06 September 2013

Secret courts

A father has been jailed at a secret court hearing for sending a Facebook message to his grown-up son on his 21st birthday.

Garry Johnson, 46, breached a draconian gagging order which stops him publicly naming his son, Sam, whom he has brought up and who still lives with him. […]

Normally, a gagging order imposed by a family court judge on a parent expires at the same time as a care order on the child. This one did not.

Mr Johnson was imprisoned at the height of the Mail’s campaign against jailings by this country’s network of secret courts. […]

However, it is estimated by campaigners and MPs that up to 200 parents a year are imprisoned for contempt by the family courts. Because of the controversial secrecy rules, some have been sent to jail for discussing their case with MPs or charity workers advising them. (Daily Mail 1 June 2013)
From time to time the Daily Mail publishes items which focus attention on the harm done by secret courts, apparently suggesting that if they were not secret, this would be a safeguard against harm being done. In fact this would only make the process of taking someone to such courts even more consuming of time and money, without improving the outcome for the parties involved.

There is no reason to think that the public at large is less imbued with the modern ideology than those who contribute to the decisions made in these courts. My own observation of people’s reactions to what I would regard as oppressive decisions suggests only that people are strongly motivated to justify decisions made by socially authorised agents of the collective.

Once you have social interference in people’s lives, the situation cannot be remedied by tweaking some particular element of the interference. Improvement can only be effected by abolishing the interference altogether. Prior to 1945, family courts, secret or otherwise, were unheard of. Respect for individual autonomy, supported by capitalism, was swept aside by the Labour landslide of 1945, which brought in the Welfare State, or the Oppressive State, as it might more accurately be called.

Very early on in the days of the Oppressive State, my life and the lives of my parents were irrevocably ruined by slanders against me and against my father for allegedly pushing me. Whenever I have given any account of this situation over the subsequent decades, this arouses no indignation against the system which did the damage.
William Alfred Green,
father of Celia Green, aged 22

In fact the local population acted as a form of secret court, making decisions about my life behind my back, which affected me and my parents to our detriment. This secret court operated via the local schools, the local educational authorities, my relatives, and later (during and after my attending Somerville College) via the academic world.

The secret court is still operating in my life and those of my colleagues, spreading slanders and making our lives much more frustrating and restricted than necessary.

If anyone expresses surprise at my lack of social position and lack of financial or moral support, and my continued inability to get into a suitable academic position, people are likely to say: ‘There must be something wrong with her’, not even considering the possibility that the academic world may be biased against me on irrational grounds.

If I say that my life, and those of my parents, were badly affected by assumptions that my father was pushing me, there is usually no response, and later the person continues to blithely talk as if my father must have been pushing me.

My unfunded independent university, which could be publishing analyses of the complex issues involved in the area of legal policy, has been effectively censored and suppressed for decades. Meanwhile, misleading and tendentious material on the topic continues to pour out from socially recognised sources.

Originally posted on June 7th 2013. Reposted in the light of yesterday’s ruling on family court secrecy by the president of the Family Division of the High Court, Sir James Munby.