Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg

Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg
Justitia, Old Bridge of Heidelberg © Gernot Keller, 2007
Blinkered Justice articles also appear on CrimeTalk and Government In The Lab

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Make it green: London 2012 and 'greenwashing'


Think green (c) Melissa Goldstein
A final post on London 2012, this time on 'greenwashing'. For those unaware of this concept, it is similar to 'whitewashing'. Greenwashing tends to take place when an organisation/enterprise makes a big deal of their green credentials, and promotes a particular aspect of their ethical commitment to the environment. Simultaneously, many organisations and enterprises continue to damage it in other ways.

Whilst LOCOG and the Commission for a Sustainable London (CSL) 2012 consider that LOCOG are well on their way to meeting their sustainability objectives, these reports and reviews are somewhat biased.  CSL are part funded by LOCOG, as well as others with a commercial interest in London 2012, and they report to the Chair of LOCOG, Lord Coe. This makes CSL's claim to independence a little far-fetched. Therefore, I am going to use the concerns raised in my last post to guide this.

As London 2012's Sustainability Plan: Towards a One Planet 2012 (hereafter called The Plan)evinces on page 23:

The unique opportunity afforded by the Games is to inspire large numbers of people to participate and actively endeavour to be more sustainable...
...and our call for people and organisations to help us make the Games more sustainable by taking their own small steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.
This is the rationale behind the Team Green Britain launched by EDF Energy, a London 2012 Sustainability Partner, in July 2009...
EDF have been advertising this project for a couple of years now. They have made a particular point of projecting their green credentials onto the British public by using a green Union Jack to symbolise its association with us and to our environment. To embed the idea even further, they offer prizes to schools that go green.

However, as Maxine Newlands points out in her well-written critique of London 2012 and its green credentials:
However, this flag was already the logo of Ecotricity, an alternative energy company providing electricity from renewables such as wind and wave. Since 1996 it had been using a green union jack to signal green power. The co-opting of an already established image opens EDF and, by proxy, the London Olympic Organising Committee (LOGOC) to accusations of greenwashing. The logic of the accusation is as follows: any organisation which borrows another’s icon may also be just borrowing its values for the sake of a strong image.
Maxine Newlands also refers to EDF's decision to pull out of using a wind turbine to power the games because of concerns over the financial benefits of using wind power. A decision that she thinks led to the ODA reducing their sustainability targets from 20% to 15%. in 2006. Perversely, given what happened next, the wind turbine contract was given to Ecotricity.

BP embarked on greenwashing their image over a decade ago. Formerly, British Petroleum, now, Beyond Petroleum, with a nice change of logo, they adopted the words used by the environmental movement in their advertisements to showcase their move into environmental sustainability. Yet Greenpeace noted that BP had only invested 6.8% of its funding on alternative energy sources in 2008, with 93% spent extracting oil, gas and other fossil fuels. BP continue to contradict their green ethos, in their efforts to dredge more of the earths's natural resources held in tar sands. The methods used in the extraction of crude oil from these sands is more harmful and dangerous to the environment than conventional forms.

Ecomagination windmill birdsnest stadium (c) kafka4prez

Without any hint of irony, GE have gone straight to the heart of environmental discourse , entitling their PR/advertising campaign, “Ecomagination.” Along with printed press advertisements depicting green leaves emanating from power plants, GE have even launched a separate ecomagination website. Yet, as the global executive director of advertising and branding at GE, Judy Hu, remarked to Brandweek (now Adweek) in 2006, just 1 year after the launch of Ecomagination:
Green is green as in the colour of money,”...
 ..“It is a business opportunity, and we believe we can increase our revenue behind these Ecomagination products and services.”
The clear motive in this statement is money and profit. Not the environment.

In 2009, The Wall Street Journal reported that on GE's relative success with its Ecomagination products. However, the report noted that the definition of the 'green' products that it was selling as part of the Ecomagination line was widening:
...Or take nuclear power. Three years ago, none of GE’s reactors were part of the “ecomagination” energy lineup; today both “Advanced Boiling Water Reactors” and “Economic Simplified Boiler Water Reactors” are part of the mix...
Moving such products under a green platform is at the least misleading. At its worst, it represents the co-opting of the nice, green, environmental ideas that you and I have for the good of the planet, but using them specifically to hide behind (Ecomagination) to generate further profits for GE.

