414 at 8:51 AM on September 14, 2016 [14 favorites]


Segundus,

Peter Jackson J presumably had ample opportunity to watch the mother give evidence and so form a view of her level of comprehension, and he will have had social services evidence about the level of comprehension of the children (probably normal for children of their age). I expect he has framed his judgment accordingly. I have met and indeed represented plenty of people who have difficulty with multi-sentence paragraphs. (And it's not uncommon to do so - tabloid newspapers often have one-sentence paragraphs.)

The order of Mr A and Mr B probably reflects the order in which they were named in the application to court. From the circumstances I suspect that Mr A may have been the initial subject of proceedings as it was him who was the active father in the family at the time and who had taken the children abroad. Mr B and the mother would have been joined in later as parents of the children who thus had to be party to proceedings.

I rather suspect the repeated emphasis on A was because the judge is obliged in cases like this to set out very clearly what the evidential basis is of the order that is being made. Child care orders, even interim ones, are extremely serious and can often result in permanent removal of children. The Court of Appeal has stressed the need for judges who make such orders to set out absolutely clearly why they are necessary.
posted by Major Clanger at 8:51 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeah I didn't care for using words like weak and foolish as I also got the sense that the mother had some kind of mental difficulty that would make her susceptible to this kind of pushy strong-arm person; not some kind of willful insistence on jeapordizing herself and her kids. Sometimes I think after awhile of being a judge you start to see everyone who gets in front of you as some kind of garbage trash person just by virtue of being in a courtroom. I think judges should have strictly limited terms of 3 years preceded by 3 years of rigorous training and internship.
posted by bleep at 8:51 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


The judge rocks, and his statement is awesome.

"so that the children involved, and their mother, can understand it."

Sometimes it's not about political correctness or devaluation or blame.

As stated above, many many smart and educated people have difficulty reading between the lines of legal documents. People feel disenfranchised and manipulated by that language.

The judge could have stated the children involved, and other parties..., but that doesn't focus on the 5 people most heavily invested in this case. The wording of the statement indicates the judge is concerned that the kids know he's thinking specifically about them and their mom, and about how their mom has acted, and he wants the kids to understand his interpretation of her behavior. This is a document a kid can understand, and I don't think the judge was doing this as a put-down of any woman involved in the case.

That said, I don't care if the mom was smart and college educated, she really needs hit upside the head with the clue stick, and the judge clearly explained, both to the kids, and to the woman who obviously needed to hear things in plain English, exactly why he made the decisions he did, and why her behavior led him to these decisions.

I don't think the judge is blaming the mother for not controlling or standing up to him, but I do think he's pointing out her failure to stand up for the kids welfare and her failure to do anything about the situation, in spite of been given repeated help by the social services. She put the jerk above her kids welfare and *I* blame her for that.

I think the woman was 'weak' and 'foolish' and kids can understand those statements. She certainly wasn't being brave and responsible, prudent, or realistic!!
posted by BlueHorse at 8:59 AM on September 14, 2016 [21 favorites]


Glad to see mr A is behind bars. Halfway through reading the case it was obvious he needed to be involuntarily committed or otherwise kept apart from society . "Powder keg " doesn't begin to do it justice. Yikes.

Though I do hope the UK system has good mental health services, since that seems to be a driver for this guy.
posted by freecellwizard at 8:59 AM on September 14, 2016


18 years for firearms offences? What would it take?

Firearms offences are taken pretty seriously in British law. Its 5 years as "a mandatory minimum sentence for the offence of possession, purchase, acquisition, manufacture, transfer or sale of certain prohibited weapons". That's before you go out and commit a crime, threaten someone or sell one, and then there's the possibility of having more than one. Given the particulars of the case the likely favourite was that he was trying to buy guns for political motives.
posted by biffa at 9:06 AM on September 14, 2016 [9 favorites]


She has allowed her feelings for Mr A to blind her to what he is really like. Even now, she is struggling to see what everyone else can see. She feels sorry for him and makes excuses for him. That is what Mr A wants her to feel. He has got inside her head and it will take time for her to recover.

This is so common. So common. I find it a very plausible partial explanation for the dynamic described.

(I have a feeling the father experiencing one or more kinds of mental illness may provide some explanation for some of the rest.)

