Opening up family courts ‘will cause child suicides’: Fury at claim by children’s tsar in secret justice battle
- Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz said children will kill themselves if they believe their names will become known to the public
- Remarks were greeted with astonishment by campaigners for open justice
- Comes in the wake of an ongoing dispute among judges, lawyers and social workers over how far the family courts should be opened
Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz (pictured) said children will kill themselves if they believe their names will become known to the public
Children will be pushed into committing suicide if the secretive family courts are opened to public scrutiny, a senior government official has sensationally claimed.
Deputy Children’s Commissioner Sue Berelowitz said children will kill themselves if they believe their names and their troubled lives will become known to the public.
In a controversial speech calling for the courts to stay closed, she said: ‘I have worked closely with profoundly distressed and damaged and troubled children all my working life. I know and understand their minds; it is my job. I know how little it takes to tip a child over the edge.’
The remarks were greeted with astonishment and disbelief by campaigners for open justice.
One said: ‘I don’t know what planet this woman is on.’ High Court judge Sir Roderick Newton, who spoke alongside Miss Berelowitz in a legal debate on whether the courts and their decisions should be reported in the media, said family courts should be open to scrutiny.
He said: ‘To put it rather bluntly, if a judge can change the whole of someone’s life by the stroke of a pen, then there is a pressing need, an overwhelming need, I would say, for openness.’
During her address, Miss Berelowitz broke a widely observed media rule and described a common means of suicide. She added: ‘I genuinely fear that it is only a matter of time before this deeply misguided motion, which has at its heart, I believe, an utter disregard for the welfare and best interests of children, and is, in my view, therefore unlawful, will result in the death of a child.’
It is not the first time Miss Berelowitz has made controversial comments. During her career in child protection:
– She was a director of children’s services for a local council rated ‘inadequate’ by inspectors;
– She produced a report on gang sex abuse of children which said there was no evidence that Asian men were responsible. One government figure said it was ‘difficult to overstate the contempt’ with which ministers viewed it;
– One of her first public statements as Deputy Children’s Commissioner was to respond to the outcry over the death of Baby P. She said ‘the safeguarding of children requires the implementation of basic good practice’.
Miss Berelowitz also warned that the Children’s Commissioner would protest to the UN children’s rights committee over the issue of openness in family courts.
Her intervention comes amid an ongoing dispute among judges, lawyers and social workers over how far the family courts should be opened.
Birmingham Yardley MP John Hemming said: ‘I don’t know what planet this woman is on. If the media had not looked at the abuse of children in care, the events in Rotherham would never have been known’
A major push for openness has been launched by the chief family law judge, President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, who chaired last month’s debate in London, at which Miss Berelowitz set down the first publicly acknowledged official opposition to allowing scrutiny of the family courts. The speeches were published yesterday.
Sir Roderick was at the centre of a scandal last year when courts secretly ordered that Italian woman Alessandra Pacchieri should undergo a forced caesarean after suffering a breakdown at Stansted Airport, and that her child should be adopted. Sir Roderick was the judge who ordered the adoption.
He said: ‘In the Italian case . . . the reporting initially was pretty inaccurate. That wasn’t necessarily the fault of the Press who had little or nothing to go on when the story was first sent to them. When I released my judgment on December 2, it led to a much better discussion.
‘What the Italian case did was well and truly launch a comprehensive national discussion about how these sensitive issues can and should be addressed.
‘If a system is constantly accused of being secret, biased and unaccountable, the children in whose name we try to make the best decisions are the ones that ultimately will feel undermined.’
Miss Berelowitz’s suicide warning was greeted with amazement among campaigners for open justice and media figures.
Lib Dem MP John Hemming said: ‘I don’t know what planet this woman is on. If the media had not looked at the abuse of children in care, the events in Rotherham would never have been known.’
Bob Satchwell of the Society of Editors said: ‘No-one in the media wants to expose details about children unless there are exceptional reasons to do so. It is strange that Miss Berelowitz uses emotional language when media organisations would be extremely careful in discussing matters like that to prevent copycat actions.’
Campaigners for greater openness are not calling for children to be identified in family proceedings. In cases in which proceedings can be reported, identifying children would be contempt of court, for which reporters or editors could go to jail.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2870904/Opening-family-courts-cause-child-suicides-Fury-claim-children-s-tsar-secret-justice-battle.html#ixzz3LnGc4jHl
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