Monday 31 August 2015

A new facet of child protection: London Borough of Tower Hamlets v B

London Borough of Tower Hamlets v B [2015] EWHC 2491 (Fam)- Heydon J.

B is an "intelligent, educated and ambitious" 16 year old who has been subjected to serious emotional harm, and, at the very least, continues to be at risk of such in her parent's care.  She was prevented by the Police from departing to Syria where she would have involved herself with Islamic State.  The emotional harm arose from material (found at her home) of a disturbing nature including video of beheadings and "smiling corpses."  B's parents had, at first, seemed to be a protective force but the reality proved to be something altogether different.  Heydon J noted at paragraphs 4 and 5:

  1. This case comes before me consecutively with a number of other cases within the Borough of Tower Hamlets, each of which involves intelligent young girls, highly motivated academically, each of whom has, to some and greatly varying degrees, been either radicalised or exposed to extreme ideology promulgated by those subscribing to the values of the self-styled Islamic State.

  2. Within the context of child protection these courts frequently, though not exclusively, see children whose advantages and opportunities in life are limited and circumscribed from the very beginning. In each of these cases however these young women have boundless opportunities, comfortable homes and carers who undoubtedly love them, but they have been captured, seduced, by a belief that travelling to Syria to become what is known as 'Jihadi brides' is somehow romantic and honourable both to them and to their families. There is no doubt, to my mind, that young women here have been specifically targeted, in addition to young men of course, but for different purposes. The reality is that the future for such girls as we know, holds only exploitation, degradation and risk of death; in other words these children with whose future I have been concerned, have been at risk of really serious harm and as such the State is properly obligated to protect them. As capacitous adults they will, of course, be free to join whatever cause they wish, however ignoble others may regard it as being.
at para 28 the learned judge said:

"I have no hesitation in concluding that B has been subjected to serious emotional harm, and, at the very least, continues to be at risk of such in her parent's care. I can see no way in which her psychological, emotional and intellectual integrity can be protected by her remaining in this household. The farrago of sophisticated dishonesty displayed by her parents makes such
a placement entirely unsustainable."

and, consequently, at para 30 the judge said:

"What she needs, I find, is to be provided with an opportunity in which she can, in a peaceful and safe situation, be afforded the chance for her strong and lively mind to reassert its own independence. An environment in which there are the kind of vile images that I have described and the extreme polemic I have outlined, can only be deleterious to her emotional welfare. I hope she can be provided with an opportunity where her thoughts might turn to healthier and I hope happier issues."

Other observations:

B's case is one of a number of such cases coming before the Family Court and they raise a "new facet of child protection where there is, as yet, limited professional experience or, for that matter, available training." 

Interestingly, the judge found the Guardian to be in an "invidious position" [para 25] -

"She was only appointed a few days ago. She has not had any opportunity to meet the children at all. She has an inevitably incomplete knowledge of the background of the case, and virtually no understanding of the wider issues, having, as she told me, never been involved in a case of this nature before. She is in an entirely invidious position. I am sympathetic to her and I do not intend these simple statements of facts to be construed by her in any way as a criticism. They are not."

Heydon J, by way of contrast, found that the  social worker had "deep, well informed and intelligent understanding of the issues."

A further observation related to the Local Authority's plans for B.  At para 30 the judge said:

"I have no doubt, as has been impressed upon me by her counsel, that she will find separation from her parents, particularly her siblings, to be distressing, though I note she was prepared to leave them to go to Syria. I do not doubt that the social worker will struggle to find a placement which meets the full panoply of her welfare needs which has been emphasised on behalf of the guardian, but I entirely see why the Local Authority plans or proposals are, of necessity, only general in outline and, to some extent, inevitably inchoate. However, I am entirely satisfied that this social worker will make every effort to ensure the best possible option is achieved for B. That is the Local Authority's responsibility."


UK Human Rights Blog - ISIL child brides: a big care problem for the Family Court?  Rosalind English 27th August.

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