I'm probably the last person to assign blame to parents for unconsciously perpetuating unhealthy dynamics, and I feel certain the legal system is inadequate for the task of parsing the complexities of human behaviour, the common-sense moralism underlying it doesn't quite get at things. But this is the system in use, and there comes a point at which people of responsibility have to take pragmatic actions to protect vulnerable people, like kids.

I wouldn't use "foolish" to describe a woman stuck in an abusive relationship, but there is often a lack of insight in situations like this, which I think this judge described pretty well, and a resulting failure to protect people who need it. He took care to note the qualities he saw in her, as well, and ruled in favour of the wellbeing of the family.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:08 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Plain language is information equity.
posted by entropone at 9:09 AM on September 14, 2016 [19 favorites]


My job now has me working in family courts. And my latest project is all about parents and children and temporary care givers and reunification and whether judges are doing that with appropriate regard for the rules and the law and the children and the families.

Around paragraphs 8, I just starting weeping. Partly because of how this clear (presumably accurate--it's not my jurisdiction) plain language statement of judicial reasoning lays out so starkly how inadequate courts are when people are in need but how necessary they are when people are in conflict or in harm's way.
posted by crush-onastick at 9:17 AM on September 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


Sometimes I think after awhile of being a judge you start to see everyone who gets in front of you as some kind of garbage trash person just by virtue of being in a courtroom.

My experience of judges is that there's simply no correlation between time served and levels of understanding and compassion. Some of the biggest pricks I've met have been just starting out - and conversely, I've encountered judges with many years of experience who are respectful, approachable and decent to everyone, and to the most vulnerable people in the room in particular.

I think judges should have strictly limited terms of 3 years preceded by 3 years of rigorous training and internship.

Judging is technical, difficult and often pretty thankless (read this for a horror story about alleged -but wholly credibly IMO- treatment of one judge), and all judges (as opposed to magistrates, who only make decisions about minor criminal offences) in the English courts are legal professionals with considerable experience. Possibly also worth noting that these are never elected offices in England - there is no constituency to appeal to for re-election, here.
posted by howfar at 9:22 AM on September 14, 2016 [8 favorites]


bleep: " I think judges should have strictly limited terms of 3 years preceded by 3 years of rigorous training and internship."

I understand the sentiment behind this, but what it would practically mean is that all practicing judges would be rookies. I don't think that's how you get the best outcomes. Ideally I'd want judges with lots of experience but find a way for them to stay grounded — give them 20% time off for practicing legal defense, perhaps — because otherwise you're just replacing jaded judges with unripe judges.
posted by savetheclocktower at 9:23 AM on September 14, 2016 [12 favorites]


No mention of Mr. C, the asshole social worker who probably irreparably damaged the woman's relationship with social services? What A did was serious but I see no reason to blatantly exaggerate and overstate the issues just to ensure the ruling that you want.
posted by graventy at 9:32 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


While I have some problems with the description of the mother in this case, I feel this judge did a great job.
I have seen abused women put their abuser ahead of their kids. More often it's the courts who put abuser's supposed rights ahead of kids, so this case in particular gives me hope.
For one thing what happens in the UK doesn't stay there, it has profound effects on American legal thinking and practice, often rather bad effects. I am so glad to see something with the potential to really be helpful to children and mothers for a change!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 9:38 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


In fact the route to full-time judicial office in England & Wales* is that experience as a part-time judge is almost always a pre-requisite. Mr Justice Peter Jackson was a Recorder (part time Circuit judge) and then a Deputy (i.e. part time) High Court Judge for several years before being appointed full-time to the HIgh Court bench, so many judges will mix judging and practice for several years. (This can be quite demanding; several of my colleagues are Recorders, and they are usually deployed to regions of the country other than the one they generally work in.)

* Scotland and Northern Ireland have separate legal systems and although I have a general understanding of them - we get intra-Union legal disputes - I'm not familiar with how the appointment of judges works in them.
posted by Major Clanger at 9:39 AM on September 14, 2016 [4 favorites]


Is it normal for them to indicate the petitioners race when it doesn't seem relevant?
posted by corb at 9:49 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


graventy, social workers are, as a result of recent high-profile cases in England, very much inclined to err on the side of caution. The 'Baby P' case led to very public criticism and serious professional consequences for social workers and social work managers due to failure to act decisively enough.

