Urgent: have your say with the Transparency Review – write in now

There is a Call for Evidence by the President of the Family Division about whether the family courts should be more open.  They are asking people to tell them what think of the “current arrangements which regulate access by journalists and the public to, and the reporting of, information concerning proceedings in the family court” – see details here.  The deadline for comments is Monday 2 March, by email to pfd.office@judiciary.uk Subject: Transparency Review.

We have long campaigned against the secrecy of the family courts, including by picketing monthly outside the central family court in Holborn. Judgements made behind closed doors with no public scrutiny, make it much harder to hold judges, lawyers, social workers, psychologists and other professionals to account for their decisions/actions.  The family courts must be open in the same way as the criminal courts, while protecting children and victims of rape and domestic violence by granting them anonymity.  We will be submitting evidence along these lines (see here from July).

Concerns about the impartiality of the review panel:

We will also raise our serious concern about the composition of the panel which Sir Andrew McFarlane has appointed to oversee the review.  There is grave doubt about the impartiality of two panel members, and about the relevant experience of the other two members.  We call on the President to sack this Panel and appoint people with relevant expertise and a proven track record of impartiality.   If the fathers’ lobby, which denies domestic violence, is to be represented, so must the voices of mothers be heard.

The Panel members are: 

Dr Eia Asen (consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist) with the Marlborough Family Service.  Concerns about his qualifications and his practise have prompted FOI requests, in particular because he is registered with the General Medical Council as Dr Karl Michael Asen yet he practices under a different name.   He appears as an expert witness in cases of domestic violence and almost always finds mothers guilty of “Parental Alienation”, the discredited theory of an abusive paedophile American psychiatrist.  (See Dr Asen cases reported by Family Law Week and on Bailli.)  We are concerned about the connection between McFarlane and Dr Asen; as an expert witness he appeared in front of McFarlane, who agreed with his report against a mother and refused her appeal.  We are also concerned about his connections to CORAM BAAF, the third largest adoption agency in the UK, and to the European Bahai’ Business.  These questions raise serious doubts about his influence on the Review.

Anthony Douglas CBE (former chief executive of CAFCASS).  It is public knowledge that he was instrumental in allowing Families Need Fathers (FNF) and Fathers for Justice to become key stakeholders and members of CAFCASS Service Users Interest Group.  He publicly promotes these misogynistic and domestic violence deniers as being able to influence current developments within CAFCASS and the whole family justice system.  Under his leadership, FNF displayed their leaflets in CAFCASS offices and he spoke at events run by FNF on Parental Alienation.  Given this level of support for the fathers’ lobby, which overwhelmingly hates mothers, Mr Douglas cannot possibly be impartial when it comes to the Review.

Clare Dyer (former Legal Editor of The Guardian) has written very little about the family courts, unlike some other Guardian journalists so presumably has very little experience of them.  Why was she chosen?

Nicola Shaw CBE (Executive Director of National Grid).  Ms Shaw is involved in Network Rail and the National Grid!  What possible connection does this have with the family courts and how can she contribute any expertise to this review, unless the intention is to push for more privatisation of childrens’ services? 

Legal Action for Women, co-ordinates Support Not Separation Coalition