John Hemming's Web Log John's Reference Website
Thursday, May 19, 2016
  John Hemming's Statement following Supreme Court upholding injunction
"I am surprised that the Supreme Court have upheld this injunction. The logical conclusion of this is that gossip about anyone with children will become a criminal offence subject to a potential penalty of 2 years's imprisonment.

"It is important to note that the injunction covers people talking in pubs, gossiping over the garden fence, or twittering on the internet. All of these could potentially see an application for committal for contempt of court. That comes with large amounts of legal costs and up to 2 years imprisonment. One would assume that it would not be assumed that this would only apply to claimants who have a large amount of money, but also everyone else. Such a constraint on freedom of speech is something that the House of Lords Judicial Committee of the last millennium would not have supported. I am surprised that the Supreme Court does.

"It is to be recognised that injunctions are still being used to cover up malpractice by public officials. I know of a live injunction at the moment that is doing exactly that. Obviously the government is in a position to pass legislation to free up speech in the UK. That is what needs to happen.

"Clearly the Supreme Court have not learnt from the lesson of King Canute that there are realities that it is not practical to resist. PJS and others should really study what happened in respect of Barbra Streisand when she tried to constrain freedom of speech. Lord Toulson is, of course, right.
Sunday, May 15, 2016
  Barristers, Conflicts of Interests and the Family Courts
I have been having a debate with various Family Court barristers as to what the rules are in respect of a barrister taking on a case for a parent when they previously have taken on a case for the local authority the parent is facing in the court.

The rules on the Bar Standards Board website are difficult to link to clearly. The basic rules can be found from here.

The relevant rule is:
rC21 You must not accept instructions to act in a particular matter if:

-3. there is a conflict of interest between the prospective client and one or more of your former or existing clients in respect of the particular matter unless all of the clients who have an interest in the particular matter give their informed consent to your acting in such circumstances; or

If, therefore, we consider the case of a barrister considering whether they should accept instructions to act for a parent Mr Smith against the Huntingdonshire County Council. This particular barrister had earlier acted for Huntingdonshire against Mr & Mrs Jones.

It is clear that Huntingdonshire is either a former or existing client. It is also clear that there is a conflict of interest between Mr Smith and Huntingdonshire in the "particular matter".

Hence the barrister should not accept the instruction: unless all of the clients who have an interest in the particular matter give their informed consent to your acting in such circumstances;

I don't think there is anything unclear about this. It is clearly the case that this rule is not being followed properly for family proceedings quite frequently, however.

The rules for solicitors are easier to find here are are quite similar. (As they should be).

Update 16/05/16

I have now spoken to the Bar Standards Council. It is clear that there is some lack of clarity in the wording of rule -3. It would be clearer if it said: -3. If you have clients or former clients in respect of the particular matter and there is a conflict of interest between the prospective client and those former or existing clients in respect of the particular matter unless all of the clients who have an interest in the particular matter give their informed consent to your acting in such circumstances; or


-3. there is a conflict of interest in respect of the particular matter between the prospective client and one or more of your former or existing clients unless all of the clients who have an interest in the particular matter give their informed consent to your acting in such circumstances; or

Either of those draftings is clear. The current drafting does not make it clear that it is only clients or former clients relating to the same matter as that for which someone is requesting someone to act.

I think the BSB are working on the narrow definition of the rule. It must be very rare that this happens. That, however, in my view means that the rule needs to be changed. It is not equality of arms for someone to unknowingly instruct someone to represent them who is effectively on a retainer to the other party. It does, of course, depend substantially, but not entirely on the volume of instructions that someone gets from the other party. I don't personally think that permission is needed from former clients for a barrister to be instructed to act against them. However, there really does have to be transparency to the prospective client as to how dependent, both their solicitor and their barrister is on funding from another party to the case.

From the perspective of someone external to the system the drafting of the rule looks OK, but that is only because of the uncertainty. This is an issue I will continue working on.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
  If the UK leaves the EU it does not automatically leave the EEA
It has been suggested to me that the UK's membership of the EEA is separate to its membership of the EU. The EEA agreement is here and the UK is a signatory rather than the EU on behalf of the UK.

This actually means that leaving the EU without leaving the EEA has no effect on freedom of movement - one of the big arguments.
  Alternatives to The EU
What is good about the video below is that it simple takes part of the arguments of the people who wish to leave the EU and puts them together.

I have looked at this issue before. UKIP used to propose the EEA which means not having a vote and just being consulted on the rules that the UK has to follow.
Saturday, April 23, 2016
  Trade agreements and the EU
It is interesting that Barack Obama has been clear about what is entirely obvious in terms of trade agreements. The EU is a Common Market. It starts out as a trade agreement. It has rules as to how the trade agreement's detailed rules change, but it is a trade agreement. There is a debate about establishing an agreement between the EU and the US which is called TTIP. However, the UK should not expect to establish trade agreements before the EU has completed its agreements. More importantly the terms of any agreement the UK has with other countries is likely to be essentially the same rules as in the larger regional trade agreements. Hence we end up in a situation in which we are subjected to rules that we have no control over.
Monday, April 18, 2016
  Court of Appeal Judgment on injunction - John Hemming comment
Comment by John Hemming: "The Court of Appeal are right to strike down the injunction. They are also right, however, to give leave to appeal to the Supreme Court. This issue needs to be resolved such that it is not subject to an almost immediate challenge. People generally need to know that they do not face jail for joking and gossiping. The media need to know what they can write without having to spend shedloads of cash with legal advisers before they put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard). The powerful need to know that if they don't want something on the front page of the newspaper they should not do it."

"In the end it is more important that this issue is properly resolved than it is resolved quickly. We need an answer that allows people to go about their daily lives knowing what the law is. There have been too many injunctions recently and that needs to come to an end."

