Safeguarding, Privacy and Respect for Children and Young People (Part 8)

Apologies for not updating my blog for quite a long time but I have been busy with my dissertation ‘Media in the Family Courts: A Critical Analysis’, graduating, moving, starting a new job, starting a new university, helping with another paper [discussed below], and general life.

So here’s what you are here to learn about, our draft guidance on the anonamysation of judgements. In my opinion this was wrongly reported in Family Law as ‘Draft guidance published on anonymisation of children judgments’ as it could just as easily be applied to vulnerable adults, and others requiring the protection of anonymised judgements.

Again our research was funded by the Nuffield Foundation and supported by the Association of Lawyers for Children. This document has already been supported by the President of the Family Court Division, although it has not yet be judicially approved.

For those of you hard up for time there is an executive summary, but for the hard core of you there is a full document which finally has my name on it. The documents lay out a handy step-by-step process to anonymise a judgement before publication, although some young people, including myself, still have reservations.

The main concern of this new guidance [which has been developed with judges, social workers, psychologists, and other organisations] is that the applying authority (LA) is still identified. During talks with the President we conceded that the applicant authority does need identifying for the purposes of accountability, although, where the applicant authority is small it may be enough to identify the subjects of the case.

As has been discussed in previous posts, some local identifiers may be unavoidable in order to provide accountability and transparency. It is important that the LA is identified as the action they are taking is in the name of the public, and ideally they are taking the best possible action for the child or young persons safety. Hopefully by applying our checklist all other possible identifiers will be removed making it harder to identify those subject to proceedings.

Previously the use of pseudonyms and initials was sporadic, with some judges using actual initials, others trying to use random pseudonyms, and others trying to be culturally sensitive with their pseudonyms. We decided that random initials would be best as these would avoid the possibility of identifying someone through small cultural groups, or, perhaps more importantly, their actual initials.

Another problem with identification is the use of dates of birth, again some judges used full dates, whilst others used ages alone. In most cases the age of a child or young person will be irrelevant so we decided that they should be completely removed where possible, where it is necessary to identify a date the year should be used, or where absolutely necessary the month and year. The same process should be applied to any other dates contained within a judgement.

Ethnic groups are tricky, and where necessary should be identified as vaguely as possible (eg “…of Eastern European origin…”). Religions should also be avoided where possible.

School issues should be redacted unless absolutely necessary in which case wide timescales should be applied in order to make identification as difficult as possible.

Where a professional, witness, or trial judge is involved [obviously a trail judge will be at this stage], it should be considered whether is it essential to name them. It may be necessary to identify someone involved in a case in order to criticise them, or hold them to account. It is difficult to decide if an expert should be identified in a case as they will need to be held to account, this can be beneficial for further similar cases to identify if they wish to use the expert and if their testimonials have been criticised.

Rather than run you through what details should be included in relation to fact finding I will just say that things should be kept as vague as possible and urge you to read the full document.

This has only been a brief overview of what the document contains, and there is still more to be said and done, including the President publishing official guidance. Our guidance has already been widely disseminated but I welcome you to share them further or ask questions.

Protect Child Privacy in the Family Courts!

Over a year ago now I started working with NYAS on stopping the media from having greater access to the family courts, now this is not because we just want something to fight about but rather because there is a whole hot of issues the government have not properly considered including the great potential for jigsaw identification. Rather than reiterate the issues outlined in an earlier post, or what was said in the consultation again, I instead urge you to look back and give it a read.

In 2010 the Government made a commitment to explore the views of young people before implementing Part 2 of the Children Schools and Families Act 2010, now NYAS has carried out this work independently but it has not been properly discussed or considered outside of passionate professionals with an inward view of the situation. The President of the Family Court Division, Sir James Munby, has now published guidance to implement these proposals without exploring the true and damaging effects this could have on children and young people, and all to allow more transparency, and to prove to the public that they have nothing to hide.

I have voiced my concerns over the redaction of information which may be leaked by the media, to which Sir James replied that anyone breaching rules would face a charge of contempt of court [a maximum of two years imprisonment]. Now this is all well and good sanctions being in place but the power to redact this information is far beyond that of the courts; information can be on foreign servers which would require intergovernmental cooperation, it could be disseminated onto other websites, people can save and screenshot information and there is no way in which newspapers can be recalled. Look at my previous post on the power of redaction and consider WikiLeaks and alike.

Although two years imprisonment may be a deterrent information may still be wrongfully disseminated, especially with the media having proposed access to court documents, which can have a lasting and damaging repercussions on a persons future. Regardless of the law it is expensive, upsetting and timely to take a case to court for a breach of privacy, wrongful dissemination or discrimination; it is not only employment which may be affected by these potentially damaging reports but also future relationships with many people admitting to Googling potential partners and friends.

