This post is my formal complaint about the activities of the organisation Justice for Families, which I made to its Chairman John Hemming on 8th January 2017. My name is Sarah Phillimore and I am a barrister specialising in child protection law. My concerns about Mr Hemming and his organisation are long standing. You can read more here and here.
I gave Mr Hemming an extension of time until 4pm on 21st February 2017 to respond to this complaint. He replied, via Twitter, that he would not. I thought six weeks was more than enough time to respond to such serious concerns and I made it clear that, in the absence of any substantive response from him, I would publish the complaint today.
Why am I doing this? What’s the point? Who cares?
Because I don’t see what other choice I have. I cannot ‘unknow’ what I know about this group. It’s probably pointless, I concede because no one seems to care. I can speculate about why that is. When I have tried to get journalists interested in this, they respond sadly ‘it’s too complicated’ (if I’m lucky. If I’m not, they simply ignore me).
I suspect ‘it’s too complicated’ is convenient shorthand for something like this “John Hemming is wealthy and litigious. I don’t want the trouble. Plus, I can’t really get too worked up about the kind of people who get mixed up in this. They seem quite unappealing; poor, drunk, mentally ill, can’t look after their kids. Why bother with them? “.
I appreciate that I cannot make people take an interest in or care about what JFF get up to or the people they hurt. I really don’t understand why so many don’t seem to care, why many more people are not angry about the exploitation of the vulnerable and the children put at risk of harm.
I also appreciate that the existence of such groups and the fact that so many parents are desperate enough to turn to them, says nothing good about the current state of the child protection system. It is a tragedy that vulnerable parents believe they have no where else to turn; they are between the rock and the very hard place. The blight of the unscrupulous McKenzie Friend is serious and real, as seen in the recent Victoria Derbyshire programme.
All I can do is all I can to spread awareness about the nature and the extent of the problem we face. If, with that knowledge, you chose to do nothing then that is a matter for your conscience. Mine is clear.
If JFF attempt to involve themselves in any case where I am instructed, I will object. And I will explain very clearly why.
Letter of complaint sent January 8th 2017
Parts of this letter of complaint have been removed prior to publication to ensure compliance with section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 which prohibits publication of matters relating to care proceedings, without permission being obtained first from the court.
Dear Mr Hemming,
1. On 2nd January 2017I asked you via the public electronic communications network Twitter (hereafter Twitter) where I could direct a formal complaint about the activities of the organisation Justice For Families (hereafter JFF) , you as its Chairman and its advisers Tim and Julie Haines. At 22:58 on 2nd January 2017 you replied to say ‘me’. On 5th January 2017 I replied to say that I would make a formal complaint, if time permitted by 6pm on Sunday 8th January 2017. You replied to say that you would respond to that complaint but you could not promise a timescale.
2. The link to the JFF website is no longer valid and I assume therefore this website has been taken down. However I note the Facebook Group ‘Stop Forced Adoption’ is described as the official Facebook Group of Justice for Families Ltd Registered Company No. 06645051.
3. Information from Companies House shows that JFF company was incorporated as a private limited company on Monday 14th July 2008. Its registration status is ‘active’ and the company engages in activities of patent and copyright agents and other legal activities not elsewhere classified. The registered address is Osmond House 78 Alecester Road Birmingham B13 8BB, which is the address to which I will send this complaint. I will also send a copy to you via email to email@example.com, which is the email address you provide on your blog
4. Your confirmation that I should send a formal complaint about the activities of JFF and its members/advisers supports my assumption that you remain the Chairman of this company and the frequent public denouncements you make of the family justice system represent the position adopted by JFF, its advisers and members.
5. I am also sending a copy of this complaint to the Designated Family Judge at the Bristol Civil Justice Centre, being HHJ Wildblood QC. [REDACTED]
6. I shall set out below:
a. The time by which I request a response;
b. My proposed actions if your response is not forthcoming or is inadequate;
c. How I would like you to respond to this complaint;
d. a summary of my complaint and
e. more detailed description of the evidence upon which I rely to support that summary. Any reference I make to a publication made on any public electronic communications network can be supported by a screen shot of that publication, if required.
I request a response to my complaint by 6/2/17.
7. If you do not respond by that date, or I consider that your response is inadequate, I will consider:
a. Making formal complaint about serious misconduct relating to the activities of a private limited company;
b. Make formal complaint to providers of the public electronic communications networks such as Twitter and Facebook and request that the JFF Facebook group is removed or suspended. I note in particular that the JFF Facebook group is currently soliciting copies of court judgments from parents without any reference to permission from the President of the Family Division to conduct such ‘research’
How I would like you to respond to this complaint.
8. The remedy that I seek is that you or any person purporting to operate with the approval of JFF;
a. refrain from further publication of unevidenced, inflammatory or demonstrably false denigration of the family justice system; and
b. refrain from any further publication of any suggestion that parents facing care proceedings should leave the jurisdiction because they cannot secure a fair hearing and
c. remove Tim and Julie Haines forthwith as having any official connection or remuneration from JFF; and
d. take down the ‘Stop Forced Adoption’ Facebook Group.
