Saturday, March 3, 2012

We already have unjust secret courts

Behind a wall of secrecy, the family courts routinely turn all the familiar principles of justice upside down.
By Christopher Booker
7:00PM GMT 03 Mar 2012
London Telegraph

There was outrage last week over government plans to extend the degree to which our courts can operate in secret. David Davis, former shadow home secretary, claimed that such “a regime of secret courts and hidden judgments”, where defendants could not even be “told the evidence against them”, were worthy only of “despotic one-party states such as Syria, Iran and North Korea”. A letter from 57 of the 69 lawyers already familiar with such practices, from their work on terrorist cases, protested that extending this system would “represent a departure from the foundational principles of natural justice that all parties are allowed to see and challenge all the evidence relied on before the court”.

However shocking this may sound, though, it is already the system which operates in our family courts. Behind a wall of secrecy, they routinely turn all the familiar principles of justice upside down in just this way. Among the dozens of cases I have reported where children are removed from their parents, often for what appear the most absurd reasons, I have been astonished to hear how judges accept extraordinary claims by social workers and lawyers without allowing the parents to challenge them. Hearsay evidence is accepted in a way that would never be allowed in a normal court, and parents are condemned on evidence they are not allowed to see.


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