"Additionally there is a difference between the way in which the European Court of Human Rights interpret qualified rights. Most judicial systems are subject to correction by a legislature, but the European Court is immune from any comments by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The result of this is that the judges can be more inclined to judicial activism away from general popular and democratic consent. That is an issue that clearly needs resolving."
Monday, April 11, 2016
  Guardian decides newspaper name is a state secret
What is interesting about this guardian article is that they have decided that naming the Sunday Mail is potentially in breach of the court order (which I have not seen). They do, however, reveal that if you want to confirm the names involved you have to go to Scotland. Hence as that is the hardest part of the process I would presume that if they are right about naming the outlet they are wrong about naming the country.
Still it is all a bit silly really. My big worry about the legal aspects here is that the people who are being gagged (not the newspapers, but the people who want to talk about what happened to them) cannot sensibly take the financial risk of defending their position in court. Unless there is a guarantee costs won't be awarded against them they are forced into a legal corner.
Thursday, April 07, 2016
  Injunctions, the Streisand Effect and Spycatcher
There is no sense me writing much about The Streisand Effect. It suffices to read the wikipedia article I have linked to and note that as with Ryan Giggs taken legal action to prevent something being publicised can actually draw attention to it. We have that now with an injunction that has been sustained by the Court of Appeal on privacy.

It always seems a bit odd that such relatively minor things are made state secrets ... for those with enough money to spend on the lawyers. What would be a one or two day story at the most then becomes a running sore that gets far more attention than just having the one day story.

The House of Lords decision in Spycatcher was clearly right. I have linked to the judgment.

" If Mr. Wright were to publish a second book in America or Australia or both and it were to become readily available in this country, as has happened in regard to his first book, newspapers which published its contents would have as good a defence as the respondents in the present case." In essence what is in the public domain in Australia cannot be seen as being secret in the UK. (or more precisely England and Wales)
Saturday, March 12, 2016
  Animated political map of Europe 1000ad-2000ad
This is an interesting thing to look at. UK history has been relatively static particularly since 1700. However, the continent has historically been quite fluid. Not so much since 1945, but still some changes.
Friday, March 11, 2016
  Home Alone - law and cases in the UK and abroad
Justice for Families has been publicly campaigning on the issue of the law in respect of children left at home without parental or other adult supervision. Our biggest concern is that the law is not clear. The government claim that parents are allowed to decide whether their child is mature enough to be left alone. That, however, is not true. What happens is that either the police or local authority social workers decide whether in their opinion the parents have neglected their child.

What is most unfair is when parents are prosecuted or have their children taken off them for something which they have done reasonably and with the best intentions for their child/children.

There is, in fact, no published information about what does happen and when action is taken. Some of the cases are covered by family court secrecy which makes it much harder to review the case. Others have injunctions on the criminal cases which make looking at the case harder. However, here are a few examples:

  1. Dad left a toddler in the car for five minutes whilst getting Calpol. Dad was convicted in the magistrates court, but this decision was reversed on appeal.
  2. Mum, who was a working single mother, left the house before the babysitter arrived. The babysitter was delayed and turned up after the landlord had called the police. The toddler had filled her nappy and had a nappy rash. Mum was cautioned by the police and her baby was forcibly adopted into another family. The local authority had recently increased their adoption targets.
  3. Dad left his 8 and 6 year olds at home whilst he went to the bank. The children were tired and did not want to go to the bank. The police knocked on the door searching for evidence as to a the murder of Mohammed Saleem and the children admitted to being home alone. The children were taken into care and dad was banned from caring for them.
  4. Mum and her partner went on holiday leaving another adult to look after the 12 year old. The other adult did not sleep in the same house as the 12 year old. The teachers called the police who prosecuted mum and her partner, but they were found not guilty.

The only published guidance in England is from the NSPCC here. Personally I think it is over the top to say that a child must be 12 before you can go to the shops without the child. Particularly in an era with mobile phones and other communication systems it should not be necessary for a child to be dragged out of the house because of state edict.

It appears to me that the police and social workers are following the NSPCC guidance when it has no statutory basis. There are places where this guidance is the law, however.
Addendum 14/03/16 - The NSPCC spokesperson has just said (on the Radio) that leaving an average 10 year old whilst going to the shops for an hour should be OK.

What the UK Needs

  1. Firstly, we need to tell people what is happening and this needs to be discussed publicly. There is no collated information as to what decisions police and social workers are taking.
  2. Secondly, we need to have a public debate about what the risks are and what more detailed and whether more flexible guidance is needed than that from the NSPCC. Many other countries such as Germany allow younger children to be regularly home alone. What about when the parents have a mobile phone and there is a 9 year old left at home able to speak to their parents whilst they go to the shops?
  3. Thirdly, we need to consider what is optimal, what is ill advised and what should be criminal or require action from the local authority.
  4. Finally, we need to be more supportive of parents who generally try to do what is best for their children. The judgment of parents should be treated with some respect.

The situation in other countries

This is a particularly useful document from the US Government which summarises the situation in the USA. It includes: " Only three States currently have laws regarding a minimum age for leaving a child home alone. Illinois law requires children to be 14 years old before being left alone; in Maryland, the minimum age is 8, while in Oregon, children must be 10 before being left home alone." This is an interesting court case in Canada where the courts decided to change the law such that children had to be 10 before being regularly left at home alone.
This is from Australia. Germany and Switzerland seem to be quite tolerant of children left home alone during the day from about 7.
Monday, March 07, 2016
  The EU and Democracy (making some reference to the referendum)
The debate about the EU has in many ways similarities to that in respect of the Scottish independence referendum. The SNP argument could in essence be summarised as "we can do a lot better on our own our problems are caused by London." The Leave argument is "we can to a lot better on our own our problems are caused by Brussels".

In any rational sense the wheels fell of the financial argument for Scottish independence as the price of oil plummeted.  Although I expect oil prices to go back up (and there may even be a spike as a result of the cuts in investment) it remains a really tenuous argument.

The narrative on this issue, however, is difficult because it is easy for the Scottish Executive to blame everything on the UK parliament.    The fundamental political debate that creates much division is about how to respond to the financial crisis of 2008 and the cut in GDP that resulted.  There are many people (myself included) who do not like the consequences of cutting public expenditure on people.  However, there are practical limits on what government can spend.  We are, in fact, operating a Keynesian demand boost by running a continuing, but reducing deficit.  However, public spending cuts in real terms are an inevitable consequence of the errors in public spending policy (increasing spending at a higher rate than the economy expands) prior to 2008.  I have written about this in detail on this blog.