As well as their choice of partners, I am concerned that London 2012 is 'greenwashing' from within. In their introduction to The Plan on page 5, LOCOG write:
The London 2012 sustainability story is guided by the theme of ‘Towards a one planet Olympics’. Derived from the WWF/BioRegional concept of One Planet Living®1, this recognises that as a global society, we are living beyond the regenerative capacity of our planet.
 Note that London 2012's idea of sustainability is only derived from the WWF/Bioregional concept of One Planet Living. The themes that LOCOG have chosen are used quite differently to those put forward in the WWF and Bioregional principles. LOCOG appear to be using them specifically in a local context, ignoring the global idea behind sustainability, that it ebbs and flow from the local to the global and back again. Whilst I accept that neither the WWF nor Bioregional are corporate partners, I find it odd that neither they nor London 2012 feature much on each others sites, given the supposed importance of The Plan. There are no logos, no links, few headlines. Why not?
Sebastian Coe (c) Mohan
Just because you say that you are conforming to sustainable development, does not mean that you are. LOCOG's choice of sustainable partners, in particular EDF, BP and GE, is worrying given their histories of abuse and their hijacking of environmental discourse. To make the games sustainable, LOCOG should have chosen partners who genuinely promote sustainable development. Equally, they should terminate the contracts of those companies who are granted partner status, yet continue to abuse this (one) planet.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

London 2012: sustainable partners?

Countdown to 2012 (c) Pittaya Sroilong
Following my recent post on London 2012 and Dow, I have decided to look at other partners that the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) are using. As LOCOG are using ideas of sustainabilitythis article will focus on their sustainability partners. 


I am using London 2012's Sustainability Plan: Towards a One Planet 2012 (hereafter called The Plan) as the guiding framework for my analysis and comment. The plan was approved initially in June 2006 before receiving final approval in December 2009. LOCOG chose its six sustainability partners between July 2007 and November 2009 - i.e. when the plan was being finalised. As such, this makes it the most relevant document through which to assess London 2012's sustainability. The plan is based around 5 priority themes; climate change, waste, biodiversity, inclusion and healthy living. 


The six sustainability partners that were chosen are BMW, BP, BT, Cisco, EDF and GE. EDF was chosen to be the first London 2012 partner. Page 22/23  of The Plan on climate change notes the importance of influencing change in behaviours:
...This is entirely in keeping with the London 2012 vision and our call for people and organisations to help us make the Games more sustainable by taking their own small steps to reduce their own carbon footprint...
EDF have recently been fined £1.3 million by a French court, and two of its employees have been sent to jail, after hiring a company called Kargus Consultants to spy on Greenpeace over several years. I wonder whether they measured the extra energy they used, and paid for the carbon emissions as part of this fine. Akin to the ongoing hacking case with News International, I also wonder whether more people within EDF knew of this 'crime'.


EDF are a major player in the nuclear industry. In 2009, they were accused of secretly dumping uranium in Siberia. EDF are due to build the next generation of nuclear power plants in the UK. The Guardian reported that thanks to their lobbying efforts, they have now been granted what amounts to a taxpayer's subsidy for the disposal of nuclear waste. Corporate Watch also note safety issues at the Areva EPR reactor in France. This reactor is similar to the proposed new generation of reactors to be built in the UK. Perhaps there is something to this, given the explosion at an EDF owned nuclear waste plant in France two months ago. EDF fall some way short of sustainability. climate change, waste and healthy living. 


As for the most unreliable sustainable candidate and partner, BP surely has to take the biscuit. Besides their toxic mismanagement and cover-up of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, BP have have a long history of pollution. Prior to Deepwater, the last 2 major incidents took place at the Texas City Refinery in 2005 and Prudhoe Bay in 2006.  In both cases, BP sought to deflect the blame and cover-up evidence, yet in both cases they were found to have been trying to minimise costs at the expense of human and animal life. 


