The Daily Mail has reported a story today with the headline “Four-year-old boy will be taken away from parents with learning difficulties because social workers say he’s ‘not getting the cuddles he needs’”.
It is a story arising from the judgment of the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby in a case known as Re D.
You can find the judgments of the court on BAILII. Last week’s judgment is : Re D (A Child) (No 3)  EWFC 1 (14 January 2016) and at paragraph 4 of the judgment you will find links to the earlier judgments numbered 1 and 2.
The article in the Mail provides a number of other pieces of information about the parents, the background to the case and the reasoning for the decision which all seem to be drawn from the judgment itself. However this judgment is a particularly long and complicated one, coming in at 164 paragraphs with a number of footnotes and an annex.
This is not the place to go through the judgment in detail, to explain the law or facts blow by blow or to comment on whether the decision was right or not (Suesspicious Minds has written a helpful blog post about the case expressing his own view about it here : Important case regarding learning difficulties). However, this Daily Mail article – and others like it – is likely to have been the first or only source of information about the case, and it is worth exploring whether or not it gives a reasonable and fair explanation of the case.
Firstly, the headline is woefully misleading. It is correct to say that one of the (many) concerns raised by the social workers was that the child was not getting the cuddles he needs – but it is certainly not the reason for his removal, which was as a result of far more wide ranging issues, some but not all of which are set out in the news article itself.
There are a number of really quite striking remarks in the judgment which it is perhaps surprising not to see included in an account of the case. To illustrate, The President said
“This is by some margin the most difficult and unusual care case I have ever had to try.”
And in the course of the judgment he sets out the extensive evidence that had been heard and the detailed and anxious consideration that had been given to it before concluding that adoption orders must be made. One of the issues that particularly concerned the judge was the impact of the mother’s learning disability on her ability to appreciate and respond to physically risky situations in the moment. The judge concluded that
“In my judgment, these are very real and very worrying concerns. The cumulative weight of all the professional opinion on the point is compelling in identifying and evidencing just why the professionals are, and in my judgment rightly, so concerned. Not just for the here and now but also for the future, as D, who Ms Randall describes as a child with little sense of danger, becomes more challenging and finds himself exposed to new and different forms of danger.”
Also not mentioned in the news article is that the case is the very same one that has been reported widely as one in which the President of the Family Division expressed his profound frustration at the difficulties with ensuring the parents in the case had a fair trial, due to difficulties with legal aid. See for example : “Top judge says family courts are ‘neither compassionate nor even humane'” in the Daily Telegraph.
We have some sympathy with the Daily Mail – it IS a difficult case to summarise properly, to the point that we have not really attempted to do so fully here. It really is a case that merits full reading – IF you have the stamina. But, whether one agrees with this decision or not – and judging from the comments on the Mail article and social media there are many who do think it is wrong – the Daily Mail article is only a partial summary of it, and tends to trivialise both the concerns that were being considered by the court, and the court process.
[Update : Also see Child Protection Resource here : Court gives guidance on how to ensure fair proceedings for learning disabled parents]