Social services in England are often over-stretched and under-staffed. As a result - and I saw this in my own work as a lawyer instructed by the child protection department of a large city - there are many cases that sit in social services' 'worrying but does not yet merit legal action' box. Then there is new information, and all of a sudden it becomes clear that there is a crisis and that urgent intervention is needed. In such circumstances, and with the spectre of Baby P in everyone's mind, social workers will on occasion put in all the material they have that they think relevant, even if some of it is rather less firmly supported than it might be.

Here, social services have been criticised in the judgment and that will probably lead to consequences for those involved. It is also a public warning from the judge that even in urgent circumstances, social services must get it right.
posted by Major Clanger at 9:53 AM on September 14, 2016 [6 favorites]


Now that I've seen some of the discussion points in this thread, I am even more impressed and pleased with this judgment.

I don't mean that I agree or disagree with his judgment, but I am very happy that it was written this way. It's because of this approach that I feel like I'm able to participate in this thread at all - and discussing substantive aspects of the case (about the people involved, the decisions, the outcomes, etc). Anything that helps the public to have conversations about court cases is a good thing in my book.
posted by like_neon at 9:56 AM on September 14, 2016 [5 favorites]


corb, it isn't, but what seems to be happening here is that the judge is highlighting that this case does not follow the usual narrative, or at least the usual media narrative, about radicalised Muslim parents seeking to take their children to Syria. There have been several instances of that in the UK recently, but so far as I am aware all the others have involved families from the Asian community.

It may well have been that the judge was trying to head off any reporting of this along the (all too common) lines of 'look at this latest thing an immigrant has done'. Mr A appears to have been entirely home-grown.

(At the risk of seeming flippant, the impression one gets of him is very reminiscent of 'Barry' from Four Lions, right down to being a white convert to Islam who regards most of his supposed co-religionists as insufficiently fervent.)
posted by Major Clanger at 9:59 AM on September 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


I don't know the details of his case, but 18 years for firearms offences? What would it take?

Europe takes firearms offenses a lot more seriously, but it also probably doesn't help when everyone & their dog can see that you're a developing terrorist.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:05 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


what it would practically mean is that all practicing judges would be rookies

Which would mean that experienced counsel would run rings around them. A suitable temperament and real intelligence are also needed to be a good judge, but experience is indispensable.
posted by praemunire at 10:17 AM on September 14, 2016 [7 favorites]


It sounds to me like the judge is repeatedly blaming the mother for not being able to control an abusive husband, and for not standing up to him, and it is making me deeply uncomfortable because it smacks a bit of victim blaming and shaming.

I was uncomfortable with some of the language (like "weak and foolish") used.

The word Justice Jackson didn't use to describe her was "enabler." The mother enabled Mr. A's behavior through inaction or passivity. In some situations, she did so proactively: she lied to the court and social workers and protected his ability to harm her kids.

In child custody and visitation cases, a family court's primary concern is whether there the child is in danger, and her actions and deliberate non-actions most certainly placed her kids in harm's way. Her four children, including two by another man, were likely nearly abducted to Syria -- a war zone. Her husband's behavior was also negatively affecting the welfare of the two older children, who were not his. Whether she had free will or not is a factor and the judge acknowledged that. But her ability to prevent her husband from abusing those kids is entirely relevant.
posted by zarq at 10:26 AM on September 14, 2016 [10 favorites]


Whether she had free will or not is a factor and the judge acknowledged that. But her ability to prevent her husband from abusing those kids is entirely relevant.

It's especially relevant given that the judge's brief seems partly intended to help the mom understand the situation so she can avoid similar things happening in the future. If at some point in the future she again hooks up with a bad-news boyfriend who wants her to overlook actions dangerous to the children, it could make a big difference whether she's narrativized this past series of events as Oh, I was helpless in his hands, there's nothing else I could have done, vs. I was weak and a little foolish that time, but I'm not gonna get fooled again.
posted by Bardolph at 10:50 AM on September 14, 2016 [17 favorites]


I'm speculating, and family law is well outside my expertise, but judges are often careful not to use language that sounds like a clinical diagnosis unless they have evidence indicating that such a diagnosis has been made. In Canada that could even be a reversible error.
posted by sfred at 10:57 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


I don't know the details of his case, but 18 years for firearms offences? What would it take?