Along with other oil giants, BP have had to pay settlements to public water providers in the USA, because an additive that they used in their process contaminated the groundwater. The lawsuit alleged that BP, and others, would have known of the detrimental effects of this chemical.   


Page 47 of The Plan states:
Inclusion underpins all other sustainability themes – poorer people and minority groups are the first to feel the effects of climate change and declining biodiversity – and has a particularly close link to health. Deprivation also remains a strong determinant of ill-health. It responds to the One Planet Living® principles of health and happiness, equity and fair trade, and culture and heritage.
Platform supply vessels battle the blazing remnants of the off
shore oil rig Deepwater Horizon (c) US Coast Guard
This being the case, and with BP's less than favourable sustainability history, how did they ever get the gig? Following Deepwater, why do they remain a sustainable partner? If anyone from LOCOG happens upon this article, could you please explain how BP were chosen as a sustainability partner, and why they continue to represent London 2012. 


Polluting the earth's waterways has also been a problem for GE. Over a number of years, GE polluted the Hudson river, killing off a large number of fish in the river, although some have evolved. For humans, the primary health risk came from eating contaminated fish, as the pollutants are considered carcinogenic, and have been linked to other diseases and disorders. There have been problems with the clean up too, as GE have failed to follow U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines in removing sufficient volumes of the toxins.  


Referring to Page 41 of The Plan:
Biodiversity is essential to the global economy, serving a vital function in climate change mitigation and adaptation, watershed management, provision of sustainable natural resources and enhancing the quality of life that we enjoy.
This ties in with ideas of healthy living. In 2008, The New York Times reported that workers employed by GE, involved in a joint venture with Xiamen Topstar Lighting in China, were unaware that they were working with mercury. Furthermore, the report by Policy Matters Ohio indicated that Chinese labour laws were being flouted; workers were working longer than the maximum allowed, they were not being paid overtime, they were not given salary slips and had to forego a month's wages if they chose to quit without permission. Again, why were GE chosen to represent London 2012? 


Sourcewatch note that Cisco purchase their products from Tyco Electronics in China, who have also been accused of similar malpractices. BT have a partnership with Bezeq International who provide telecommunications to Israeli settlements and the West Bank. As for BMW, the last company to be granted the coveted sustainable partner status, I have found nothing that might suggest any wrongdoing on their part. 


So what does all this tell us about London 2012, sustainability and the Olympics?  
The core promise of the London 2012 Games – as expressed in the final bid presentation to the IOC in Singapore in 2005 – is to connect young people to sport and the Olympic and Paralympic values.
So write LOCOG on Page 77 of The Plan. The Olympic and Paralympic values are respect, excellence, friendship, courage, determination, inspiration and equality. Given that LOCOG chose EDF, BP and GE as sustainability partners, there is little to suggest that London 2012 fits in to the Olympic and Paralympic ideals of respect, friendship and equality. Nor would I call these partners excellent, courageous or inspirational, although I would acknowledge that they are determined. Determined to profit from loss, and determined to profit from London 2012. 

Thursday, 24 November 2011

British Human Rights abuses in Iraq

Iraq war protest poster (c) Random McRandomhead

Reprinted in full from The Pryer

Over 100 Iraqi civilians have won their case in the UK Court of Appeal for an public inquiry to be held into alleged abuses they suffered at the hands of British military personnel. This follows an earlier decision that a public hearing was not necessary because the UK government had set up the Iraq Historic Allegations Team (IHAT) to look into these allegations. Today's ruling questions the independence of IHAT. But more than this, we should be concerned with the role of UK government, its tentacles of office and their efforts to bypass human rights legislation. In this case, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and G4S. 

Back in June, the BBC reported that IHAT had conducted interviews with just one of the alleged victims in the first 7 months of its work. Furthermore, the complainants and those representing them claim that investigators are not following agreed guidelines in gathering their evidence. Whilst the independence of IHAT has rightly been questioned, given that some of the investigators had served with a military police unit responsible for detaining Iraqi civilians, of the 83 members of staff in IHAT, 38 have been provided by G4S. 

