Tuesday, July 5, 2016

The Youth Court and the lack of justice

I am working with a young couple who are fighting to have their child returned to them. They have been told by legal aid that they do not qualify because there is no merit in their case, in other words a decision has been reached by some junior solicitor that the case is not winnable. When did we begin deciding that people were not entitled to legal representation because some obscure individual decided that the case lacked merit. I fail to understand how this is "just" and represents a basic human right for people, any person, to be appropriately represented.

When these people were told that they were not to be funded I offered to represent them as a "Friend of the Court". They applied to the court to have me represent them but they were told the following:-

"I refer to your letter dated 27th June 2016 wherein you request to be represented in this matter by a third party, Mr Tony Tonkin, at the trial of this matter on the 5th July 2016.
The Judge who is listed to hear the trial has refused your request."

No explanation was offered as to why this decision was made. Because I thought the response may be about their antagonism towards me I suggested another person to represent them but that was also declined. A further email was received by the parents from the court:-

"The Snr Judge has advised that it is not unusual in this Court for parties to be unrepresented.  Many parents are unable to obtain legal assistance at trial."

The contempt the court has towards parents is explicit in the courts response to the parents. In other words they think so little of parents that they treat them with total contempt by denying them the right to be represented appropriately. The parents and I discussed a strategy, if they have to self-represent. We designed a range or questions which could be asked of the witnesses and a format which would present the parents case in the best possible light.

The parents have informed me today that the court process has not gone well. They have asked questions of the Social Worker about her experience and whether she was qualified to offer an informed opinion on the matter before the court. The father was shut down when he began asking these questions. His questioning was opposed by the Crown and supported by the judge. The crown was permitted to ask any questions they like, some very similar to those the parent was not allowed to ask. How can any reasonable person suggest that this is just?

The parent commented that he believed he was on trial and that very little had to do with his son and parenting. The parents were told that FSA was applying for a long term order because the Social Workers believe that past issues of the parents would take at least three years to be addressed and that the child would be too attached to the Foster Parents by that time and it would not be in the best interest of the child to have him return to the parents care. As a therapist I know that the worst thing you can do is to assess how long it is going to take for someone to work through past issues. If they have a crappy therapist then this may be the case but to set a time period when you don't even know what the issues may be and you don't understand the drive the client may have to discuss their "issues" is unhelpful. If a Social Worker made this type of recommendation then they have failed their profession because they have failed the client.

This case demonstrates the inadequacies of the Youth Court and the blatant disregard for the parents and subsequently the child. As I have mentioned in other blogs the department is obsessed with managing risk thus failing to take into account the changes parents have made. The Child Protection Party is calling for a change to the Youth Court and are advocating to change the legislation so that it addresses the changes people make and doesn't rely on flimsy social work practices to determine the outcome.

The experience of these parents are common-place within the child protection system. Parents such as these need a voice. If you have had similar experiences or can offer some insight into the way the system can change I would be pleased to hear from you.

No comments:

Post a Comment