On 5th January I made a formal complaint to John Hemming about the activities of the Justice For Families group, [JFF] of which (I assume) he remains the Chair. I raised a significant number of very serious concerns, including that the activities of JFF put vulnerable parents and children at risk of harm by facilitating or encouraging them to leave the country rather than face care proceedings.
I have never received a reply to this complaint. Hopefully, now that Mr Hemming is now freed from the demands of his time spent electioneering, he can devote some time to answering the very serious issues I raise about how JFF operates and how it makes money.
I raise this matter again for two reasons. First because of the recent publication of research in McKenzie Friends which worryingly, establishes that they are more active outside the court room, where presumably they are subject to very little scrutiny – or none at all.
Second, because I have received the following information from a Ms Green about Tim and Julie Haines, the two most active and high profile ‘advisers’ for JFF.
I quote Ms Green’s email to me:
I contacted Julie Haines through a Facebook group. She and her husband Tim Haines met with us claiming that although they don’t cost as much as a solicitor, they would need to be paid as they “don’t work for nothing” and need to “pay their bills”.
However, once meeting with the Haines, they soon went through everything and said there would be a very good chance they could get our children back but there would be a cost. That cost was £1,500. We paid two payments of £500 as we met with them at least 2 maybe 3 times.
These payments paid for a pathetic attempt at a “grounds of appeal” and a “Skeleton argument”. Had we have got a hearing at London’s RCJ we would have had to pay another £500. However our appeal was refused.
We didn’t appear to hear from them after that and we knew they still had the major documents (doctors reports, professionals witness statements,etc). We asked for these back and they said at first they would see what the cost was to send them back and insisted they had a tracking number which already meant they had paid for it. We waited week and nothing. Two weeks…. decided to contact them and they insisted it had been posted and that they would check with their post office. I asked for the tracking number only to be ignored.
My texts and WhatsApp messenger soon got blocked. So we contacted them on facebook. Told them we wanted our documents back and began to tell other members on facebook to warn them only to be abused and blocked then removed feom the group. I found a few others who had encountered the same problem with large payments for next to nothing work (we printed everything) and then the theft of our documents. My husband then contacted Tim and all he got was denial and lies. Then told people on facebook our case “was never going to be successful” yet soon took our money and built up our hopes knowing we lent this money from my pensioner mum and that money was the last of my dad’s from when he died.
They insisted we go to “bank of mum and dad” but they fooled us into thinking we would win this and we didn’t. We travelled to [REDACTED] to them for all this. As much as we love our daughter so much, we now wished we didn’t bother to go to the Haines as we were just desperate targets.
We threatened [to go to] the police and they told us to go ahead, that they wouldnt find anything there. Told us also is we persisted to “harass” them, they would take us to court. So they now go on to make thousands from desperate families for rubbish knowledgeless court bundles and empty promises.
In 2010 I had a run in with the Information Commissioner after I left two files of confidential documents in my car. They were stolen after my car was broken into. I was very lucky to escape with a reprimand, rather than the £40K fine which could have been imposed on me as a data controller. The ICO told me that if this happened again, my career would be over.
And this is absolutely as it should be. If I want the status, the interesting work and the money that comes from holding myself out as someone capable of dealing with people’s confidential information and advising them at the most difficult times of their lives, I have to hold myself out to be accountable. If I fail to meet the necessary high standards demanded by my profession. I should be removed from that profession, to protect those vulnerable people who might otherwise fall victim to my incompetence.
So what redress do vulnerable parents have against JFF or the Haines? Are they registered with the ICO as data handlers? What processes does JFF have in place to keep confidential information safe? What is their charging structure? Are they insured? What training do either Tim or Julie have?
We don’t know the answers to any of those questions. JFF and the Haines are utterly unaccountable, offering ‘services’ to the desperate and vulnerable with no guarantee of quality or redress if they get things wrong. This is simply wrong on every level.
As I doubt very much Mr Hemming will ever answer my questions, perhaps he and the Haines can do what they have been threatening for over a year – take me to court for ‘defamation’. So these issues can be ventilated in open court and a decision made about who is telling the truth.
EDIT – GUIDANCE FOR THOSE CONSIDERING APPROACHING A MKF
See this article I wrote with Paul Magrath and note in particular the questions we think you should be asking:
What questions should I ask?
For those who cannot afford legal representation however, a good quality McKenzie friend can be a real help. We suggest that any one looking to get help from a McKenzie friend should consider the following questions and issues.
1.What are their credentials? Have they been trained in any related or relevant profession (not law, but maybe accountancy, police or social work)?
2.If they charge, how much are they charging and for what?
3.Have you checked whether you could get a similar service from a lawyer? (Some lawyers will “unbundle” services to provide, say, a consultation to help identify the issues in the case and how best to prepare the paperwork.)
4.What level of experience do they have in the kind of proceedings you are engaged in?
5.Can they provide references? Does their website include testimonials and, if so, can you check them?
6.How did you find them? (Or did they find you?) Have you googled them, checked Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media for comments by or about them?
7.Do they have an agenda? If they are from a volunteer organisation, what is their reason for volunteering? Are they promoting an agenda, and if so, does that accord with your case or might it be a distraction?
8.Have you searched on BAILII or other legal websites to see whether they have been cited or referred to in judgments – either adversely (such as those quoted above) or with approval (though it is rare for judges specifically to mention McKenzie Friends unless they cause trouble).
AEY v AL (Family Proceedings Civil Restraint Order)  EWHC 3253 (Fam) – discussion of how and when civil restrain orders can be made to prevent unreasonable litigators taking up the court’s time.