If there are two edicts I try to follow whenever I’m writing, they are, first, write what is true and, second, avoid cliche at all costs. I bring that up only as a preface before saying the following: the UK is walking down an Orwellian path. It’s nearly the cliche of cliches to say something like this, and yet it happens that the cliche is true.
While there is most certainly a real thing known as a threat from Islamic terrorism, there is also such a thing as overreaction. What started as the British government’s attempt to ban extremist thought from social media and television (under the notion that some thoughts are too dangerous to enjoy the freedom that other thoughts deserve) then devolved into the conscripting of teachers that were to be on the lookout for children that might become radicalized. To assist them with this, the government helpfully provided spy-software to use against students. Spy-software which itself was found to be exploitable in the most laughably easy of ways. This employed two of the most horrifying aspects of Orwell’s Oceania: the concept of thought-crime and the employ of citizens to fearfully surveil one another.
And now it seems the UK is going even further, adopting Oceania’s reputation for the swallowing up of citizens should they be found suspect of thought-crime by those watchful citizens. Specifically, the Family Division of the Judiciary has put out a memo declaring exactly how it will remove children from the homes of anyone it suspects might radicalize those children. Here’s a snippet.
Recent months have seen increasing numbers of children cases coming before the Family Division and the Family Court where there are allegations or suspicions: that children, with their parents or on their own, are planning or attempting or being groomed with a view to travel to parts of Syria controlled by the so-called Islamic State; that children have been or are at risk of being radicalised; or that children have been or at are at risk of being involved in terrorist activities either in this country or abroad.
Only a local authority can start care proceedings (see section 31(1) of the Children Act 1989 – the police powers are set out in section 46). However, any person with a proper interest in the welfare of a child can start proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction or apply to make a child a ward of court.2 Usually, in cases falling within the description in paragraph 1 above, it will be the local authority which starts proceedings under the inherent jurisdiction or applies to make a child a ward of court, and the court would not expect the police (who have other priorities and responsibilities) to do so. There is, however, no reason why in a case where it seems to the police to be necessary to do so, the police should not start such proceedings for the purposes, for example, of making a child a ward of court, obtaining an injunction to prevent the child travelling abroad, obtaining a passport order, or obtaining a Tipstaff location or collection order. Given the complexities of these cases, I have decided that, for the time being at least, all cases falling within the description in paragraph 1 above are to be heard by High Court Judges of the Family Division.
In other words, the High Court Judges within the Family Division are now tasked with determining whether children will be made wards of the state based solely on suspicions of possible radicalization. Children torn from mothers and fathers in Muslim homes will be subject to the whims and inherently flawed watch of the larger citizenry. A citizenry, mind you, that has had its vigilance unduly ramped up by the government’s past actions and requests. It’s hard to imagine a better recipe for the unfair targeting of Muslim families than this. Unfortunately for all concerned, this same memo imagined just such a recipe, making things even worse.
Judges hearing cases falling within the description in paragraph 1 above will wish to be alert to: (a) the need to protect the Article 6 rights of all the parties;4 (b) the fact that much of the information gathered by the police and other agencies will not be relevant to the issues before the court; (c) the fact that some of the information gathered by the police and other agencies is highly sensitive and such that its disclosure may damage the public interest or even put lives at risk; (d) the need to avoid inappropriately wide or inadequately defined requests for disclosure of information or documents by the police or other agencies; (e) the need to avoid seeking disclosure from the police or other agencies of information or material which may be subject to PII, or the disclosure of which might compromise ongoing investigations, damage the public interest or put lives at risk, unless the judge is satisfied that such disclosure is “necessary to enable the court to resolve the proceedings justly” within the meaning given to those words when used in, for example, sections 32(5) and 38(7A) of the Children Act 1989 and section 13(6) of the Children and Families Act 2014; (f) the need to safeguard the custody of, and in appropriate cases limit access to, any sensitive materials provided to the court5 by the police or other agencies;6…
It goes on from there, essentially giving courts and law enforcement an absolute free pass to deny the court open access and review of the very intelligence that landed the case before it in the first place. This is a memo designed to create a court system by which Muslim parents will lose their children and won’t even be told why, or have the opportunity to rebut evidence against them, as no evidence need be presented. This isn’t just overreaction, it’s terrifyingly provocative action designed with one target in mind and built on the back of a process designed to be flawed in favor of a government that apparently can’t get its head on straight.
Nobody means to suggest that there is no threat that the UK might face from Islamic terrorists and/or extremists. But you simply don’t adopt the tactics of Orwell to combat that threat. Not if you want to claim your own people remain free, that is.