There are no reporting restrictions in Mr A's case, so it doesn't take long to identify him as Gavin Rae:
The former soldier was sentenced to 18 years concurrently with a five-year extended licence for two charges of attempting to buy a Baikal semi-automatic pistol and silencer with 16 rounds of ammunition, with intent to endanger life.

He was jailed for three years concurrently for three charges of encouraging an undercover officer to sell him a Glock pistol or an Uzi submachinegun with ammunition.
(Alternative link, for those who don't want to give the Daily Mail website any more traffic.)
posted by verstegan at 11:36 AM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


No reporting restrictions on his case but the family court ruling is anonymous to protect the family, so maybe not ideal to connect the two.
posted by biffa at 11:48 AM on September 14, 2016 [3 favorites]


Post-post-script, this is Mr A (and the things he was convicted for):

http://courtnewsuk.co.uk/m/
posted by bookbook at 11:55 AM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


The "childrens guardian" is not a lawyer. The guardian is a social worker whose remit is to represent the best interest of the child, as per the first section of the Childrens Act 1989.
posted by Grrlscout at 12:23 PM on September 14, 2016 [1 favorite]


Grrlscout, oops yes, I stand corrected - it's literally years since I last did public law child cases, and I'm getting a bit vague about the details.
posted by Major Clanger at 12:44 PM on September 14, 2016


I was waiting for yet another shoe to drop in the narrative indicating that Mr. A made claims about being a sovereign citizen. Thankfully, no.
posted by mikeh at 1:47 PM on September 14, 2016


I was waiting for yet another shoe to drop in the narrative indicating that Mr. A made claims about being a sovereign citizen.

You're not alone. All rights, no responsibilities.
posted by threetwentytwo at 2:03 PM on September 14, 2016


This bothers me immensely.

Tucked at the very end of this scenario is the fact that they seized this family at the airport in Istanbul Jul 26, 2015 based on unsubstantiated claims of terrorism. And all evidence available to the police at this time shows that the mother and children were all unaware of his radicalized beliefs, because he went to great lengths to hide it from them. Including actually spending time at this resort in Morocco.

While the mother continued having an ill-advised relationship with Mr A, she had also moved in with her mother, and lied to her children about breaking up with Mr A. So during this time period, the children were actually shielded from Mr A by their mother. And the grandmother had no history of lying to the authorities to cover for Mr A. And then Mr A went to prison anyway.

Why were these kids in foster care for 9 months? Why weren't they placed with the grandmother, with their passports seized? That would have easily solved their concerns without taking the children out of their family, which is a traumatic experience even when it's in the best interest of the child. The judge talks about how traumatic it was for H to switch schools twice in one year. But all four of these children had to live with someone else for nine months, despite the fact that the concerns that led to the injunction were immediately satisfied.
posted by politikitty at 5:50 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Politikitty, paragraphs 35 and 36 give the reasons why they couldn't stay with their mother: she was lying about having broken up with Mr A, and they were meeting daily. She was, as the judge put it, under Mr A's thumb and was willing to do as he instructed.

There's a tragic story from Australia that shows what might have happened if Mr A had succeeded in bringing them to Syria. Khaled Sharrouf, an Australian, went to Syria to join ISIS. His wife and his five children followed. There, he engaged in atrocities and taught his young son to participate.His eldest daughter, aged twelve or thirteen, married Sharrouf's friend. She's fourteen now, with a young son. The father is reportedly dead (although there's some doubt I think) and the mother died of appendicitis late last year. The children are stuck in Syria despite their grandmother's best efforts to extract them; the boys being trained up to murder and the girls to sexual slavery.

I don't know whether taking the kids' passports would have stopped them leaving the country. I've read many stories about people being taken out of Britain with a faked passport or even without any passport; apparently leaving is easier than entering. If they were with her, their lives would have depended on him being unable to get them out of the country somehow. That's a pretty big risk, given that the mother was effectively Mr A's accomplice. It's easy to try to second-guess care decisions, but given the reports I think foster case was definitely the correct choice.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:09 PM on September 14, 2016 [2 favorites]


Yes, i referenced paragraphs 35 and 36. The ruling also states that she was living with her mother, and that even the children didn't know they were seeing each other. While she was making a poor decision for herself, she was also shielding the children from Mr A.