Hence were Scotland to be independent they would have to implement quite similar policies on a macroeconomic level even if they had enough oil taxation (which they would not have).

This in a sense highlights one of the difficulties of the merits of the debate in the public arena in respect of politics.  There is reality.   The Executive (normally the government) has to deal with reality.  Reality is often not that popular.  As reality is not that popular politicians are not that enthusiastic about defending reality in any detail and often reality gets left out of the public discourse.

Hence we have a public debate which is badly informed and leads to debates about structures (Scottish Independence, leaving the EU) which often would have no impact on the issues that cause the tension.

One big issue with the EU is that of migration.  I can understand the difficulties for David Cameron of persuading the Eastern European political leaders to accept that we should stop subsidising migration to the UK from Eastern Europe.

I personally think that subsidising migration is to be avoided.  It undermines the poorest in society in the area to where migrants are moving and often creates tensions between people.  For example there are thousands of people who have moved to the UK to sell the Big Issue.  This is subsidised by providing Child Tax Credit, Working Tax Credit and Housing Benefit to the people who do this.   I have difficulty in finding any public policy benefit from this.

However, the fundamental problem is that we have been offered a deal by the other members of the EU.  Realistically if we leave the EU we would be likely to  be looking at an option similar to Norway.  That is of being with the EEA (which is the EU plus Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein - and temporarily Croatia whilst a candidate for EU membership).  This has the same rules on availability of in work benefits as the EU.  Furthermore the people we are negotiating with would be the same people as currently is the situation.  To think that we might get a better deal on this issue (which must be one of the biggest) is not a rational position.   The financial argument that we would save money by leaving is silly as can be seen from the fact that Norway pays a lot for access to the common market.

The problem with the public debate about the EU, however, is that again reality is often left out of the debate.

For example the EU is criticised for having rules about what shape a good quality banana should be.  Well, if the EU is supposed to be a trade area obviously there has to be rules about what qualifies as a good quality banana.  The distinction was made between Extra Quality, Class 1 and Class 2 bananas.   Should we really have different rules in different countries about how to classify bananas?  The EU rules are in fact much more picky about cucumbers.

Inherently having a trade area where the rules are the same throughout the trade area requires those countries that participate to agree on common rules.  That means that the rules may not meet 100% support in each of the countries.  Indeed that is quite unlikely.

The question then is whether we are likely to get more flexibility remaining in the structures of the EU or shouting on the outside.  In the end we are likely to have a take it or leave it option.   We would then be forced to take it as we need to be in the system in order to export.  Importing is not a problem as a rule.

One of the biggest questions is how rules need to change before any expansion of the EU or EEA occurs.   At the moment we can veto expansion until rules changes occur.  However, in the EEA we would not be able to do that.  This is really the killer argument against leaving the EU.

There are a lot of problems with the EU.  We can put aside the debate about Human Rights as that is not relevant to the EU.  The debate about Human Rights relates to the Council of Europe which is a completely different body.    I personally am supportive of the 1998 Human Rights Act although critical of the lack of democratic accountability of the European Court of Human Rights (which should be subject to some guidance procedures in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, but is not).   However, I will not look at this in any detail as it is not relevant to the EU debate.

Again we come back here to the question of how decisions are made and how separation of powers operate.  The Executives (governments) are often quite remote from the legislatures and the public debates.  Often very few people will properly defend the policies of the executives frequently because they don't understand the issue properly.   Often the proper information is not really available. Hence the debate is dominated by the legislatures.

The UK model has a strong executive.  The EU model has a much stronger executive where the legislature is really quite weak.  Hence people tend to ignore the European Parliament.

There are many things wrong about how the EU operates.  However, the alternative to its structures for a common market is much more opaque and resistant to challenge.

We can see this in the discussions about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.   Rather than policy papers that are discussed publicly and can be followed through the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament everything is being cobbled together in secret (as is necessary given the nature of the negotiation).   If we leave the structures of the EU we will have to accept compromise, but it will be a compromise cobbled together in secret.

The change proposed to the way in which national parliaments can block EU legislation has been a long time coming and the movement away from talking about "ever closer union" are both good.  One opens up the national debates on changes to EU rules.  The latter puts a line in the sand against continuing centralisation.   One of the difficulties with subsidiarity has been that it is good to say that decisions should be taken at the lowest possible level,  However, the problem arises with the question as to who decides what is the lowest possible level.  Continual pressure for "ever closer union" leads to more and more decisions being taken centrally.  We must resist this.

