Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division and of the Court of Protection, has supported encouraging contraception for some parents facing care proceedings.
Speaking to the annual meeting of the British Association of Social Workers in London, Sir James said cases where mothers have a large number of children taken into care was a “distressingly regular occurrence”.
“I have certainly dealt with a case of 11 children. These cases are still happening. Eleven children being taken into care, or 14 children – these are very usual.”
Family law judges have to deal with a huge number of care cases. They occupy a lot of time in the courts and put an enormous amount of pressure onto the court system.
Sir James went on to praise the work of the new Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDAC) in dealing with the problem. The network of FDACs has been encouraging parents to use birth control to change their behaviour and prevent “repetitive pregnancies”.
“The new FDAC projects have dealt with the taking into care of 14 children of one mother and colleagues have dealt with a case of 15 … With some local authorities contraception is an important part of the thinking.”
The FDACs put parents in touch with social workers, doctors and addiction councillors in order to help them change their behaviour.
Sir James added that it was a “very intensive” process but that it has had positive results, and had the added benefit of saving a lot of money which would otherwise be spent on care proceedings.
The FDACs were able to succeed because they are more akin to the Continental, inquisitive approach to these matters than the traditional ‘adversarial’ approach favoured in Britain, he argued.
They deal directly with the families concerned without having to go through a lawyer, which Sir James said was integral to their success.
He said the FDACs work despite initial reservations by lawyers:
“They were worried about what their clients might say. But it has been an absolutely key component in getting FDAC to work. The judge is able to build up a personal rapport with the mother and father. And from the parents’ point of view, it makes them feel part of the process rather than being a spectator.”
FDACs have also been praised by retired District Judge Nicholas Crichton, who convinced four government departments to implement a pilot scheme.
He said the previous system of putting the children of mothers with drug or alcohol issues into care was a “failing system”.
“We know from experience that a mother who has a child removed deliberately goes out to get pregnant again because it is the only way she can heal the wound of the loss … Removing three or four children is usual. Six, seven or eight happens. I once removed the 14th child and I know two judges who have removed the 15th.”
There has been wild reporting of this speech in the media. The Daily Mail claims that Sir James Munby said contraception should be ‘forced’ on some parents.
I worry that comments which the media has seized upon could seriously detract from the work being done by the President in the field of family law reform.
I can’t think of anyone who appears to be working so hard and so relentlessly, making massive progress in an area of the law which is plagued with so many problems – which I pointed out on the Nick Ferrari show on London radio station LBC this morning.
Sir Paul Coleridge’s recent political comments were sanctioned, and his refusal to stop speaking out publicly ultimately led to his resignation. He was right to go. He could not sit in judgement over those whom he was publicly criticising, no matter his sincerely held views.