Secrecy within the UK’s system of family courts is allowing social workers to “ride roughshod” over ordinary people and resulting in the unnecessary breakup of families and forced adoptions, the Ukip MP Douglas Carswell has warned.
Outlining a Ukip policy paper on opening up the family courts, the Clacton MP said a “juggernaut” of legal process currently leads to “outrageous injustices” and is calling for greater sensitivity and openness in the courts system.
Carswell said: “There is a scandal at the moment. Once the legal process starts it is like a juggernaut and it breaks up families. Most of the time that is justified but some of the time it is not.”
Carswell, who is keen to broaden Ukip’s policies beyond its opposition to Britain’s membership of the EU, was speaking as the party published a policy document recommending a series of reforms to open up the family courts. The paper, written by Carswell and Duncan Simpson, the deputy director of Ukip’s parliamentary research unit, calls for:
- More use of special guardianship orders to allow grandparents to take over the care of a child.
- The opening up of placement and adoption order proceedings to the media on the same basis as other family law proceedings.
- A requirement that all judgments be published, except where the presiding judge seeks and obtains a contrary order from the president of the high court family division.
- The media to be allowed access to expert reports on an anonymised basis with restrictions enforced only in the most exceptional cases.
Carswell said: “We feel very strongly that the secrecy in the family courts is leading to some outrageous injustices. It’s the big cartel courts and the legal profession and the social workers riding roughshod against ordinary people. We think common sense is needed to address this. That means more openness in the family courts.”
Ukip’s only MP suggested that his reforms would have prevented the heartache suffered by Karissa Cox and Peter Butler, who lost custody of their child after being wrongly accused of abuse. The child was put up for adoption after the couple took their baby to hospital after the six-week-old started bleeding from its mouth. Staff at the hospital noticed bruising on the baby, prompting the authorities to take the child into care and to charge the parents with child cruelty.
The parents were cleared this month, by which time the child had been adopted. “If our reforms had been in place that case could not have happened,” Carswell said.
The Ukip MP said he accepted that in many disputed cases children need to be taken into care or adopted against the wishes of the parents. “I am not saying it is wrong for the state to forcefully break up a family. There are times when it has to do that.
“But at least the evidence should be tested in an open court. At least there should be some opportunity for people to know what it is they are being accused of … and at least the people who are preparing the evidence ought to have met the people they are giving evidence about.”
Carswell, who has a strained relationship with the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, said the policy paper showed how he was broadening the party’s interests. The MP launched the policy document with his party ally Suzanne Evans and the formerLiberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has campaigned on adoption issues.
Carswell said: “People might say: ‘Hang on, Ukip doesn’t normally spend a lot of time talking about adoptions and the family courts. Well, actually … I can’t think of another example where the big powerful system is ignoring ordinary people to such an extent. This is exactly the sort of area Ukip should make a priority.”