Hence unenthusiastically I will be voting to remain.   The structures really do need changing to introduce greater accountability and transparency would follow from that.   However, the alternative would be much worse.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016
  English Boundary Review Launched
The English Boundary review was launched today. These are the boundaries for the next General Election. We will know what they are in 2018. What is interesting is looking at the division of English seats as proposed in 2013 to now.
Region          2010 Seats 2013 Proposal   2016
Eastern         58              56              57
East Midlands   46              44              44
London          73              68              68
North East      29              26              25
North West      75              68              68 
South East *    83              81              81 
South West      55              53              53
West Midlands   59              54              53
Ykshire/Humber  54              50              50
(Isle of Wight)  1               2               2
I would expect this mainly to have arisen from individual registration. To be fair there is an issue about people who are properly multiply registered in more than one constituency in that they should really only count once in one of the seats for the quota and whether the constituency matches the quota. It should be possible to work out how many of these there are now. In the West Midlands I would expect quite a different set of proposals this time if the commission start at one side and go to the other side. That is simply because you would expect the middle to overlap by about 50%. However, only time will tell. From a partisan perspective with a drop in the West Midlands and North East and an increase in Eastern of one seat, this analysis might benefit the conservatives by a seat. The details, however, are what matter. However, with England dropping a seat it may end up as a net zero.
The electorate and quota figures for the West Midlands Metropolitan area are:
Birmingham       686,804  9.19 
Coventry         210,031  2.81 
Dudley           239,405  3.20 
Sandwell         215,484  2.88 
Solihull         153,873  2.06 
Walsall          186,960  2.50 
Wolverhampton    170,212  2.28 
WEST MIDLANDS  1,862,769  24.91 
Birmingham Constituencies
Birmingham, Edgbaston BC       62,795 -8,791 -12.28%
Birmingham, Erdington BC       62,552 -9,034 -12.62%
Birmingham, Hall Green BC      73,938 2,352 3.29%
Birmingham, Hodge Hill BC      73,173 1,587 2.22%
Birmingham, Ladywood BC        65,716 -5,870 -8.20%
Birmingham, Northfield BC      69,377 -2,209 -3.09%
Birmingham, Perry Barr BC      67,710 -3,876 -5.41%
Birmingham, Selly Oak BC       68,460 -3,126 -4.37%
Birmingham, Yardley BC         69,911 -1,675 -2.34%
Wednesday, January 06, 2016
  Pat McFadden - what did he say that was sufficient to get him fired
"May I ask the prime minister to reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the West do? Does he agree that such an approach risks infantilising the terrorists and treating them like children, when the truth is that they are adults who are entirely responsible for what they do? No one forces them to kill innocent people in Paris or Beirut. Unless we are clear about that, we will fail even to understand the threat we face, let alone confront it and ultimately overcome it."
Whereas there is conflict in the world. Even though some of that conflict is caused by errors of foreign policy by the UK and other Western nations - that does not warrant the intentional murder of innocent people.
I do intend writing a summary of unjust acts of war looking how there is a continuum including what are called acts of terror and those which are called war crimes. Indeed those things overlap. However, for the Labour Leader to sack a minister because he said that in the end people are responsible for their own acts is something that will stay with the Labour Leader for many years. I am not surprised that this has caused resignations. It will have a continuing effect.
Monday, December 21, 2015
  Forum Shopping in Public Family Law - emigrating to escape the system
It remains that until the courts allow independent experts who are not employees of the local authority or otherwise beholden to the local authority that parents will very often (but not always) not get a fair trial.

Simply put the bias in the evidence results in an almost inevitable bias in the conclusions. I will update this post with more detail when I get some time, but I thought it would be useful to put two links in to two of the organisations that help people once they have left the UK.

In France we now have:
Fleeing Families
In Ireland we have:
In the Czech Republic there is:
Children of the voiceless
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
  High numbers of babies taken at birth
This is one of a number of stories about the high numbers of babies taken at birth in England.

Any reader of this blog will now that this is not news. There is a well written research document that looks at this. It particularly looks at repeat removals. The original paper is here

The question that needs to be answered. However, is why other countries with exactly the same set of facts end up sending mum home to look after her baby when England takes the baby at birth. We know that this is the case because people leave the country to avoid children being removed at birth (aka Forum Shopping).
Monday, November 02, 2015
  An analysis of the English Looked After Children Population
The government produces an annual statistical report of the numbers of children that are looked after by local authorities as at the end of March. This comes from the SSDA903 return produced by local authorities.

They compare this number to the number of children adopted from care each year. That, of course, is a statistical error as they are comparing numbers of children to numbers per year.

However, it is worth looking in a bit of detail at the numbers anyway:

The total number of children in looked after by local authorities (apart from short term placements) as at 31st March 2015 was 69,540. Of those 19,850 were voluntarily in care under S20 placements. 290 were in the youth justice system. That leaves 42,030 under interim or final care orders - I assume that also includes an EPO, 20 "freed for adoption." That means they were identified as needing adoption by 30 December 2005 and still have not been adopted. (See A&S v Lancashire County Council for an example of this). 7,320 had a placement order for adoption (which was the system introduced in 2006). 40 were "detained for child protection". This is what people call police protection (or sometimes a police protection order).

Hence we have 19,850+290 who are not really in the target for adoption.

Another way of looking at the looked after population is by age. 3,710 babies (under 1), 10,120 infants (under 5), 14,310 5-9 year olds, 26,140 10-15 year olds and 15,270 children over 15.

Sadly the table A1 in the Statistical First Release does not distinguish between those on S20 and those not on S20.

Let us now consider the children adopted. That is table E1 in the SFR. 5,330 children were adopted from care. 230 were babies, 4,050 infants, 990 5-9 and 60 10-15. There was at least one child over 16 adopted from care.

Unsurprisingly it is mainly under 5s that are adopted (that is why I get the department to do a special analysis of the under 5s on care orders).

If we consider the figures for under 5s we have 13,830 children under 5 in care as at 31st March and 4,280 children being adopted.

Expressing the proportion as a percentage (which is is not because of different dimensions in numerator and denominator) it is 31%. That, of course, is a lot more than the government's oft quoted 7% figure.

It is always going to be rare to get an adoptive family for a child over 10 (60 adoptions, 41,410 children looked after). It is going to be unusual for children between 5 and 10. (990 adoptions, 14,310 children looked after).

This is part of the government's confusion about adoption and potential adoption numbers.

The source information is here

In terms of children coming into care 19,300 came into care on S20 (C1). 15,410 left care whilst on S20 in the same year (D1). Obviously some could have gone onto care orders again the government statistics don't really explain this properly. The under 5 year old stats that I have prepared deal with this issue properly.

Whatever way you want to put it, however, the system for the younger children has as its priority getting children adopted. The annual numbers could only be quadrupled (as suggested by Martin Narey) by either taking a lot more younger children into care or getting lots of teenagers adopted.

In terms of starting to be looked after there were 5,810 babies and 5,870 infants (C1).

Friday, October 30, 2015
  Snoopers Charter: It cannot work
In The Telegraph today it is reported that the government are going to try to legislate to collect internet Metadata again.

This cropped up I think two years ago and there were a number of meetings in the Commons about it. I pointed out the technical problems. The basic technical problem is that encryption is designed to prevent what is called a "man in the middle" attack. Encryption operates from client to server and no-one in the middle is supposed to find out anything about the communication. Hence if people are using proxy servers outside the UK Jurisdiction it becomes impossible to garner any useful information from this beyond which proxy server is being used.

It was reported that some in the security services did not want a generalised recording of metadata as this would result in more people using encryption, not just those who knew they were breaking the law. I thought these simple facts had kicked this proposal into touch, but clearly not.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
  In the matter of: CB (A child)
Unusually the Supreme Court in refusing permission to appeal of the above case has given reasons. I am assuming that is because the Latvian government supported the mother in the appeal and it is really high profile in Latvia (including being the subject of a debate today in the Latvian Parliament).

