Family judge announces guidance to deal with Isis-linked court cases as it emerged that almost half of people referred to deradicalisation scheme were under-18
Police forces should become more involved in applying for court orders to prevent children at risk of radicalisation from travelling to Syria, the most senior family judge in England and Wales has implied.
There have already been eight judgments on care or wardship proceedings in the family courts this year relating to six separate cases; the police initiated action in one of them. More cases are understood to be under way.
Announcing guidance to deal with increasing numbers of Islamic State-related cases on Thursday, Sir James Munby, president of the family division, said that such legal interventions need not be brought only by local authorities.
Only more experienced judges in the family division of the high court should normally deal with such cases, Munby cautioned, because of the complexity of the issues involved.
“Recent months have seen increasing numbers of children cases coming before the family division and the family court where there are allegations or suspicions,” Munby said in the circulated guidance.
They concern children, with their parents or on their own, who were “planning or attempting or being groomed with a view to travel to parts of Syria controlled by the so-called Islamic State”. The children were alleged to have been at risk of being radicalised or involved in terrorist activities in the UK or abroad.
“Only a local authority can start care proceedings,” Munby explained. “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.
“There is … 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 [other orders].”
Judges hearing juvenile radicialisation cases should be aware that “some of the information gathered by the police and other agencies is highly sensitive” and its disclosure may damage the public interest or put lives at risk.
Judges should avoid “inappropriately wide or inadequately defined requests for disclosure of information or documents by the police or other agencies”, Munby noted.
Family courts may need to have “early access” to information extracted from “seized electronic equipment” if it is relevant to the hearing, he added.
“The family courts should extend all proper assistance to those involved in the criminal justice system, for example, by disclosing materials from the family court proceedings into the criminal process.”
Munby’s guidance was published as it emerged that more than 300 of the 796 people referred to the government’s Channel deradicalisation scheme between June and August this year were aged under 18.