There is an increasing problem that has started to manifest itself in prisons in England and Wales: prisoners are said to be “refusing” to attend Court. Whether it is visits at the prison, video links with legal representatives or the Court, or even production to appear at Court as Defendants, Respondents or witnesses; solicitors, professionals and family members are frequently being told that the prisoner has “refused” to attend.
While this would generally be considered a problem only affecting criminal matters it also has an impact on child care matters (or care proceedings) going through the Family Courts as many parents, or other individuals that are party to care proceedings, are serving prisoners. A parent of a child in care proceedings, needs to have regular meetings with their solicitor, be present at Court hearings and may need to have appointments with experts and other professionals, such as social workers. If the parent is in prison then this means that visits or video links need to be made to prison and the parent will need to be produced to attend Court hearings.
The problem, when a Court is told that a parent has “refused” to attend hearings, is that the Court may make negative inferences about the parent’s commitment to the welfare of the child. A Court may also make final decisions about the child in the absence of the parents and if their solicitor has not up to date instructions. The problem for the solicitor, if they try to visit the parent in prison and are told that they have “refused”, is that the solicitor is not able to get instructions from the parent and in return the solicitor is not able to advise their client accordingly.
A number of Courts have tried to set up a procedure, whereby a form is completed by the person visiting the prisoner to try and secure their attendance. However, an uncooperative prisoner is unlikely to sign such a form and so the form is being completed by officers who may have misunderstood what the prisoner is saying, or may have their own reasons for claiming that the prisoner is being uncooperative.
If a prisoner can be signed off as “refusing” then there is no need for the officers to move them within the prison (as with video links and visiting professionals) or from the prison to attend Court. It is not unheard of for a solicitor to speak to a prisoner the day before a hearing and for them to confirm they will be there only to be told that the prisoner “refused” to attend on the day. When seen on a later date, many prisoners inform their solicitors that they waited but nobody came to get them. When presented with this conflicting information, solicitors and the Courts have no real way of knowing what the truth is.
Unfortunately, this is not a problem that can be solved over night, but here at Emery Johnson Astills we have a very experienced Care Team and Crime Team that can assist clients who are in prison with their child care and/or criminal matters. For more information please contact us on 0116 255 4855 for our Leicester Office or 01509 610 312 for our Loughborough Office.