How is radicalism defined for the purposes of the Family Court?

Radicalisation and the Family Court – Re M (Children) in 2014 the observation was made that if “radicalisation” meant no more than a set of Muslim beliefs and practices, this could not be regarded as objectionable or inappropriate.  However if it negatively influenced the child with “radical fundamentalist thought associated with terrorism” then that was a different matter.  Further that ”if any child is being indoctrinated or infected with thoughts involving the possibility of “terrorism” or, indeed, hatred for their native country, which is England, or another religion, such as Christianity…then that is potentially very abusive indeed and of the utmost gravity”.

What can the Family Court do?

Guidance by the President of the Family Division

The President directed in October last year that in all cases involving the potential radicalisation of children the High Court should be alert to the importance of the sharing and disclosure of information between the family courts and the police and other agencies.  However, as some of that information will be highly sensitive its disclosure to the public could damage public interest or even put lives at risk.  Consideration should be made therefore to exclude the media, make a reporting restriction or an “anti-tipping off” order.  Further that there is a need to ensure that operational requirements of the police and other agencies are not inadvertently compromised or inhibited because a child is a ward of court.

Tagging – is electronic tagging enough?

In Re X and Y in 2015 the court were concerned that the parents would remove their children to Syria.  Here the court was keen to make sure effective preventative measures to thwart any attempt to evade UK border controls and leave the country undetected. It was recognised that with electronic tagging it would not be impossible for determined individuals to remove the tag(s) and flee the country before the authorities managed to arrest them.

Given the magnitude of the risk that the parent would take the children to Syria again and the consequences for the children, and they were likely to try to evade the authorities, GPS tagging  was considered the safer and more appropriate option despite the expense.

Wardship – an ancient remedy but still relevant for the times

This is where the court makes an order that parental responsibility is removed and given to the court – even where children have been removed abroad.

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[collapse title=”Example”]Examplein Re M (Children) in 2015 Wardship orders were granted in respect of four children taken to Turkey by their parents.  It was suspected the intention was to then cross into Syria with them: notwithstanding the children were out of the jurisdiction they were British subjects and the Crown therefore had a duty to protect them.  The orders were made without the knowledge of the parents so they were not given any notification of what was going on thus preventing any attempt to hide the children away to prevent their return to this country.[/collapse]
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Wardship is more often used to protect children who have not left the county however.  An example last year was in ReY (Wardship) last year when a 16 year old was made a ward of court to remove the child from the influence of an unsuitable adult.  Interestingly, the judge considered there was a parallel between radicalisation of vulnerable youngsters with “distorted beliefs” that went on within families, or by those outside the family, and was strikingly similar to grooming in the context of sexual abuse.

This remedy has also been used where there is a suspicion that a child has been taken abroad to enter into a forced marriage, or into a dangerous war zone, or for female genital mutilation.

Care proceedings

This is where the Local Authority makes an application to the Family Court that the children be removed from their parents, or carers if they feel they are at risk of harm.

In the context of radicalisation, a recent case in point concerns a woman from Leicester.  When arrested at Birmingham airport on 29 July 2015 she claimed to be innocently taking the children to Munich to see their father before a trip to France. Could she be believed?

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[collapse title=”Example”]In proceedings brought by Leicester City Council in the High Court the answer was “No”.  The mother had nine suitcases with her, and evidence on her mobile phone indicated that she may be “going for good”.  She had effectively abandoned her home. She had hidden Indian and Turkish telephone numbers in a packet of paracetamol.  She had telephoned one, a suspected fighting member of ISIS in Syria, no fewer than 234 times.  Alarmingly the phone held images of children wearing balaclavas bearing the emblem of “Isis”, and holding weapons.  Her itinerary showed she had booked onward travel to Istanbul where she had booked accommodation for her and the children and her husband who is believed to be in a terrorist group in Chechnya.

The children were put into the care of their grandparents on 6 August 2015.  Upon final judgment recently the court maintained that should continue and made a care order after it was found that the mother had every intention of leaving permanently to a war zone in Syria.  Which would place the children at risk of significant harm and probable radicalisation, including the real possibility of them being drawn into the war, and even death.

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In conclusion

Clearly the problems surrounding the radicalisation children is a live, concerning and emotive issue.  However we shall have to have faith that “the interest of the individual child shall remain paramount”, as emphasised by the President of the Family Division, and will not “be eclipsed by wider consideration of counter terrorism policy or operations”.

How we can help.

If you wish to speak to one of our Family, Children & Divorce team about any aspect of Family Law, please do not hesitate to contact us. Please contact our Boston, Grantham, Lincoln, Newark, Spalding or Sleaford offices.

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