The courts excuse for this greater access is for greater transparency, and yet so far they have negated educating the general public on the information already at hand with sites such as BAILII publishing anonymised cases on a daily basis to which the public [and by proxy the media] have full unfettered access. In this way cases are still able to provide privacy without much of a threat of jigsaw identification or private matters being disseminated beyond what is necessary to provide a fair case.

If we are to give the media full unfettered access we should consider cases such as McKennitt v Ash [2008] EWCA Civ 1714 where a singers friend published discussions in a book which were thought to have been in confidence. It was held that some of the information was disseminated due to the fact that it was thought to have been in confidence and therefore there was a breach of Article 8 [right to respect for family and private life], there is no provision in this article to allow the information to be disseminated via the media, the same is true of the majority of cases which would pass through the Family Courts if the media were permitted greater access. There may be a fear of releasing information to the courts in case it is wider publicised.

In the case of breakdown of relationships there is also X v Persons Unknown [2006] EWCA Civ 2738 where an injunction was sought to stop comment being passed on the state of X’s marriage without actually knowing who would pass this comment. Now this case sought the idea of a contra mundum injunction, [a worldwide injunction,] this is something which would be impossible to enforce but there is the potential for similar injunctions to be sought before a case takes place to ensure the privacy which we currently have come to expect from court proceedings, without which, as I have just said, information may be withheld from the courts, or cases entirely, for fear of publication.

Regardless of the courts idealism it is necessary to consider the knock on effect of dissemination for those seeking judicial intervention. In the case of Re Stedman* [2009] EWHC 935 (Fam) the parents disseminated the information to the papers about a 12 and 13 year old who had a child, a DNA test was sought which revealed that the father was actually a 15 year old. This lead to the mother being shunned in the local community, the original young person finding out that they had been bringing up a child which was not his and the father wanted a relationship with the child. As you can imagine this was a difficult situation having devastating repercussions on the involved parties mental health and well being; the media made things even worse by making their private matters public.

I also have concerns over information the media may acquire outside of the courts. Now I am not going to go into the News of the World and their abuse of technology or Nick Cleggs abhorrent idealism on not prosecuting the media for breaking the law in relation to acquiring stories even with situations such as the outrage resulting from Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked as I have mentioned that in the past, but information is freely available on individuals which may be personal and intimate without them realising which will lead to identification and could be published without permission, just see the video below for a demonstration.

I have outlined some concerns above and in previous posts but now it is your turn to get involved with me and NYAS. We have set up a petition urging the government to deliver on their promises of 2010 to hold a public parliamentary debate on the proposed access of the media to the Family Courts, in total we need at least 100,000 signatures for this to be considered so please sign using the link below:

 “They are bound to be harmed by immediate publicity, both because it would undermine the family as a whole and because the playground is a cruel place where bullies feed on personal discomfort and embarrassment.”

Lord Justice Ward in ETK v News Group Newspapers Ltd [2011] EWCA Civ 439

*East Sussex County Council, Penelope Stedman, Steve Stedman, Nicola Patten, Denis Patten, News Group Newspapers Limited, Channel Four, Tyler Barker, Maisie Stedman, Chantelle Stedman, Alfie Patten (by their respective guardians)

Your number one senator?

Firstly, yes, I did choose a very geeky image for this post but vote me number one you must! But why should you, after all I am either a complete stranger or that weird kid in your lectures or meetings. Well this may be true but this year I was your Senator, last year I was Mr. Democratic Procedures Committee for NUS Wales and Mr. Parliament for Coleg Morgannwg, the year before I was Mr. President for Coleg Gwent, the year before that Mr. Vice President and before that Mr. Welfare also for Coleg Gwent so I have the experience, well right now all you know is I had the titles so I guess I should explain what I actually did in each of these positions and then explain how I am the right guy for the job this year.

Well lets start from the beginnings, after all it’s conventional and Senate is full of conventions [as well as a carefully constructed constitution and all powerful Senator Palpatine, I mean chair!] So as a Welfare Officer I undertook training on helping students arrange privately rented housing which I then used, although it doesn’t really come up that much in FE (Further Education/College) but is still useful today; as part of the role I also organised for the local mental health team to come in and talk about self-harm as well as running my own training session for students on self-harm awareness day. Once I had the inspiration and training I submitted a motion to NUS National Conference for the NUS to provide training for officers teaching them how to deal with students who self-harm.

As Vice-President I was in charge of the union on campus so I had to do a bit of everything including helping to organised fund raisers, guest lectures, self-harm information for our Health and Well-being Fair and the finances on campus. I had regular meetings with the senior management team to discuss issues and stay informed of everything the staff were arranging, I also helped to facilitate class rep meetings and training to ensure the best student experience possible. Although I was no longer a Welfare Officer I arranged training for college staff [to be delivered by students and Save the Children] on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which is applied up to the age of 25 under Welsh legislation, as a follow on to this I submitted a motion to NUS Wales Conference for them to help facilitate similar training in other institutions. As a senior representative I had the pleasure of attending both NUS Wales and NUS National conferences where I actively voiced the concerns of my students, elected the next sabbatical officers and set the direction for the organisation for the next thee years as well as the obvious networking.

