Monday, 20 October 2008

UK: another unthinking discrimination

No public scruitiny for special needs tribunals?

In an interview published this morning in The Times Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division,Britain's most senior family judge, has said that ‘in an age of transparency’ he favours allowing the media into children's care cases, subject to the discretion of the judge. In all cases, he said, the anonymity of the children involved, and where appropriate other parties, must be protected.

This radical step refers of course to ‘care’ cases, not to the routine Trubunals that decide how local authorities decide to meet what they themselves have defined as disabled children’s ‘special edcuational needs’. Yet again a relatively small but often bitterly misused group of citizens is being unthinkingly discriminated against.

There is no reason why children with disabilities and their families in dispute with the public authorities mandated to serve them should not have the same rights to a scruitinised hearing (with of course the same safeguards applying) as are other children and their families in parallel situations.

There is likely no sinister reasoning behind the distinction. Children with disabilities are simply different, outside normal considerations…

Commenting upon the judge’s comments, also in The Times this morning, Camilla Cavendish writes of child-care cases:

England and Wales are operating a secret state, where almost any discussion of your case is prevented to protect the ‘privacy of the child. Where courts [read ‘Tribumals’] only need the word of an ‘expert’ to remove [read ‘deny services to’] your child… Sir Mark's call for the opening of the family courts to the media is significant. He believes that greater scrutiny will show that the courts [Tribunals] generally work well. The argument I have always made is that we should put that to the test.

Her assesment that the courts do generally work may well be probably equally true of Tribunals deciding on how special eduational needs ought to be met, but here too the test of public scruitiny would be a further safeguard for the rights of disabled children and their families to be fairly and fully considered before local authorities set them asise.


An hour ago the Press Association reported that Justice Secretary Jack Straw is set to announce the decision to reverse Government policy next month and open Family Courts to the media.
Well, we shall see, but if he does then continuing secrecy shrouding official gobbledygook about meeting disabled children’s special educational needs, advanced so easily in the Tribunals as 'expertise', will stand out all the more starkly an even uglier blot upon our society.


Gibb, F (2008) Media must be allowed into family courts, says Sir Mark Potter. The Times, 20 October

Cavendish, C. (2008) A secret state is operating in which families are being torn apart, The Times, 20 October

Press Association (2008) Fresh move to open up family courts, 20 October

Some US judicial decisions in favour of Conductive Education

Sutton, A. (2008) Legal precedents in the United States, Conductive World, 28 August

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