Summary of my complaint
9. I make this complaint as a family law barrister who for many years has been seriously concerned by the activities of you and your organisation. It is clear to me that the activities of JFF can be criticised under two broad headings
a. Having a serious and detrimental impact on the proper working of the family justice system; and
b. Putting numerous vulnerable parents at risk of or suffering actual financial or emotional exploitation.
10. There are a variety of activities I could cite in support of these contentions. To provide an exhaustive list would make this complaint disproportionately and unhelpfully lengthy. I therefore propose to restrict the substance of this complaint to the following 3 examples to support the broad headings of complaint set out above. However, I must stress that what follows is not intended to be an exhaustive list of reasonable complaints that could be raised against the activities of JFF and I reserve the right to refer to further and better particulars, should this become necessary at any future stage.
JFF consistently, inaccurately and unfairly denigrates the competence and integrity of those working within the family justice system.
This risks undermining the rule of law and the Article 6 ECHR rights of parents in care proceedings. JFF promotes the message that parents will not get a fair hearing in care proceedings in England and Wales: You have stated since at least 2014 on a variety of platforms, that parents should not to engage with their lawyers in care proceedings. You have stated that publicly funded family lawyers are not independent and that it is not possible to get a fair hearing in this country.
JFF facilitates or encourages vulnerable parents to leave the jurisdiction and thus puts them and their children at serious risk of harm.
As a corollary to your frequently stated position that it is not possible for parents to have a fair hearing in care proceedings, JFF has directly facilitated parents leaving the jurisdiction by providing accommodation in the form of a caravan or several caravans at the property in France where Gena Jones lives, despite taking no or no reasonable care to ascertain if Gena Jones is able to provide a safe environment. You know or ought to know that her current partner was responsible for putting Gena Jones in hospital by beating her as she confirmed this in a newspaper interview in 2015.
The JFF ‘Advisers’ Tim and Julie Haines are not fit or proper people to offer advice or assistance to vulnerable parents in care proceedings.
Both have been either abusive or threatening on social media, are prepared to publish false statements about the working of the family courts, encourage parents to make unmeritorious appeals and to share confidential documents. They have wholly failed to be transparent about the amounts they charge parents – there is no published information I can find to confirm what JFF charges parents for any assistance they give.
Evidence in support of the assertions set out above.
11. With regard to the public denigration of the family justice system in general and family lawyers in particular your behaviour in this regard has been longstanding. The examples listed below of your public pronouncements when Chairman of JFF are certainly not intended to be exhaustive. I can provide examples of many more from 2008 to date if required.
12. In 2013 you made an allegation in Parliament about the collusion of family lawyers in a particular case. It was reported here in the Express newspaper :
In a highly unusual accusation, John Hemming said lawyers for Jacque Courtnage colluded with Derbyshire County Council to prevent her analysing a document he believes would have cleared her of abuse allegations.
13. You continue to assert that lawyers who represent local authorities cannot also represent parents as by representing local authorities they have lost their independence and are in breach of their professional duties. A solicitor, Giles Peake, attempted to explain to you in 2016 why this was not so, and he commented in the following terms:
Why is this important? Why pay attention to the ramblings of a former MP whose credibility has been demolished by the Courts? Because a lot of desperate and unhappy people do pay attention to him. His advice, including recommending to parents fleeing abroad to frustrate care proceedings, has been acted upon by people. If Mr Hemming now suggests trying to challenge lawyers on the erroneous basis of conflict of interest, or worse, that people should consider a prospective lawyer to be tainted with conflict of interest if they have ever acted for the other side, he is damaging people’s interests, stupidly and unnecessarily.
14. The article in the Independent on 12th January 2014 states with regard to yourself:
“An MP has advised parents suspected of abusing or neglecting their children to leave the country if they fear being denied a fair hearing in the family courts”. It is written with reference to your appearance on the BBC Panorama Programme ‘I want my baby back’ which aired on 13th January 2014.
You are quoted on the BBC News website on 13th January 2014 in this way:
He said the process was so unfair that parents should leave the country to avoid social services and the courts. “All the cards are held by the local authority. It has large resources to fight the cases – it does all the assessments,” he said. “My advice to people – if they can afford it – is just to go abroad. You can’t get a fair trial here, because you can’t rely on the evidence being fair.
15. I have commented about your activities in encouraging parents to leave the jurisdiction and go to Gena Jones house in the following post, published on my website www.childprotectionresource.online on September 17th 2016. I have repeatedly asked you to explain the circumstances in which women are sent to Gena Jones; you have repeatedly failed to reply.