There have been a number of public judgments and the refusal of permission by the Supreme Court is a public document.

Here is the case when last in the Court of Appeal. This was an appeal from this High Court case.

The case started off with two incidents. The first was when the mother was stopped by the police crossing the road whilst walking home in the early hours of the morning. She had taken her shoes off because they were causing her pain and placed them on the buggy in which she was pushing her younger daughter. She had been drinking with a friend that evening. Her younger daughter was returned home to be looked after by her elder daughter.

The second incident was more serious. Her younger daughter was found home alone with a full nappy. The mother argues that she arranged for a babysitter to look after her daughter. This, however, does not appear in any of the judgments although it does appear in some of the expert reports. However, in my view, the best source of information is the police reports from police notes. Those notes were taken at the time. I have extracted some of the parts of the police reports and removed all the names (including the names of the police officers) and that is available here:


It should be noted from the police reports that they arrived at 18.50, then someone who said they were the babysitter arrived and then at 19.08 they took the child to hospital because she was cold. At that point they had not spoken to the mother. Hence it is quite clear that the mother had arranged prior to the police's arrival for a baby sitter to attend. This, of course, substantiates the mother's argument that she had arranged for a babysitter. She accepts and I agree that she should not have left home before the babysitter had arrived. It should also be noted from the police reports that the child's 18 year old sister arrived at 20.10. The High Court judgment makes no reference to anyone claiming to be a babysitter being involved in the matter.

It remains an interesting question as to what would have happened had the babysitter turned up before the police. One would expect her to have changed the child's nappy and for nothing further to have happened.

The case then moved on collecting opinion from the local authority. It is worth noting that the police decided not to prosecute the mother, but instead to caution her. It is also worth noting that the original view of the local authority (Merton) was to reunite mother and daughter (and sister).

However, Merton then decided to increase their adoption target. They also decided not to reunite the family. Expert evidence was obtained from two experts one of whom proposed adoption and the other of whom suggested the family should be reunited.

This is where the question about bias on the local authority becomes important. The Supreme Court argues that an independent judge automatically overcomes bias in evidence. That, however, is obviously not the case. From time to time a judge can decide to ignore biased evidence, but the judge is supposed to follow the evidence. Hence the fact that Merton is subject to a bias towards adoption is a key issue.

There are lots of other technical legal issues about international adoption law and conventions. The local authority failed for years to contact Latvia about the case. The nub of the issue, however, is that because the mother left home before her babysitter arrived her daughter has been put up for adoption.

The Supreme Court:

Monday, October 05, 2015
  Statistical First Release - Children in care 2014/15
The SFR has been published recently. In many ways it exhibits the same trends. Of the 69,540 children looked after 41,410 are 10 and over. Only 28,140 are under 10. 19,850 are in looked after voluntarily (S20) and the rest in some form of compulsory care. 5,330 were adopted from care. 4,280 were under 5. The number of children in care under 5 is 13,820. Hence if you look at the proportion of children adopted from care as the ratio of the number under 5 compared to the number adopted the figure (expressed as a percentage) is 30.6 (it is not a proper percentage because of the failure of dimensional analysis). There is a jump in the number of East Europeans looked after with "white other" going up from 2210 to 2550 and Gypsy/Roma going from 220 to 250. I expect to get my analyses that look in more detail at what is happening with children under 5 later this year or early next year, but the system is clearly still going wrong in a big way.
Friday, September 25, 2015
  Glee Club Bournemouth September 2015
This week's glee club was particularly good. I copy below a photo of the event: Lib Dem Glee Club Sept 15 (16)
Thanks to Jonathan Wallace for the Photo.
There are a number of short videos on twitter.
Thursday, September 17, 2015
  The Parents Union (England) Website started
Have now been started up. They are in fact all the same website, but this is to ensure that the Domain Name is linked in cyberspace.
Tuesday, September 15, 2015
  Dub Side of the Moon
One of my favourite albums of the 70s was Dark Side of the Moon. This is an interesting alternative version in a Reggae style.
Mainly I prefer the original, but This version of Time (I have linked to the start) is interesting.
Sunday, September 06, 2015
  Parents Want a Say - Resignation of Karen Wilkinson and John Hemming
Karen Wilkinson and I have today resigned from PWAS (Parents Want a Say). The group has achieved some notable successes in the campaign to reverse the term time holiday regulations but it is clear there are irreconcilable differences over governance and organisational development. We believe the issue of unreasonable treatment of parents by schools in terms of absence as a result of government pressure remains important and we will be creating a new campaigning organisation to continue the campaign in this area.
Thursday, September 03, 2015
  Martin Narey and Adoption Statistics
I have recently had a look at This post which references Martin Narey's speech about adoption numbers earlier this year. In that speech he said:

I don’t think adoption can ever be suitable for other than a minority of children in care. But I think that minority is probably more than 5,000 or just 7% of the care population”
This goes to the nub of the statistical misunderstanding that has gone on for over a decade. The number of children in care is a static number. The number adopted per year is a number of children per year. You cannot sensibly compare one to the other. Because children stay in care for multiple years you need to look at the numbers of children going into care (per year).

I take the view that you need actually to ignore the children placed in care under S20 and also to concentrate on those for whom adoption is a likely option (the younger ones). The sad thing is that this innumeracy lies behind the drive to increase adoption numbers to stupid levels.
Wednesday, September 02, 2015
  Coventry is not part of the West Midlands Conurbation
It was interesting to read today the proposals from Warwickshire County Council that the city region combined authority for Coventry should be one for Warwickshire as well. Frankly this is a bit of a no brainer. Warwickshire curls around Coventry and is clearly in the economic city region. It is only people who reside in the Whitehall that believe that Coventry is best placed with Greater Birmingham. City Regions work as units of devolution if they have essentially economic city regions of a city and its travel to work area. Hence Lichfield, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Tamworth and Redditch fit comfortably into the wider Greater Birmingham area, but Coventry does not. It always caused tensions in the past and will continue to undermine the common interest of a Greater Birmingham City Region if it is continued.
Sunday, August 23, 2015
  Adoption and Care Statistics a reconciliation
Maryline Stowe's website kindly invited me to do a guest post. I did this about adoption statistics. A response with questions has been written by Lucy R on the transparency project blog

I have written this blog post to answer the questions and reconcile the statistics. All figures are figures for the English jurisdiction. Most (if not all) are based upon the SSDA903 return. The SSDA903 return is an annual electronic return from Children's Services Authorities to the Department for Education. It includes details of each change of legal status and each change of placement status for children in care. I have had additional analyses done by the DfE statisticians - which is what the source of the spreadsheets that I have uploaded is.