G4S have a rather checkered history, including their handling of people of different ethnic origins. Re-branded several times over the last decade (Group 4, Group 4 Falck, Group 4 Securicor), an industrial tribunal upheld a racial discrimination claim against Group 4 submitted by a job applicant. The Prisons and Probations Ombudsman found evidence of several racist incidents involving employees of Group 4 Falck running the Yarls Wood detention centre, including one assault that they had failed to investigate properly. Only last year, 3 G4S employees were arrested in connection with the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an Angolan refugee, who was being escorted on a flight from the UK. A year before in Australia, a coroner found that G4S security guards had contributed to the death of an Aboriginal man who had been arrested for drink driving.

Some of the Iraqi complainants have alleged rape. Any interview would require an investigator to be compassionate and culturally sensitive - not characteristics associated with G4S. This begs the question as to why the UK government, and in this case, the MoD, would contract G4S in the commission of obtaining evidence from Iraqi nationals. Are the MoD afraid of what a public inquiry might find out?

If the public inquiry into the death of Baha Mousa is anything to go by, then yes. In September, The Telegraph reported:
 The inquiry, chaired by Sir William Gage, a retired judge, found the Ministry of           Defence guilty of a “corporate failure” to uphold basic standards by allowing rules to go “largely forgotten”. While clearing the soldiers’ unit, the 1st Bn Queen’s Lancashire Regiment, of having an “entrenched culture of violence”, he said it was clear the abuses were not a one-off.
Consequently, lawyers for families of victims may yet prosecute the 19 soldiers implicated by the report, despite the fact that several had already been acquitted in military tribunals. This backs up the concerns raised in today's judgement regarding the independence of such investigations.

I do not condone the actions of any military personnel who may have, or may not have, abused Iraqi civilians, but the MoD, and the UK government, should be held more accountable for these abuses. That Sir William Gage found the MoD guilty of corporate failure to uphold basic standards of engagement, implies that human rights abuses are tolerated institutionally. That being the case, and given that soldiers become institutionalised within a hierarchical atmosphere in which they have to follow the orders of their seniors, is it a surprise that some troops may have committed human right abuses? More pertinently, if human rights abuses are tolerated institutionally, is it right that they stand alone accused of human rights abuses?

The legality of the UK government's intervention in Iraq is debatable. Although this is not the space for this argument, it has implications for those who have suffered abuse and for those soldiers accused of abuse. We should not forget that the MoD has been found wanting in ensuring that troops got the resources that they needed. For families of some UK soldiers who were killed in Iraq, the MoD has been found guilty of negligence. In other words, soldiers were fighting on behalf of an UK government who failed to supply them with what they needed. 

From fighting negligence claims by nuclear test veterans who suffered ill health, including cancer, to contaminating Dalgety Bay, the MoD cares little for its troops or the British public. Perhaps the final paragraph of The Telegraph article is most telling:
Despite the criticism, Dr Fox rejected a key recommendation in the report for a blanket ban on so-called “harsh” questioning methods, warning that lives could be put at risk unless the Forces could deploy all “necessary” techniques.
Why then should soldiers stand alone accused of human rights abuses, when the UK government sponsors and tolerates abuse in the UK and elsewhere?



Sunday, 13 November 2011

London 2012: Condoning corporate crime - update

Wall painting outside Union Carbide site, Bhopal, India (c) Yann
Just a short update.


Although it should be visible, I am not sure whether my additional comment to the last post can be seen by all. Therefore, please see below:


Further to the above article, the Editor of CrimeTalk has sent me the following link to Pearce and Tombs' criminological reassessment of the Bhopal tragedy:


http://www.crimetalk.org.uk/library/section-list/38-frontpage-articles/469-bhopal-reassessment-part4.html


Amongst others, I have been in touch with Lorraine Close from www.bhopal.org, who has lodged an earlier petition on www.change.org re. Dow and the Olympics. Please click here to sign this petition in order so that we can co-ordinate a response. I am about to edit the link to my earlier post.


