(TELEGRAPH) – The case of Alessandra Pacchieri, the Italian woman whose baby was forcibly delivered, has prompted a significant judgment from Sir James Munby, head of the family courts. Sir James Munby said the case demonstrated the need for a radical change on family court transparency.
I was planning to report the heartwarming story of how a devoutly Christian husband and wife were last week miraculously reunited in time for Christmas with their four young children – who, for quite bizarre reasons, had been taken unhappily into foster care by social workers. An unusually sensible judge eventually excoriated the social workers for all that had been done to this family and ordered them to hand back the bewildered children to their distraught parents. But the mother then asked me to hold back on telling their story until the new year.
In fact, delaying that story could not be more opportune, because I need to report on a very important judgment given last Tuesday by Lord Justice Munby, now head of our family courts. This was in the much-publicised case first revealed here of the pregnant Italian mother, Alessandra Pacchieri, who, on a brief visit to Britain, had her baby forcibly delivered by a caesarean section on the secret orders of Mr Justice Mostyn, before the child was sent by Essex social workers for adoption.
Munby’s judgment, in response to an application by Essex for an injunction on further reporting of the case that has been covered across the world, takes further than ever before his crusade to meet the growing criticism of our dysfunctional “child protection” system by exposing it to “the glare of publicity”.
His most trenchant passage answers all those legal bloggers who rushed to criticise me and others for our coverage of this disturbing story by asking “how can the family justice system blame the media for inaccuracy in the reporting of family cases if for whatever reason none of the relevant information has been put before the public?”
“This case,” Munby went on, “must surely stand as a final, stark and irrefutable demonstration of the pressing need for radical changes in the way in which both the family courts and the Court of Protection approach what for shorthand I will refer to as transparency. We simply cannot go on as hitherto.”
Already Munby had dramatically demonstrated his point by urging Mr Justice Mostyn to authorise publication of the Court of Protection proceedings in which he ignored the recommendation of a “multi-agency report” that the Italian mother and her baby should stay together. These showed that Mostyn not only ruled in secret that the mother should be forcibly delivered of her baby, but that she also should not be told that Essex would almost immediately remove her child into care.
Munby criticised Essex for five failures to follow proper legal procedures. But he has obviously not yet been made aware that when last October Essex moved for the child to be adopted, they only notified Ms Pacchieri of what was to happen the previous day, in an encrypted email she was unable to read because they did not give her the correct code. They also misinformed Munby and everyone else with a statement claiming that, when the mother took proceedings in the Italian high court, this ruled that the child “should remain in England”. A translation of the court judgment shows that it did nothing of the kind. It found that the treatment of the mother by the British authorities “poses an irreconcilable conflict with the fundamental rights of the child”. The Rome court found that the case should have been handled differently in every respect, and that the UK “court decision cannot be recognised”.
In fact, the Italian government has now briefed London lawyers that it wishes to be represented in any further hearings of the case. Munby noted that no application for a further hearing has yet been made by Ms Pacchieri’s English solicitor, Brendan Fleming, but this is because no legal funding is likely to be made available to them. Fleming regards the case as so important that he is willing to work on it for no fee, but to defray the remaining costs he is setting up a “fighting fund”, which he hopes will allow the case to proceed as soon as possible.
We have not heard the last of this story, and Sir James Munby deserves commendation for his determination to ensure that justice should be done – and that it must be clearly seen to be done.
Please see original story: Judge must unravel saga of baby snatched from womb.