One of my most proud moments was being elected Sabbatical Students’ Union President of Coleg Gwent, winning the election and creating a strong support base was an amazing accomplishment and pushed me out of my comfort zone as I was shy and lacking in confidence. My first few acts were to sort out each of the offices I was then in charge of across five different constituencies spanning about twenty one miles before welcoming students and having to introduce myself to halls filled with students. Okay this may seem pretty basic along with all the freshers fairs but there was a lot of planning and organisation involved before it was the task of recruiting new officers and helping organise elections before training them up and setting them loose on the student community. Most of my job was hovering to facilitate my officers when ever they wanted to do something, helping run the class rep system and representing my 30,000 students on a national level but we did organise a few events and my amazing officers set up a condom distribution scheme with the local authority we then were all trained in. Dueing the Health and Well-being Fair I managed to roll out my information on Self-Harm across all five of our campuses. At NUS Wales conference I introduced a motion making the NUS Wales Deputy Presidents responsibility solely FE rather than FE and Welfare as well as attending the National Conference and doing the same as the previous year. Along with a multitude of meetings I also sat on the corporation and helped the student members formulate their thoughts and actively take part in meetings.

Now being a member of the Democratic Procedures Committee wasn’t much work to be honest, I undertook training to facilitate NUS Wales conferences and ensured they run smoothly, other than that it was helping answer officers questions and ensuring they knew what was going on and where they were supposed to be although I was unanimously voted funnier than the president of the time, Liam Burns. On the other hand being a member of the Student Parliament was intolerable at times. Coleg Morgannwg was lacking any serious structure with the system being one big talking shop and nothing being done, when issues arose it was down to the tutor to resolve them and I was actually reprimand for circumventing procedures even though the issues were resolved and the members of staff concerned were grateful for my intervention. There was a lack of communication between the staff and students I tried my best to bridge but the engineering department [my department], seemed to have a them and us attitude toward the rest of the college and campus. When I asked a member of staff to approach the corporation to discuss the idea of paperless meeting and some improvements to the constitution they did not know what to do and wanted to contact NUS for advice, suffice to say the meeting never actually happened but with the help of Stuart [a member of NUS Wales staff] we managed to leave behind some very enthusiastic student activists to carry on the work I started. Whilst at the college I gave them no choice in sending me to NUS National conference, it was the first time anyone from the institution had attended.

Now I know there are things I have omitted [due to my memory being appalling and not wanting you to be reading for hours] such as attending various demonstrations such as those held by NUS in 2010 and 2012, by UCU, UNISON and Unite in 2010, and a protest against the closure of a local hospital as well as doing another lecture educating students on self-harm. Okay I’m an activist and I have a wealth of experience which I have gained whilst battling with depression so why not elect me? So lets cover what I’ve done for you this year and where we can go from there, then you can go and vote for me as I will have proven the force is strong with me!

So as you can imagine coming into HE (Higher Education/University) I have had to find my feet and rediscover who you go to and for what as in the past I would just approach staff and get the job done, this is where giving the sabbs more work comes into play as they are my middle men and women. I have made as many meetings as I can, there have been times where work has taken precedent or I have had other commitments and had to send apologies but my attendance on the whole is good; attending these meetings I have discussed your ideas and given your feedback on various issues as well as providing refreshments and volunteering with #StudyAid [providing tea and coffee to students] and ensuring students are fully aware of plagiarism and its consequences. Now you’ve probably noticed the pattern of campaigning on self-harm so why stop, as close as we could to self-harm awareness day I managed to organise another lecture but this time we also had a discussion panel and refreshments, we also had a stall of information during the afternoon. I have had non stop meetings on some days ensuring that student voices are heard on various issues but I get to attend the amazing NUS National Conference again this year to represent you at a national level, network, run for NUS UK Democratic Procedures Committee and much more.

My plans for the next year are simple. Keep doing what I’ve always done. I’ll be collecting and giving student views, wishes and feelings to anyone willing to listen and nagging those who need to but wont. I’ll ensure the sabbs are carrying out their work effectively and keeping students’ up to date more than just at the AGM as well as organising more events and trying to get students to national and local events such as Reclaim the Night [which I was very disappointed we couldn’t attend as we had no driver for the MPV]. The union is already working toward being more accessible providing funding for your ideas for clubs and societies, allowing you to submit ideas to senate through their website and trying to keep everyone who represents you as accessible as possible by providing contact details and going out to actively engage with students, well if elected I will do the same and I will be one of those faces you know to turn to when you have an issue or some praise to give about the university or union.

So vote me number one and we will take down the dark side together, we shall claim all the cookies for ourselves and have an epic adventure!