A Birmingham MP’s long-running campaign to end the secrecy in family law courts appears set for victory, following reports that the Government is to allow the media to report on hearings.
John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) has come under fire from fellow politicians and senior judges for claiming that family courts sometimes remove children from their families for no good reason.
He even released a song on CD as part of his campaign to reform the law so that the media can report on cases.
Now it has emerged that Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, is to announce a change of policy next month, allowing press and broadcasters to report on hearings which decide whether children should be taken into care.
Under current laws, parents cannot even discuss the case with people who might be able to offer advice, such as relatives. Any reforms are likely to include strict restrictions on what the media can report. In criminal cases where a child is alleged to have been abused, the press cannot print their name, school or any other details.
However, the rules in family courts are much stricter, with media simply being banned entirely.
Mr Hemming is chair and co-founder of the Justice for Families campaign, which has led calls for reform. He released a single called Bring The Sunshine In – available on internet service iTunes – to publicise what he considered to be injustices, including one couple whose child was apparently removed because she had mild learning difficulties.
But Mr Hemming has made enemies with his outspoken comments, which included accusing social workers of seizing children so they could meet targets for the number of adoptions carried out, and doctors of accepting payment to provide expert witness testimony to justify taking children into care. In one House of Commons debate, he said: “In the deep, dark corners of the British legal system, hidden away by threats of imprisonment for those who speak out about injustice, we have allowed bad practice to fester.
“No action can be taken by a Member of Parliament to prevent solicitors from undermining their own clients because they want to keep the money coming in from the local council.
“No action can be taken by an MP to stop social workers who lie to the courts because they want to win a case and hit their adoption targets, or stop doctors who provide rubbishy evidence that destroys families, but fills their accounts.”
He was rebuked by Lord Justice Wall, a senior family court judge, after he advised a mother in one case. The judge said Mr Hemming’s behaviour was “not only unacceptable but shocking”.
Responding to reports that the law is to be changed, Mr Hemming said: “As always, the devil is in the detail.”