In the meantime, enjoy the rest of your weekend. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

London 2012: Condoning corporate crime

Bhopal-Union Carbide memorial (c) Luca Frediani 
I was disgusted to read this story in The Independent the other day. Dow Chemical Company (Dow), the majority shareholder of Union Carbide who are allegedly culpable for the deaths of 25,000 people in Bhopal in 1984, have been awarded "exclusive marketing rights" to the Olympic stadium. 


Whilst they bought the company in 2001, litigation is outstanding in India over the paltry payments made to the victims, and they have since failed to decontaminate the site properly. According to Amnesty, 100,000 people continue to suffer from health problems. There has never been a proper, full investigation into what caused the leak in Bhopal, and nobody has been brought to justice for the deaths, injuries and other harms associated with the leak. 


Furthermore, Dow Agrosciences, a Dow subsidiary, have been blacklisted by the Indian government for bribing government officials in their quest to register three pesticides. This appears to relate to Dow's involvement in the GM food industry and something called the Codex Alimentarius Commission (yes?!). Robert Verkerk produced the following analysis on Ethical Consumer, snippets of which follow:
The Codex Alimentarius Commission is heavily influenced by some of the most powerful industries on the planet, including the food, agricultural, biotech and pharmaceutical industries. Codex’s stated purpose is to ensure that global trade is facilitated and trade barriers are removed, while also ensuring that consumers are adequately protected.
It is therefore no great surprise that Codex has seen fit to ‘green light’ many GM foods, food additives, pesticide residues, synthetic hormones and other intrinsically unhealthy food components. It also has substantially dumbed down organic standards, making them more accessible to large agricultural players. Consumer interests are often seemingly low on Codex’s list of priorities...
 ...With its huge scope and influence, there is one thing that Codex Alimentarius does not do, and that is look at the bigger picture.  It does not begin to address the issue of how we will ensure that present and future generations are able to eat within the limits of the planet's resources.  Food safety and food security, in this context, are worlds apart.
 A report completed in 2008 following four years of research, carried out by over 400 world experts in agriculture, found that many of the risks associated with modern biotechnology are “as yet unknown”. It also specifically highlighted the problems relating to the proprietary nature of biotech products, and the potential for patented GM crops to “undermine local practices that enhance food security and economic sustainability”...
...The Codex Commission stands accused of being unduly influenced by corporate interests, represented by trade bodies with observer status.  A peek behind the scenes indicates that this does deserve further scrutiny.
 The International Life Sciences Institute (ISLI) is one such organisation.  Its members, which are solely companies, include the Big Daddies of biotech, biofuels, and pharma:  Cargill, Monsanto, Bayer, Dow Chemical, Pfizer and GlaxoSmithKline.  Food manufacturers include Mars, Kraft, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, NestlĂ©, PepsiCo, Unilever, and Tate & Lyle. 
 The ISLI's 2009 Annual Report states that 68% of its revenue for that year came from its members.  Only 5% of this went to research, whilst a total of 81% was spent on General & Administrative, Meetings and Other Programme Expenses.  Yet it has vigorously denied being a lobby group...
 ...The work of Codex Alimentarius is presented as being based on independent, objective science.  Collaboration between the ISLI and one of Codex's most important scientific advisory bodies throws up some serious questions about just how objective this science is.  That the ISLI's members indirectly funded this piece of work points towards an extremely cosy relationship.
 In 2007 ISLI India hosted a conference on risk assessment that was attended by key Codex figures.  Further collaboration between the ISLI and the FAO is apparent on the ISLI India website, notably a conference on “Next Generation Technologies for Healthy Foods”, in which they were in “technical collaboration”...
 ...At the Lancaster University Codex conference in March 2010, Ezzeddine Boutrif was quizzed by Dr. Erik Millstone, Professor of Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex, about alleged systematic bias of Codex towards corporate interests.  Boutrif acknowledged that there had been problems in the past but said that things had changed “dramatically” in the past 7 to 10 years...
...Boutrif also acknowledged that Codex Alimentarius was not orientated to the public and that more could be done to address this.  Perhaps we can anticipate a time that Codex will come out of the shadows, and make more of an effort to communicate with the people it claims to protect: consumers.
Dow Chemical works, Kings Lynn (c) Ben Harris
One other final piece of information worth knowing is that the U.S. Environment & Protection Agency (USEPA) levied a $2.5 million fine on Dow for breaches of environmental regulations. These relate to violations at Dow's Midland facility, following inspections between 2005-2007.