The most widely known analysis from the SSDA903 return is the Statistical First Release. This is normally issued in the September after the end of the Financial Year that it is relevant to. Hence the 2014 SFR can be found in a PDF form here, but the 2015 release has not yet been published. I use the excel format files as they are easier to produce analyses from.

I shall put in italics what appear to be questions or other elements from Lucy's blog post and then answer them (or respond as appropriate).

But what other reasons were there for children leaving care?
More than a third (34% or 10,300) of those 30 thousand or so children ceased to be looked after because they had gone home to parents or relatives.

The first point to make is to distinguish between "care" - what for precision I call "compulsory care" and "looked after children".
Looked after children include all the children looked after by the local authority whether they are in care compulsorily as a result of a placement order, police protection, interim care order, EPO, care order or other compulsion or (additionally) those who are in for a form of respite care.
Table A2 in the SFR gives the following summary figures for 31st March 2014.
Care orders, 39,930, freed for adoption 60, placement orders, 9,260, Section 20, 19,230, detained for child protection 50, youth justice 300.

The S20 category is complex and there are abuses of S20, but this cohort of children is substantially different to those who are compulsorily in care. Hence when I ask the DfE to analses compulsory care I ask them to exclude these children. From a court perspective S20 does not involve the court.

To summarise, 8% of children were adopted non-consensually, whilst 1/3 went home or to family, 9% were adopted without opposition, and 17% were made the subject of SGOs or residence orders. This, of course, is conflating children who are voluntarily put into care by their parents and then taken from care and the compulsory care system involving public family law. We know that the number of care orders and the like each year is around 11,500. Hence from the table (C1) of children who start being "looked after" where for 2014 there are 30,340 we can estimate that the total number coming into the care system as "looked after children" on S20 was around 19,000.

The number starting to be looked after in any one year will not match the number ceasing being looked after. However, whatever way one wishes to consider this the S20 cohort should be looked at separately to those in compulsory care. Particularly if one wishes to consider the operations of the courts one could not mix up the statistics by including children who are not subject to court proceedings of any form.

Only 16% of under fives reunited with parents?
John Hemming goes on to say that the proportion of under fives reunited with parents is only 1,300 of 8,200 (16%). For comparison, the percentage for return to parents across all ages is 34%, so if right this would be disproportionately low. Again, we cannot see how Mr Hemming’s analyst has extracted those figures, and will ask for clarification. We cannot presently verify this assertion.

The info comes from DfE. If you ask them for a copy of the stats they send to me then you can confirm this. Decisions are not made on the basis of quotas
Let me put it this way. There are quotas. Increases in the quotas cause changes in the numbers of children adopted. How does this happen if decisions are not influenced by quotas.

Further Comment 31/7/15 following response from Transparency Project (Lucy Reed) was written in response to the above. My comments follow
  1. SSDA903 is a return to DfE from Childrens Services Authorities and is stored in a database. Hence it is no in itself published although various extracts of data are published. I can forward the email I got from DfE to Lucy Reed or Sarah Phillimore if they wish to try to argue that the stats are not provided by the departmental statisticians.
  2. Lucy makes a valid point that some sets of proceedings commence with S20 placement with the local authority. My "compulsory care" statistics pick up those that then change to an ICO or Care Order. It is true that in a small number of cases the application does not result in an ICO or Care Order. From memory it is around 3% of applications (according to MoJ statistics) that do not result in an ICO or Care Order. It remains that an ICO is granted on "reasonable grounds" rather than proof and hence the analysis I have had requested is valid without those additional 3% of cases.
  3. There are questions about the abuse of S20. However, any useful analysis of the care system has to distinguish between child protection and other cases. I don't think you can sensibly lump all the cases where the LA looks after the child and treat them as being the same.
  4. Quotas - I gave a link to the figures for Merton with all the details about their targets. Quotas do have an affect on managerial priorities. What is the sense of setting targets if you don't intend hitting them. Having a target is materially different to counting something. Senior management in the LA tell the junior management to hit the targets.
  5. "John Hemming’s figures suggest that a very high 78% of children over 5 who left care through adoption were adopted unopposed compared with an overall figure of 9%." - I personally am not claiming this.
  6. Cases and Children. One application for a care order can affect more than one child. Hence you will get different figures. SSDA903 is child based and I have had agreement from Cafcass to work on stats to see what agreement we can get between their analyses and those of the department.
  7. It remains that the outcome of adoption from care without parental consent is commonplace rather than exceptional. There is, in fact, no real threshold distinction between dispensing with parental consent and simmply adopting from care. That is not in accordance with international law. We can argue about the 3% of cases which start with S20, but do not end with a care order of any kind, ubt that does not make a substantial different to the point that the system as a whole is unlawful.

3/9/15 - I have also uploaded some stats from 2011 (I have not found more recent ones) which look at disposals in public family law by outcome and numbers of children. here these demonstrate that there are only a small number of S20 children actually subject to care proceedings which don't end up in a care order.

3/9/15 - Further comments.
The reason I have put up the court stats is because of the argument by Lucy R that I am missing out a large number of children on S20 who are represented in care proceedings.  My view is that there are likely to be a small number of children, possibly around 100, but that this does not have a significant effect on the argument about the figures.  Notwithstanding this issue furthermore the legality of outcome targets for those providing expert opinion remains permanently in question.   (and the issue of repeat player prejudice and Experts on retainers).

My point is that a very high proportion of applications for care orders result in a care order.  Hence even if there is no ICO at an early stage, the children concerned will  be picked up in my figures when the care order is Granted.

