Original article by Natasha, from Researching Reform
8 Mar 2019
A Twitter poll carried out by this site has found that 91% of parents going through family law proceedings have been bullied by judges during their cases.
The poll was created in conjunction with our campaign to ensure that families are treated fairly and with respect during the life of their cases. Since launching the campaign we have received hundreds of messages from families saying they were abused by judges during their cases and offering details of their experiences.
The shock revelation comes after barristers complained last month that they were being bullied by judges during court hearings. The Bar Council immediately acknowledged the problem and issued guidance offering lawyers protectionsagainst bullying by judges in court.
Researching Reform is now calling on the President of the Family Division to do the same for children, parents and families in child welfare cases.
Our call follows a ruling by the Court of Appeal in February, which found a judge guilty of bullying a mother into accepting care orders for her children. The orders were set aside, however the judge did not face any disciplinary action for her conduct.
These are the most common complaints we received about judges bullying families in court:
- Belittling, humiliating and abusive comments to children and family members
- Behaviour that causes fear or terror
- Demeaning comments about a disabled parent’s disability
- Laughing at a parent’s question
- Cutting off and silencing parents and their solicitors as they try to make a point
- Unreasonable demands in court orders which a “good-enough” parent would not be able to comply with
- Constant criticism of a parent or family member
- Personal abuse for being unable to afford legal representation
- Being bullied into accepting orders
- Threats to remove children from parents before the hearing begins
- Explicitly favouring one parent over another
- Prejudging a case before it has concluded and bullying families into submission
Complaining about being bullied by a judge is almost impossible for parents and families going through family court proceedings.
The Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) has been set up for complaints about the personal conduct of judicial office holders, however it does not accept all complaints about conduct which amounts to bullying.
While the JCIO can look into the use of racist, sexist or offensive language; falling asleep in court; social media abuse and incidents where judges misuse their status for personal gain, the list does not include a clearly defined set of behaviours for bullying.
Furthermore, the list of items the office will not investigate includes conduct which could be defined as judicial bullying in certain contexts. And the list of what the JCIO can’t investigate is long. Very long:
- A judge’s decision or order
- Bias in a judge’s decision-making
- A judge allowing one party to speak for longer than another
- A judge refusing to allow a witness to give evidence or admit certain documents
- A judge appearing to react more favourably to one person’s evidence than another’s
- A judge saying that he or she does not believe a person’s evidence, questioning a person’s credibility or criticising a person’s actions
- A judge making an error of law or procedure
- A judge expressing opinions about issues related to a case they are hearing
- A judge’s body language, facial expressions or how a judge has looked at a party
- The amount of costs or damages awarded by a judge
- A judge not reading documents before a hearing
- A judge refusing to transfer a case to a different judge or court
- A judge reserving a case to themselves
- A judge refusing to correspond with a party about a case
- Fraud or any other criminal offence
- Court staff, court bailiffs or the facilities and services provided by courts
- Other bodies such as the Police or Crown Prosecution Service
- Solicitors and Barristers
By contrast, the new guidance issued by the Bar Council for barristers who have been bullied by judges offers counsels protection from a much more robust list of behaviours than the JCIO’s own list. The Bar Council outlined bullying behaviour in its guidance as:
- Personal abuse,
- Unreasonable demands,
- Relentless criticism,
- Intemperate language,
- Demeaning behaviour,
- Comments designed to embarrass or humiliate.
Parents and family members described several types of bullying by family court judges. We’ve added some instances of bullying below, but a fuller list can be viewed here.
“My son was humiliated by a female judge in Bolton family courts. She read out a letter supposedly from my granddaughter who at the time was just 9 years old saying she wanted to be called Daniel after the bloke her mother was with at the time. While reading the note out the judge smirked constantly, it was disgusting.”
“Judge [edited] verbally abused me in court. He ridiculed me in front of my husband who abused my children and I for 10 years… He couldn’t even get my son’s age correct. I felt humiliated and burst into tears on leaving court.”
“I was made to comply with impossible court orders. When I confessed that I couldn’t comply anymore during a hearing the judge got sarcastic and belittled me. I wish I could have been sarcastic back and asked him if he could have done the order he imposed on me, but of course I couldn’t treat him the same as he was treating me.”
“Litigants in Person suffer the most.”
“The judge wouldn’t allow me to speak about my concerns for my children’s safety, and cut my solicitor off at the middle of every sentence while trying to explain my side of the case. He belittled me and made me anxious at the fact my concerns weren’t been listened to and therefore my children’s thoughts weren’t been viewed or taken seriously.”