Quite apart from the fact that Dow were aware of the dreadful legacy that they were buying into, they are aggressively pursuing their own GM agenda and continuing to pollute the environment. Lord Coe and Locog are responsible for granting Dow's contract after what Locog termed an "open and competitive process." This week, Lord Coe has failed to satisfy MPs at a Select Committee meeting that Dow meets the ethical vision for London 2012. He is due to attend another Select Committee meeting next week.  The sooner we act, the more pressure there will be on the the Select Committee to scrutinise this decision in more detail. 


Lorraine Close from www.bhopal.org has set up an online petition here that is attracting plenty of signatures. If nothing else, your signature will raise awareness of Bhopal and its victims, and raise the profile of Dow and it's "crimes". 


The Olympics are supposed to be a celebration of what we, as humans, can aspire to and achieve. As the  host of the Olympics, the UK has a responsibility to promote the Olympic ideals. As an UK national, I do not want to be tainted by Dow's crimes. I hope that you don't too. If so, please take action, sign the e-petition and pass on to whoever you can.  

Monday, 7 November 2011

The security of UK borders and "others"

The UK border at Heathrow airport (c) dannyman
Republished in full from The Pryer



I can hear loud bangs outside … not sure what is going on … could it be guns … bombs …? Yes, the UK border force decided not to check the biometric passport details of hundreds of thousands of foreigners entering the UK … they could be criminals … or terrorists.
As we celebrate a night of fireworks in honour of an UK-born terrorist, and I climb off my sarcastically high horse, I find it apposite that the Daily Mail is referring to foreigners (“others”) in similar terms. If what they say about UK borders being relaxed is true, there are a couple of questions that need answering:
  1. For which non-EU countries’ citizens were these checks relaxed?
  2. Do citizens from these countries require visas to enter the UK?
Having practised immigration work myself, I know a little of the system and the back-office “administration” that takes place.  The questions that I raise have important implications for the moral panic now engulfing British consciousness, and the supposed safety of British citizens.
If the answer to these questions is that biometrics checks were relaxed for countries that require visas, then this should not a big security issue. Firstly, the majority of these countries do not have biometric passports. In fact, the majority of nations do not have biometric issuing facilities yet (please see the graphic below, where dark green represents those countries where biometric passports are available to the public, and light green those who have announced that biometric passports will be made available). In the countries that do have a biometrics system, most have only been in operation in the last few years; many citizens will still be using their non-biometric passports.

Availability of biometric passports (c) Igor Alexandrov
Secondly, we issue visas to citizens from many non-EU countries. This means that the basic “security” checks are performed outside of the UK. After this, application forms are checked, people occasionally interviewed, and if successful, visas are issued. In fact, anyone entering the UK with a visa has faced far more risk assessment than citizens from countries, such as those in the EU, that do not require visas. Why, then, waste the time of an immigration officer, when the work has already been performed overseas by an entry clearance officer?
From what I can read into the situation, this is a political and ideological power struggle. Like other government departments, UKBA will be cutting a third of its staff by 2014. Whilst biometric passports appear to be the panacea that deters “foreign” threats, all they contain is the basic biographical details, and a photograph, of the person holding said passport. Moreover, the chips within these passports can be cloned and altered.
The technological security measures that states use are forever being tested and challenged. Although we think that we are safer, based on our understanding of technology and in this case, biology, this is a misconception. Surveillance mechanisms are designed by man, and rely on enculturated ideas along ethnic, gender and other divisions. In terms of passports, biometric chips are not objective. People have implanted these differences into the data that the chip collects. Therefore, we are sanctioning racialised, and group, differences in the name of security.
From being Jewish at the turn of the 20th century, to being Irish in the 1970s, to being Muslim in the 21st century, we have used immigration as a means of identifying so-called problem groups. Without the full details behind it, this story is nothing more than a ruse to sell “news”, and more dangerously, replants the seeds of fear and loathing of “others” during troubled times.