The SSDA903 return operates on a financial year so that the 2011 figures are 1st April 2010 to 31st March 2011.   The court stats are on a calendar year basis so actually the 2011 court figures are more like the 2012 SSDA903 figures.

Looking at applications for a care order.  There were 10,844 orders made, 4 orders refused, 260 orders of no order and 263 applications withdrawn.  That is 95.38%.  Hence under 5% of cases might not be trapped in my figures.

Secure accommodation is irrelevant to this issue and obviously if a care order is discharged then there was a care order.   Supervision orders are not relevant as obviously the children are being supervised with their parents.  They do not go in care.  If those become care orders then they appear under the care order figures.  Contact, refuse contact authority, education supervision and Child Assessment orders are not relevant to the issue.  

An EPO is of course relevant.  Because they are short term, however, and normally result in an ICO I don't think it is worth separately considering them.   If proceedings continue on after this they will be trapped in the care order stats.

Recovery orders are not relevant nor the parental responsibility, S8, residence, contact, prohibited steps or specific issue orders.

An SGO will follow care proceedings and is, hence in those statistics.

My argument is that it is care proceedings that we should  be concerned with and although there may be a small number of cases of care proceedings where the threat of an ICO is used to keep a child in care under S20, the number is easily under 5%.  My experience of cases, however, is that I don't see cases happening where S20 goes directly to SGO.  Those would be an inappropriate use of S20 anyway as it is not voluntary where there are care proceedings.

I would accept the argument that it would be better to have a more exhaustive analysis of the nature of the looked after children population. However, there remain limits as to what I can get DfE to do.  They should really do more work on this themselves.

Monday, August 10, 2015
  Old Birmingham Constituency Boundaries
When I did my maiden speech in 2005 I had some research from the House of Commons Library about the Yardley Constituency. There has, in fact, been a constituency of Birmingham, Yardley since 1918. I think I have uploaded the maps prior to Yardley joining Birmingham (1911). From the 1832 Reform Act Yardley was part of East Worcester constituency until I think 1885.
I have scanned and uploaded all the maps I had from the House of Commons Library and link to one of the documents on this page. If I have a lot of time I might organise them in a structure. Flickr allows paging through Images, however. Hence if you want to see what is available click right and left
Thursday, August 06, 2015
  The Historic Counties of Birmingham
The Ordnance Survey have uploaded here maps of the historic counties of the UK. These varied over time, but I have extracted the boundaries for Birmingham so show where the old counties used to end.

What I found interesting was that Stoney Lane through to Walford Road were the boundary between Worcestershire and Warwickshire making the junction of the Stratford Road and Warwick Road fully in Worcestershire. Thanks be to the OS.

I am not sure of the date and I thought that Harborne was at one stage in Staffordshire. Having glanced at Wikipedia it appears that Harborne moved into Warwickshire in 1891.
This demonstrates the relationship between historic counties and current ceremonial counties in the North of England.
Saturday, August 01, 2015
  Interesting Bus Photos
These photos are from my archives and I found them when getting rid of some old floppy discs. They were taken in the late 1990s. I thought they were an interesting historical record, however, so have uploaded them to flickr.
I asked a question of the Prime Minister (when it was Gordon Brown) about bus regulation. I think the Greater Manchester Combined Authority is getting the powers to do this. I hope we make similar progress in the West Midlands. I don't think such dangerous driving is commonplace today, but would be interested to hear of any examples. I remember getting some media attention for the issue in the 1990s when these photos were taken, but beyond the GM combinened authority I am not sure any progress has been made on the underlying issue (Which is about sector tendering).
Thursday, July 30, 2015
  Birmingham UNA - The Magna Carta and the British Constitution
I spoke yesterday at a meeting of the Birmingham UNA about The Magna Carta and the British Constitution. We attempted a livestreaming of this, the bandwidth was too low. Hence I have uploaded the recordings. There were two short recordings of 1 and 4 seconds that I have removed, but there are two recordings of a quarter of a minute and then a recording of 1 hour 17 minutes. These are here:

I have since updated this by trying to improve the sound and putting the three videos together. That is why the start is a bit disjointed.
Monday, July 13, 2015
  John Hemming and the Jazz Lobbyists at The Birmingham Jazz Festival 8th July 2015
First Set

Second Set

Band Website
Livestream Website
Friday, July 03, 2015
  Ricardo Hausmann on Greece
I haven't linked to this Article by Ricardo Hausmann about Greece on my blog. I have referred to it on twitter, but I wish to have a record on the blog.

With things getting much worse in Greece (unsurprisingly) the government there still seem to be unconcerned about reality.

If the Greeks vote no then many of their banks will probably be insolvent in Euros as they will hold Greek Government Debt which is clearly not worth its face value.   I haven't looked at the balance sheets, but the greek banking system has a debt as a whole of about EUR 90bn to the ECB for ELA.  On the credit side they have government debt.  I don't know how much.  It is unclear what the discount should be, but it does not look good.

I did make this point on Yanis Varoufakis' blog, but it has not got through the censors.

Not surprising really as the government are campaigning for a no vote.

Friday, May 29, 2015
  Pop Clients and Windows 8
As a result of the assault by a Magpie on my laptop I have now obtained an updated laptop and am in the process of setting up everything to work on the new machine.  I had avoided leaving the XP operating system because I had a large email archive. I also don't want to use IMAP as I want my database where I can see it.

I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out a number of different POP email clients and to write notes as to my experience of them.

The first one I tried was EM Client. This was quite good although the cursor had a tendency to disappear in some circumstances.

The next one I am trying is DreamMail.  This is written by someone in China whose English is not particularly good, but their computer programming seems quite good (although it crashed in a strange way to start out - this may been linked to trying to get the pop and smtp parameters automatically.)

I particularly like the facility to import a *.dbx file.  In fact you can load a number of dbx files for import and it will trundle through each of them. I have now, however, found a website for the writer (s?) of the software. I am not going to highlight any particular source for the software there do seem to be some dubious ones.