I'm sorry but the decision is security theater trumping due process. It is blaming the mother for being an innocent spouse, who legitimately did not recognize how radicalized he had become. The ruling goes to great lengths to explain Mr A hid the facts from the mother.

The youngest was 10 months old in Feb. Her father had been in prison for 3 months at that point. She would wait another 2 months to be released into custody of her mother and grandmother.

It was the right call to get Turkey to deny them entry, and to revoke custody rights for Mr A. But a 8/9 month battle, when the primary threat is incarcerated for more than half that time is unjust, and it is damaging to these families.
posted by politikitty at 12:26 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


Politikitty, I can only suppose you disagree with the judge's view that Mr A was an ongoing threat to the children being smuggled to Syria; and that the mother was actively enabling this. You have every right to disagree, of course, but supposing the threat to be real - and it's the sort of thing that has happened - I can't see that the decision to keep the children in care was unjustified.
posted by Joe in Australia at 12:46 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


politikitty, those paragraphs reflect findings of fact made by the judge at the hearing in January, having heard the evidence of all involved. At that point, the judge was satisfied that the evidence showed that Mr A had been hiding his ultimate intent from the mother. But until those findings had been made, nobody could safely say that the mother wasn't lying - after all, she was known to be lying about a lot of other things. (In fact, this judgment is a good example of the principle that just because a witness is shown to be untruthful in some areas, that does not mean that he or she should not in the end be believed in others - a point my criminal-defence colleagues say can be very had to get across to juries.)
posted by Major Clanger at 1:31 AM on September 15, 2016 [3 favorites]


As soon as Mr A was in prison, the possibility of him kidnapping his children and smuggling them to Syria dropped to zero. An article shows he was arrested Nov 3, but the children weren't released to their mother until April.

I would be less concerned if the kids had been in the custody of family members. But this is a situation that called for quick resolution, because being held by the state is harmful. They were able to act quickly when they mentioned terrorism, but it's back to a snail pace as usual when trying to reverse those poorly considered facts. And whatever the veracity, they were still poorly considered. The judgement mentions the original emergency order wasn't read by the judge that signed off on it.

This is a due process issue. And because people are spooked by harmed children, an overtaxed agency has every incentive to be too aggressive in removing children. This overreaction can cause real harm to children: 1) being removed from families is traumatic. 2) creates incentive for families to lie, making it more difficult to police these parents. July to April is too long to spend as a ward of the state based on a rash emergency order that didn't carefully review the facts.
posted by politikitty at 8:10 AM on September 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


As soon as Mr A was in prison, the possibility of him kidnapping his children and smuggling them to Syria dropped to zero. An article shows he was arrested Nov 3, but the children weren't released to their mother until April.

Arrested doesn't mean "in prison." Maybe he was in jail on Nov. 3rd, but until he was convicted and sentenced (and maybe not even then, given that he could appeal and be released pending appeal) can he safely be considered "in prison" and a non-threat. After arrest but pre-conviction and sentncing he could come out any day on a moments notice if he made bail or charges were dropped. The sentencing did not occur until May.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:59 AM on September 15, 2016 [1 favorite]


5. Unfortunately, there have been some serious problems, ending up with the children being taken away and Mr A being arrested and kept in prison.

He was not convicted until May, a month after the mother regained custody, and he was not sentenced until June.

It is not that their concerns about Mr. A were unfounded. It is that there are ways the system can keep families in tact during these external crises, particularly when there is clearly concerned extended family. Instead they denied this family due process for most of a school year.

It's punishing the victims for a crime that Mr. A might commit in the future. Basic attachment theory shows that there is lasting emotional harm when we deprive a child of regular contact with their primary caregiver. Because of this, there is a high bar required to justify traumatizing children with state intervention.

Overpolicing is dangerous. We can't be surprised that parents are uncooperative with a system that is prone to over-react and seize their children for 9 months based on inaccurate and exaggerated claims that were never properly reviewed by a judge. Without community trust, you can't properly police a community, and social services can't protect at risk children.
posted by politikitty at 5:24 PM on September 15, 2016


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