Tag Archives: family court

Suffolk fights FGM

I asked the following question about FGM  at last full council (9th July 2020).

“I’m sure you will join me and all councillors in congratulating our social work team and the lawyers in their last-minute success in preventing the home secretary, Priti Patel, from having an 11year girl deported , with the risk of being subject to Female Genital Mutilation in her home country. FGM is illegal in this country. Please can you tell us what processes the council has in place to make sure any girl in Suffolk threatened with FGM will be protected.”

Plenty, it seems.

And just as as well. The situation is scandalous. As  Cllr Penny Otton, LDGI Group Spokesperson for Children and Young People, said:

It was shameful that the home secretary Priti Patel was intending to deport a very young girl who risked FGM if sent back to Sudan. This child has been thriving at school in Suffolk and speaks no other language than English.  It was only due to the fantastic work of Suffolk County Council’s care team and lawyers that this girl was able to stay in the UK and the home secretary was forced to back down. We congratulate them all for their urgent actions to stop the deportation, which would have put this girl at extreme risk.”

FGM is a crime in the UK and the home secretary’s attempt to deport this child would fly in the face of this. Suffolk County Council officers were only just in time: one day later and the child would have been on the plane. 97.7% of girls and women in the part of Sudan she comes from suffer FGM: the judge considered the risk to be extreme. After a series of hearings , Justice Newton concluded: “It is difficult to think of a more serious case where the risk to [the girl] of FGM is so high.”

https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2020/jul/03/priti-patel-accused-of-shameful-bid-to-deport-girl-at-risk-of-fgm

Suffolk County Council has shown that its officers are alert, aware,  and effective in crisis – and that it takes FGM protection extremely seriously. I am very proud of my colleagues, and I think they have set an superb example to other councils to take similar action in order to protect young girls from a practice that is inhumane, unnecessary and  causes lifelong damage.

The issue  the child’s mother,  herself a victim of type 3  FGM -infibulation: the most serious variation of the mutilation – had her asylum claim rejected  when citing fears that her child would face the same mutilation if returned to Sudan or Bahrain. As her barrister put it: “They don’t have children’s guardians in the immigration courts and this girl’s vulnerabilities were not properly considered. If it weren’t for Suffolk county council she would have been on a plane.

She added: “I work on a lot of these cases and not all local authorities are this proactive. This case shows how dangerous it is relying on the immigration courts to make decisions about the risk of FGM.”

The child was later granted an FGM protection order via the family court  which ruled that  the 11-year-old  should be prevented from being deported to a location where she is deemed at risk of FGM. (In fact, the family court judge ruled that the child would be at an extremely high risk of suffering the abusive practice if deported because her wider family support FGM although her mother opposes it.)

It is clear that asylum applications need to be more aware of  the impact of a deportation on the physical wellbeing of children.

The child’s mother “has PTSD and has been in and out of courts for eight years, she should not be put through the gruelling process of making a further application for asylum on behalf of her daughter. And Xxxx, at the age of 11, should not be compelled to make her own asylum claim, a daunting prospect for any child,” reads an  open letter signed by prominent lawmakers including  Ed Davey and Jeremy Corbyn.

There is overwhelming evidence to support this child being granted refugee status. In the case of Fornah in 2006, it was established that risk of FGM is a sufficient ground to grant refugee status.

If this at-risk child is not granted refugee status, then what child would meet such a high test?

Which leaves us with the worrying question: is she yet safe?

Imminent threat to Suffolk’s Law Courts!

Suffolk County Councillors rather uncharacteristically reached unanimous agreement today – that the Ministry of Justice’s proposed closure of Suffolk law courts (Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft) leaving us with just the facilities in Ipswich, are a bad thing and should be opposed.

In brief, it is proposed that:

a) Lowestoft Magistrates’ Court, County Court and Family Court is closed and the civil hearing work move to Great Yarmouth (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court), the family hearing work to Ipswich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court)., and the criminal work move to Great Yarmouth (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court) and Norwich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court).

b) that Bury St Edmunds Magistrates’ Court and Family Court and Bury St Edmunds Crown Court are closed, and the existing magistrates’ and family workload  be moved to Ipswich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court) and Norwich (Magistrates’ Court and Family Court). It is also proposed that victim and witness facilities will be installed at Bury St. Edmunds County Court and Tribunals which would enable court users, in suitable matters, to give evidence by video link!

All to save £600,000 a year. Truly this government knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

It is 800 years exactly since the rights  of the common people in England were asserted through Magna Carta. The 39th clause of which , still part of British law today, says:

“No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.”

Putting aside anxieties about ‘trial by video’ , it would seem particularly ironic that Suffolk’s legal representation is in danger of being reduced to one single court with all the difficulties of access from the west , mid-Suffolk and the north of the county, in this iconic anniversary year . (I was going to speak to this motion on these lines) when Cllr Joanna Spicer took the very words out of my mouth, quote and all. Two minds with but a single thought and all that..)

You may not know of this consultation – although it has been going on since July. This is because the Ministry of Justice  in its wisdom has classified Suffolk as part of the South East. However, here is the link (tip- don’t wade through all the pages, search in document for ‘Suffolk’ and it will tell you about the two proposals that affect us) – do please respond to the consultation and give your thoughts. Oddly enough, the one bit of the whole document that is squeezed for space is the one that asks for your views. But please don’t let it stop you!