MUNBY: Ministers ‘blocking secret court reform’: Concerns falling on deaf ears, says judge



Sir James Munby says the rule of the controversial court ‘must change’
•He says journalists must be allowed to attend hearings for open justice

By Steve Doughty
PUBLISHED: 01:16 GMT, 19 March 2014 | UPDATED: 01:17 GMT, 19 March 2014

A senior judge yesterday accused ministers of blocking attempts to open the country’s most secretive court to public scrutiny.

Appeals to the Coalition to allow the public to know what goes on in the controversial Court of Protection have ‘fallen on deaf ears’, the leading family law judge said.
Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, drew ministers for the first time into the row over secret courts and their treatment of vulnerable people.
Over the past year the Court of Protection – which routinely sits behind closed doors to decide on the lives of those too ill to make their own decisions – has been caught up in scandals over a secret imprisonment and a forced caesarean on an Italian woman who was then made to give up her child for adoption.
Earlier this week the Daily Mail, which has campaigned vigorously against cases being held in secret, revealed how the court allowed a gardener to drain more than £200,000 from the savings of an 89-year-old woman with dementia who is in a care home.
The gardener, who kept more than £60,000 of his employer’s money, was not prosecuted for fraud or theft and cannot be named on the orders of a Court of Protection judge.
In recent months, Sir James has ordered that no-one should again be imprisoned in secret.

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He also instructed that judges should always publish their rulings in family courts – which decide whether children should be taken into care and where they should live when couples part – and in the Court of Protection.
But he told the Justice Select Committee that ministers are preventing rule changes that would allow journalists to attend Court of Protection hearings.
‘I have come to the point in the transparency agenda where I have come up against the obstacle presented by the rules,’ Sir James said.

A ruling by the Court of Protection allowed a gardener to take more than £200,000 from an 89-year-old woman

A ruling by the Court of Protection allowed a gardener to take more than £200,000 from an 89-year-old woman

‘In the family courts the media have a right of access to the court. This is not the position with the Court of Protection … I am stuck with the Court of Protection rules until they are changed.’
He added: ‘Our continuing concern is that the need for changing the rules, identified in 2010, has thus far fallen on deaf ears.’
The power to scrap court rules and bring in new ones lies with the the Lord Chief Justice, and the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling.
Court regulations which kept journalists out of family courts were altered by then Justice Secretary Jack Straw in 2009, allowing the media to attend unless a judge orders them out under special circumstances.
However, reporters may not enter the Court of Protection, set up under Labour’s Mental Capacity Act in 2007, without special permission from a judge.

MPs and legal experts have blasted the court’s ‘astonishing’ ruling and called for reforms of the court

MPs and legal experts have blasted the court’s ‘astonishing’ ruling and called for reforms of the court

The 2007 regulations state: ‘The general rule is that a hearing is to be held in private.’
Sir James’s remarks come days after a Lords committee severely criticised the Mental Capacity Act, accusing it of leading to the wrongful imprisonment in care homes of tens of thousands of people.
Peers demanded the rewriting of large sections of the law and MPs on both sides of the House echoed the call.
Justice Minister Simon Hughes admitted there needed to be ‘more openness in the Court of Protection’, adding: ‘We already have plans in place to make changes to the court’s rules this year, and we have agreed … that they should take into account recommendations made by the House of Lords committee


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