Earlier this month, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby issued a guidance concerning ‘radicalisation’ cases in the Family Courts. He referred to eight recent judgments covering this issue – five from Mr Justice Hayden and three from the President himself.
In Re Y, Mr Justice Hayden made a sixteen year old boy, ‘Y’, who was described as a “vulnerable young person”, the subject of a wardship order and joined him as a respondent to the proceedings.
A ward of court is a child who has been placed under the protection of the court, which then acts ‘in loco parentis’ – in the place of the child’s parents. When the case was reviewed by Mr Justice Hayden, the wardship was continued despite the boy’s mother opposing the continuance of the order and saying that she would not let her son travel.
In the ‘Tower Hamlets case’, Mr Justice Hayden made orders for passports to be retrieved to prevent wards of court leaving the United Kingdom.
The case of Re M before the President of the Family Division concerned ex parte wardships (without notice) and anti-tipping-off orders. This last case concerned the way in which the Crown protects its subjects even if British children are abroad. The purpose of an anti-tipping-off order is to prevent a person knowing that legal steps are about to be taken.
In Re Z, Mr Justice Hayden granted an application made by a local authority to ward a 17 year-old female, ‘Z’, who seemed determined to try to travel abroad. He also granted a passport seizure order.
The President presided over two cases, Re X Children and Re Y Children which examined how electronic tagging as a protective measure could prevent adults taking children into a war zone.
Finally, in a case before Mr Justice Hayden – London Borough of Tower Hamlets and B – there was a ‘dramatic’ turn when the court authorised the separation of a 16 year old young woman from her family when certain alarming material was discovered during a police search of the home.
In my view, the High Courts are handling these complicated cases sensitively and imaginatively.
The President’s Guidance is still most welcome as it provides a useful checklist for family practitioners. It highlights key aspects of such proceedings, such as whether there is a need for a ‘closed hearing’ or the use of ‘special advocates’. This has to be balanced against a party’s Article 6 rights. This is a provision of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects a person’s right to a fair trial.
This is a rapidly changing legal landscape, affecting certain families and their children.
Valerie Sterling is a family law barrister and Head of the Family Team at New Park Court Chambers in Leeds. The Legal 500 described her as “extremely thorough” and said “her attention to detail is phenomenal”.