Friday, 4 November 2011

The family justice review review


(c) Eric Ward

Yesterday, David Norgrove, wrote an article entitled, “Children’s welfare should not be trumped by parents’ rights” in The Guardian. This referred to the family justice review that he, and a panel, had conducted on the family justice system. Albeit in a blog post, I am going critique a part of the review that has drawn headlines, namely that divorced and separated fathers will not get a legal right to a ‘meaningful relationship’ with their children.

The overarching, and noteworthy, goal of this report was to ensure that any recommendations chimed with the ‘best interests of children.’ But what exactly are the ‘best interests of children?’

In paragraph 1 of his executive summary, Norgrove writes:

We published our interim report in March. This is our final report, which reflects our conclusions following well over 600 responses to our consultation and input from meetings in many parts of the country.

For all the repeated mentions of this notable aim, there is a distinct lack of evidence of children’s views in the construction of this review. There are no supporting statements that might demonstrate that children participated in this study. Therefore, what constitutes ‘best interests of children’ is left to more powerful voices.

The vast majority of quotations come from the consultation responses provided by legal and academic experts, and interested family organisations. Whilst children were provided with an opportunity to comment on the interim report, there is no evidence that they did so. How would interested children possibly get to know of such a report? CBeebies? T4? YouTube?

Whilst Norgrove has given reasonable consideration to an Australian study on the implications of implementing a legal right to a ‘meaningful relationship’, equally, he has not drawn on any studies that have considered children’s responses to the effects of divorce and separation. Even with taking the Australian study at face value, and forgetting its noted problems, no effort has been made to rebrand the term ‘meaningful relationship’; government services have rebranded ‘alternative dispute resolution’ to ‘dispute resolution services’. Surely, legal alternatives could be given further thought.

In paragraph 2.4 on the family justice system, reference is made to:

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child also makes explicit the importance of children’s rights being considered and upheld in the family justice system. Article 12 of the Convention makes it clear that children have the right to have their voices heard in decisions that affect their lives.

That being the case, why is there so little evidence of their voices being heard in this report.

I have other issues with this report, including the make-up of the independent panel members and the idea of an online hub that is supposedly accessible to all. However...

(c) Irate
The major purpose for conducting the family justice review is to speed up the judicial process. Admittedly, this is also designed for clearing up problems associated with the adoption process, but in terms of private law, it appears to be creating additional layers of bureaucracy. As well as going through an online hub, parents would need to negotiate pre-application protocols, mediation, and a separated parents information programme.

Paragraph 4.73 notes:

We note that the concerns about delay and the effect on the Private Law Programme apply equally to the Pre-Application Protocol, which is already in force. But our difference from the respondents quoted in the preceding paragraph rests in many ways on a different view of the proper role of courts. We would argue first that the extra time will be well spent if it results as we expect in fewer cases going to court, and secondly that the opportunity of the FHDRA will still be there.

“If…as we expect”…not, then, the most effusive of reasons to be taking this route. 

Potentially, we have a system that is perceived to exclude parents from having an automatic right to a ‘meaningful relationship’, and then makes it harder to secure these rights. Would the parent concerned be willing to spend the extra time going through this process? How would the child feel not seeing the parent concerned whilst the process was ongoing?

There is a discursive link between contact and maintenance that is discussed in the report. In a system that prioritises the rights to family life of one parent over another, would this affect maintenance payments? Would this be in the ‘best interests of children’?

Without going into the arguments for the rights of grandparents (which too should be looked at in more depth), it is men in particular, who are the target audience for a review of private law. Fathers4Justice have long fought for the rights of men and their right to a more equal family life. From a feminist perspective, I wonder how women perceive this review. Does it perpetuate a stereotypical view of a patriarchal world in which women ‘naturally’ look after children, thereby exacerbating the financial pressures associated with looking after a child as a single parent?

Given the government’s recent talk of a broken society following the riots, and of the need for parents to engage in their children’s education, the family justice review into private law needs further consideration before implementation. From the perspective of children, primarily, but also from anyone else who has been excluded in the process.