Thursday, March 13, 2008

The State is not your friend

People like me, brought up in the knowledge that we were on the side of law and order, could always trust a policeman and could rely absolutely on the golden thread of English justice that has stretched through the centuries since the Magna Carta, guarantor of liberty can find it hard to accept that in some ways the State can be, rather than a comforting presence, a malign force. Camilla Cavendish, writing in the Times, has been waging a lonely campaign against the iniquities of the child courts for some time now.
What she has reported is horrifying. The principle of secret courts, reporting of which is not permitted under pain of prosecution, is fundamentally contrary to justice, and in flagrant breach of the tide of English history and law. The almost untramelled power wielded by social workers and 'child protection officers' is profoundly offensive. In this case a man has been jailed for 16 months, and classified as a violent offender, because he drove his partner and her son to Calais. The son had been removed from his mother and put into care 'temporarily' though with seemingly no prospect either of being allowed back, or of being looked after by the mother's sister or mother, both of whom had offered to foster the child. Suffering horribly in state care, the boy ran away of his own volition, and in helping him, the mother's partner has been convicted of abduction. We aren't even allowed to say his name.
This is so fundamental an abuse of English law that it's hard to be entirely dispassionate. It's becoming clear, however, that the total block on reporting of the child courts is unsustainable. Social workers have an extraordinarily wide power over the lives of people in this country. This power is being abused - whether by ludicrous accusations of Satanic cults or by counter-productively over-zealous enforcement of care orders, or by callous abandonment of children in real danger.
The secret imprisonment of offenders is not a characteristic of a free society. Secret trials, in all but the most extreme cases involving national security, are the hallmark of illiberal and totalitarian regimes. It took civil war and the overthrow of a ruling order that believed itself above the law to rid England of the Star Chamber itself, what will it take to abolish star chamber justice today?

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