Judge James Orrell Family Courts
Last updated at 2:47 PM on 22nd February 2011
Ruling: Judge James Orrell took just 15 minutes to decide to remove three children from their parents
A judge broke up a family in just 15 minutes, it was revealed yesterday.
Judge James Orrell ordered that three children should be taken from their
parents after doctors gave evidence in his court about bruising to the ear of
one young child.
The doctors said it was their opinion that the bruising could have been caused by pinching.
The ruling made at a family court in Derby was exposed after an Appeal Court
judge overturned Judge Orrell's decision and condemned the way a family was
nearly destroyed in a quarter of an hour.
Appeal Judge Lord Justice Thorpe said he was 'aghast' at the handling of the
The incident came to light amid continued controversy over the secrecy in
which the family courts deal with cases despite repeated scandals over
misjudgements or high-handed behaviour by social workers and wrong evidence by
Last year Labour Lord Chancellor Jack Straw ordered the family courts to open
their proceedings to outside scrutiny. But judges have been deeply reluctant to
let anyone but lawyers, social workers and expert witnesses into the courts, and
have effectively kept them closed all outsiders.
Judges and lawyers say the risk of the plight of vulnerable children becoming
known to the public by name is too great and that such publicity would be
greatly damaging to children.
As a result the public can know nothing of what happens, and must rely on
regular assurances from judges and insiders that all is well and standards are
maintained in cases that decide the future of parents and children.
Details often only become public if a family case comes to a criminal court -
as happened when the circumstances of the killing of Peter Connelly, Baby P,
were revealed when his mother, her boyfriend and his brother were tried at the
Old Bailey in 2008.
Derby court complex where the family was almost ripped to pieces
In the Derby case social workers sent the evidence of the doctors to the
court before Judge Orrell held his hearing. Their lawyers expected a preliminary
hearing, but the judge heard the doctors and then ordered the social workers to
remove the children from their home.
Lord Justice Thorpe said today: 'I am completely aghast at this case. There
is nothing more serious than a removal hearing, because the parents are so
prejudiced in proceedings thereafter.
'Once you have lost a child, it is very difficult to get a child back.'
He added of Judge Orrell: 'I know he is a very experienced judge and I know
he has done wonderful work in Derby for many years.
'But there is a point where a judge’s brisk conduct of business in his search
for protection of a child is just not acceptable.
'This does not seem to me like acceptable process or natural justice.'
Lord Justice Thorpe sent the case back to the county court in Derby, which
handles the most serious local family cases, but he said any further decisions
on the children's future should be taken by a different judge.
He added: 'Judge Orrell is a pillar of the family justice system, but I do
believe it is important that the parents have confidence in the tribunal.'
Lawyers for the parents said the judge listened to evidence from the doctors but failed to hear what the parents had to say. He had also failed to listen to the bruised child, who is said to be 'of sufficient age and maturity' to speak for himself.