There has been a bit of a silly season spat over the case relating to Vicky Haigh. This case actually raises a number of issues that are of wider importance.
At the moment it is not possible to find either on the bailii website or the judiciary website any published judgments from the case report on Monday. Hence more may be able to be said at a later stage.
Vicky Haigh came to see me to raise concerns about the decisions of the courts in respect of the care case that was reported on Monday. If someone has difficulties with a criminal decision they can go to the Criminal Cases Review Commission. There is, however, no such similar body for family decisions. Furthermore the barrister who is paid for representing someone in an initial case is the person asked whether an appeal might succeed. Given that in one sense it would be the failure of the barrister to raise a key point of law that would help an appeal succeed that is a system that is destined to prevent appeals from progressing. Vicky had been told by her then MP John Mann that he had no powers to "intervene in this case what so ever". That is a pretty clear statement by her then MP that he doesn't want her to talk to him about the case.
As a result of her speaking at a meeting on 29th March 2011 that I chaired in parliament with Anthony Douglas (Chief Executive of CAFCASS) answering questions including questions from Vicky Haigh Doncaster Metropolitan District Council applied to the court to have her jailed. Doncaster also made an application to jail Elizabeth Watson for that and other matters. This application was made on 8th April 2011. In the USA it would be clearly unconstitutional to apply to jail someone for complaining at a meeting in Congress. This falls within the terms of Amendment One to the US Constitution.
An additional injunction was issued that prevented the naming of Vicky Haigh or Doncaster as part of a court hearing which was initiated by attempting to jail her. I raised this issue on the floor of the house on 26th April 2011.
Whatever the decision of the courts in respect of the care case it raises serious constitutional issues. If someone is prevented from complaining about the outcome of a case through threats of imprisonment it undermines democracy.
Chris Mullin did a considerable amount of work dealing with the issue of the Birmingham Six. This was a criminal miscarriage of justice. I find it rather odd that people such as John Mann seem to believe it is acceptable to review cases to identify miscarriages of justice in the Criminal Division, but not in the Family Division.
However, I stand by my decision to identify Vicky Haigh as someone whose constitutional rights (Under Article 5 of the UK Bill of Rights 1688) were being threatened by Doncaster MDC.
The case itself is one of a number of cases which relate to allegations of abuse following the breakdown of a relationship.
I am prevented by an injunction from reporting details that I know about the evidence provided to the court in this case. I can, however, talk generally about these sort of cases and where the difficulties lie.
Sadly at times human relationships between parents break down. This is generally not good for the children of those relationships although at times it can be better for parents to split up than to continually row.
Even more sadly at times (and not in all cases by a long way) the parents continue a proxy battle using their children as pawns. It is also true that in a small proportion of cases parents abuse their children. Furthermore at times in family court cases there are at times false allegations of abuse. Additionally at times the court decides that an allegation is false when in fact it is true.
One of the biggest difficulties in family court cases is the adversarial nature of the forum. One side wins. The other side loses.
Hence if you have an allegation of abuse that is true, but the court has decided it is false then the court makes the wrong decision and potentially places the child with a parent who has maltreated the child.
My personal view is that we need to review the adversarial nature of private family law to have a less adversarial system and one which looks more so for a compromise than a winner takes all outcome.
In Vicky Haigh's case the local authority decided that her newborn baby should be taken into care because the court decided she had made false allegations. Personally I do not think that is sufficient cause to remove a newborn baby. Nor did Ms Haigh so she emigrated to Ireland to prevent the removal of her baby. I warned her, as I warn everyone thinking about this, that people who do this cannot expect support from the Irish Benefits system.
John Mann's view is that Vicky Haigh should not have spoken to me even though he said he could not help. He has complained to The Speaker about me helping her avoid having her newborn baby removed at birth. His view is also that the attempts to imprison her in secret by Doncaster MDC should have remained secret and that I should resign as an MP for the effrontery of revealing the attempts to jail someone for speaking in parliament and asking questions.
I disagree with him.