Dream mail does have some inbuilt spam filtering and blocking. This does not appear in EM Client. EM client states it can import from *.dbx files, but I have not tried that. Dream Mail does, however, seem to save the data in folders for each month. This means that the summary file only needs to be backed up and historic data which does not change does not. That seems useful for the backup process. I am a bit nervous about the encrypted storage, however. (from the perspective of how to get to the data if the client does not work).
Dream mail also stores some header information in one file (currently 1-2Gb on my system) and then the individual emails in folders for each month. This seems quite an efficient mechanism for incremental backup as the historic data would generally not change and therefore not need to be backed up. It appears EM client stores the data in one big file. That means a 15Gb copy every time there is a backup. Something I am not enthusiastic about.
Sunday, May 24, 2015
  Greece and Spain
Elections are happening in Spain in which a party with a similar view to the Greek Syriza  (Podemos - We can) is putting forward an "anti-austerity" platform.

The difficulty in government is that policies have to work.   The Greeks appear to have put a major hold on payments to suppliers prioritising employees and other objectives.  Inevitably suppliers have put a hold on supplying the Greek government with the consequent damage to public services.  On a cash basis they may have a primary surplus, but with a purchase ledger of EUR 4.4bn and spending EUR 2bn less than budgeted something has to give.

Claiming that they have a primary surplus when it has mainly come from not paying suppliers is obviously misleading.  None of the Eurozone finance ministries are stupid enough to believe what the Greeks are claiming.

Then again when you have this idiot as finance minister it is not surprising they have problems.  Quoting from the linked article:

"Greece’s general government had, in 2013, a primary deficit of 12.7% of GDP if we add to it the cost of recapitalising the banks (again during 2013). Let’s accept that this cost should not count as part of the government’s outlays (even though it is not clear why it should not). "

It is obvious that a one-off cost should not be treated as a continuing revenue cost.  If that is "not clear" then he should not be finance minister.

The fundamental problem is that a government has to manage its finances in a sustainable way.   Additional government spending does increase the GDP, but not necessarily sufficiently to reduce the borrowing required to fund the additional GDP.

It does appear that the Greeks are now in the final stages of the process of default.  It is insufficient to dislike the conclusions as to what policy changes are required.  There has to be a clear plan for any alternative proposals to produce something that "works".  In the case of governments any financial shortfall has to be borrowed from someone.  People with money are not inclined to throw good money after bad.  The people who are most likely to suffer from the government getting it wrong are the poorer people in society.  Hence governments need to get it right.

Saturday, May 23, 2015
  FMOTL - Magna Carta 1215 and constitutional theories
It remains that some people (sometimes known as Freeman of the Land - aka FMOTL) continue arguing a case based upon a strange interpretation of the UK constitution.  This ends up with a strange distinction between common law and statute law and an attempt to argue really quite unorthodox things.

I am not in itself opposed to things which are unorthodox, but if people do not follow the procedures defined in the UK constitution they should not expect anything to come of this.  I know of a case where someone's mental capacity was removed for relying on this.  I believe that decision to be wrong, but whatever it may be it does not help.

Every so often people try to rely on these theories.  Can I emphasise:

I have never heard of anyone succeeding in the UK on the basis of FMOTL legal theory.  I am quite happy to look in the comments at something.

The most important point to understand is that the UK constitution is based upon a popular revolution from 1688. The constitutional settlement that was achieved at that point and accepted at that point is the constitutional settlement mutatis mutandis that applies today.  That settlement included Magna Carta 1297 not Magna Carta 1215.

Magna Carta 1215 did not even last for a year even though it was supposed to last for ever.   It is a "dead parrot" in a legal sense.

Hence the foundations of the legal theory known as FMOTL are flawed and any edifice built on them has to fail.

You can find Magna Carta 1297 on the legislation website if you wish.

Friday, May 08, 2015
  Parliamentary Elections and General Elections
People vote for all sorts of reasons.  Some vote as to who they want to be the local MP.  Others vote as to who they wish to see as the prime minister and there can be combinations in between.

The postal votes in Yardley which were cast about two weeks before polling day gave me 40%, but on the night I only got just over 25%.  This has happened previously.

I had been for some time of the view that the attempt at equidistance from Labour and Conservative was likely to be problematic.   Once we had gone into coalition with the Conservatives we would lose support from people who were unhappy with the government.  Hence if we go into the general election saying we might put Labour in we run the risk of losing support the other way.

My personal view is that we should have campaigned for the continuation of the Lib Dem-Conservative coalition.  That would at least have had some certainty about it.  People tend to vote against risk.  It would also have been easier to argue in that we were presenting a case that we did the right thing in 2010 and intended to continue doing something like this.

Politicians over think about politics.  The voters in the end have to make relatively simple choices.  Do they vote for one person or another.   The "air war" and the debates on the TV about strategy have had strong impacts on the campaign in many elections.  This was like 1992 where I also lost in Yardley with a swing against me in the last week or two.

Those people who concentrate on the national perspective will then vote against the national government in the way that they see as being most effective.

That, in itself, may not have been sufficient to re-elect me in Yardley as Labour would still have got about 17,000 votes (41% of the electorate).   However, it would meant the many people swinging between me and the Tories or UKIP could have voted for me understanding that I was an anti-Labour candidate.  Frankly  I am of the view that Labour's proposals were such nonsense that it would have been impossible to get competent government out of the Labour leadership.

Such an approach, however, would not have seen us losing in so many seats nationally.

The party did consider what had happened in previous coalitions.  Wrongly the assumption was made that as long as the party itself remained united there would not be a problem.  Historically with a substantial deposit required it was difficult to put up alternative candidates.  These days, however, (rightly so) it is much easier so although the party may not split itself it does split from its supporters.

Which is what happened.

I have had an interesting 10 years as MP for Yardley.  I hope that my constituents believe that I have performed the function to an adequate standard.

Whatever electoral system is used parties have difficulties swapping their coalition preferences for exactly the reasons I have given above.  Perhaps now that lesson will be learnt rather than the consequences ignored.


Click Here for access to higher resolution versions of the photos The license for use allows use of the photos by media as long as they are attributed.

better brent chart

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Published, promoted, and printed (well not really printed I suppose, more like typed) by John Hemming, 1772 Coventry Road, Birmingham B26 1PB. Hosted by part of 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View, CA 94043, United States of America. This blog is posted by John Hemming in his personal capacity as an individual.

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