16. The comments on this post are interesting. Gena herself confirms:
“John hemmings have put families in my direction for advice” and “John hemming helped pay towards a caravan that is in my garden that some parents stay but often they moan that they want to stay in my home and get to sleep in a real bed. He’s put about 4 or families I think for advice and it’s advice about the laws in France i.e. Social services rights how to look for a place to rent every day living stuff”. Gena confirms that many of those who come to her are vulnerable, having substance abuse issues and mental health difficulties: “Many of the parents who came to mind could not cope with the culture shock the isolation as there’s no shop or towns for miles and many have issues i.e. Drug drink and mental health !”
17. I have been sent extremely worrying information via Facebook from a number of mothers who say they stayed at Gena’s. This includes allegations of serious verbal abuse and money and possessions being taken from them. I am told the French police have been involved. I have been sent pictures of Gena’s partner posing with what looks like an assault rifle. I have been sent copies of various messages posted by Gena on social media sites in aggressive terms and using extremely foul language.
18. Tim Haines seems confused about whether or not JFF have given advice to people about staying or not staying with Gena. He confirmed on 19th September 2016 there had been a JFF meeting to discuss Gena because they were aware that a JFF client had gone to Gena’s ‘expressly against JFF advice’. However, he then claimed that JFF did not give such advice to any parent.
19. Tim Haines has made further abusive and threatening comments online following my publication of the blog post referred to above.
a. On the blog post itself he commented: “The only other comment I intend to make is that the rest of this article is stuffed with inaccuracies and half-truths, and a barrister ought to be ashamed of themselves for concocting such a stack of bollocks – unless, of course, they are so used to doing that for a living that they didn’t even notice!”
b. I have been sent copies of messages Tim Haines sent to one of the women who alerted me to the situation at Gena’s. I consider his message to be abusive and threatening and it confirms that JFF had serious concerns about the situation at Gena’s. He says: ‘I sent you a private message and you passed it to Sarah Phillimore? How fucking dare you! You just did yourself big damage’; further
c. ‘Because Phillimore has posted a whole page of bullshit blog attacking JH. YOU are doing more harm than good. Contacting Phiullimore (sic) is NOT the way to get Gena shut down’
20. With regard to how the Haines are paid for what they do; Tim Haines claims that he and Julie Haines claim only ‘out of pocket expenses’ but refuses to elaborate on what this means or how much is usually claimed (see Tweet 19/9/16 09:19).However I received a message from one parent via Facebook complaining that Tim Haines ‘has slated me for £1,500’ (tweet 20/09/16 23.03). Tim’s reply is ‘bollocks’ (Tweet 20/09/16 23.22). Tim Haines states ‘I’m paid a small wage which covers the work for JFF clients. At least I have goodness in my heart’ (Tweet 19/09/16 12.26) but refuses to elaborate on how much he is paid or by whom. He calls me ‘twisted’ and ‘an idiot’ (19/09/16 12.52/19/01/16 12.57) then ‘stupid, deaf, illiterate’ (19/09/16 13.03) and someone who made a career out of ‘wrecking families’ (Tweet 19/09/16 10.46).
21. Worryingly, he states that JFF is a small organisation ‘and can only assist a small fraction of the thousands of parents who approach us’. (Tweet 19/09/16 14.07).
22. Julie Haines [REDACTED]
28. I further noted the following examples of how Mrs Haines choses to express herself on a Facebook page that is open to all:
a. 25.12.16 ‘To all social wankers hope you enjoyed having a day off child stealing Happy Christmas!
b. ‘Sunday’ ‘from us three here to all of you. Let’s keep getting the bastards. Make 2017 count. We’ll still be here with you. ‘
c. ‘Saturday’ ‘Forced Adoption is ‘not exceptional in law’ I believe this is the key to getting the child stealing Nazi’s/Marxists stopped’.
29. In light of this kind of behaviour from Mr and Mrs Haines, it is very alarming to note that the JFF Facebook is publishing the following statement urging parents to send copies of court judgments to them:
JFF is asking all parents who have a Placement Order Judgement from within the last six years, if they could kindly send copies by email to (firstname.lastname@example.org). We want to reassure you that it is completely confidential and that these can be sent in confidence. The purpose of this request is to accurately assess whether or not children are forcibly adopted legally e.g: if dispensation to parental consent has been dispensed correctly. The stats and information we get from this will be given to John Hemming to use in Parliament and possibly for a media campaign regarding numbers of children illegally kept under a Placement Order and or Adopted’.
30. I consider that it is highly inappropriate to encourage parents to send to the Haines such documents. Not only is this a potential contempt of court, I raise serious doubts about the Haines’ abilities to fairly assess the quality of decision making, on such limited information and with such a clear pre-stated bias towards an assumption that children are ‘illegally kept’.
31. It does not appear that JFF have sought any necessary permission from the President of the Family Division to conduct any legitimate ‘research’ in this way and therefore such solicitation of such sensitive documents must cease immediately.
32. I shall await your response with interest.