Everyone is entitled to a view. And that includes a view on the most basic tenets underpinning our society. Thankfully, we live in an essentially free country where everything is open to question, and that certainly includes the legal system, down to its very essentials, including whether it even has jurisdiction over the lives of the citizens of the country. However, there is a difference between holding views and putting them into practice, particularly where the lives of others may be affected.
Yesterday I wrote here about the phenomenon of compulsive ‘total war’ litigation, where parties use every means at their disposal to get their own way, including constant and repeated applications to the court, and extending the conflict beyond the court, for example to social media. As I explained then, such an approach can be hugely damaging to all involved. Another bad approach is not to engage with the court process, claiming that the court has no jurisdiction to interfere in your life. Now, obviously such an approach is unlikely to go down well with the court and is therefore likely to mean that the outcome of the proceedings will not be what you want. That’s fine – as I said, people are entitled to their own views. But what if others are affected by the proceedings, in particular children? Is such an approach still fine then? I think most would say that it is not.
These thoughts were prompted by reading the recently-published judgment London Borough of Tower Hamlets v H & Another. The judgment related to one hearing in long-running care proceedings concerning a sibling group of eight children, although this particular hearing only concerned one of the children, ‘PJ’. The court had made care and placement orders in respect of PJ and five of her older half-siblings last November, having already made care orders some months earlier in respect of the other two half-siblings. The intention of the court was that PJ should be adopted. Possible adopters were found and approved, and PJ was placed with them in February. The adopters applied for an adoption order in June, and their application was issued by the court on 26 June.
On the very same day the parents, who were not represented, applied to the court to discharge the care orders in respect of six of the eight children, including PJ. As a placement order had already been made the court could not discharge the care order in respect of PJ. However, the parents indicated that they had not received the required notice that PJ had been placed with her prospective adopters. In view of this the judge, Her Honour Judge Atkinson, gave the parents 14 days to either take legal advice or to issue an application for a judicial review of the actions of the local authority.
What caught my eye about the judgment, though, was the attitude of the parents to the proceedings, as explained by Judge Atkinson.
“They are highly suspicious of anything that the court does, not trusting the process. During the course of this hearing they have indicated on more than one occasion that they do not recognise the authority of the court and have no intention of engaging with the process. I have been told that I have no rights over them and in fact this court is not my court room but rather theirs.”
And she added a comment to the end of her judgment in which she said:
“During the course of this hearing, as I have mentioned above, the parents have tried very hard to indicate that they have no respect for the court or process. For example:
a. They have insisted that they will not answer to their proper names;
b. Father has purported to “serve” me with a “contract” telling me that he has sent it on to my private email address – and that he has addressed it to me in both my work name and my married name;
c. Father has indicated that he has no intention of seeking legal advice “even if we wanted to be part of this system”.”
Needless to say, such behaviour will not turn out well for the parents. It will also, if continued, be doing a great disservice to the child. If there has been a procedural irregularity then everyone owes it to her to ensure that it is properly dealt with.
In fact, as so often in such cases, the parents found themselves in the position of half-engaging with the process, rather than not engaging at all, as they claimed. Only engaging when you want to is common (and surely a betrayal of any firm views about the court not having jurisdiction over you?), but is obviously going to seriously jeopardise your case. In fact, I have to say that Judge Atkinson was very fair to these parents, despite the apparent threat made to her by the father. However, she made it quite clear that if they continue to choose not to fully engage, then the court will have to proceed without them.
The full report of the hearing can be found here.
Photo by YunHo LEE via Flickr under the Public Domain.