Friday, 6 July 2012

Something new(ish) in the Vicky Haigh saga

Some little while ago I blogged about Vicky Haigh and others and reminded myself and any readers of the vital need to preserve confidentiality in children proceedings.  To my considerable surprise, I find that the Daily Mail is back on the topic.

Vicky Haigh, the latest

For those of you who haven't been following this story, Vicky Haigh is serving a prison sentence for breaching a court order that she have no contact with her oldest daughter.  The order was made because two judges separately concluded that she had made up false allegations that the child's father had abused her and she had then sought to persuade the child to repeat these allegations.

I really can't see why this article has been published.  There is no new material in it.  Vicky was sentenced over six months ago now and this was reported at the time.  The article itself is a masterly piece of fence sitting by the journalist. On the one hand there is a sentimental tone, apparently sympathetic to the plight of a mother separated from her child.  On the other hand, there is no criticism of the original decisions by the court that Vicky was author her own fate by treating her ex and her child in the way that she did.

So why the big article now?  I really have no idea.  Why do I return to the topic then?  Well it's because of one quotation which gives me some unease - "There are those who believe Victoria has been unjustly treated. Among them is MP John Hemmings, who says her imprisonment is ‘ridiculously harsh sentencing for what was a minor technical breach of a court order’."

Attacks on judges

There used to be an axiom in football - the referee's decision is final.  To go by what you see at football matches these days, that has long ceased to be the case.  A good friend of mine from times past was a rugby league referee.  He told me that at all levels of that game, the players, without exception, addressed him at all times as "sir".  His decisions were not attacked, whether or not they were good ones.  Of course, there would be days when his decisions were not perfect - after all, he is merely a human being.  It was recognised, though, that someone had to have the final responsibility to make the decision and clearly that couldn't be one of the players.

I have grave reservations about publicly attacking or criticising decisions by judges.  Do I always agree with them?  Certainly not!  Like any advocate, there are days I leave court shaking my head in puzzlement or exasperation.  But I'm not prepared to make public pontifications about how shoddy a decision may be.  Ultimately, the judge's decision has to be final.  Someone has to put an end to the fractious toing and froing and that job goes to the judge.  It definitely does not go to any politician!

The fact is that John Hemmings was not present at the trial and didn't hear all the evidence.  It cannot be for him, therefore, to second guess what the judge should have decided.  The reality is that the judge was in a much better position to form a view and did so.  What's more, it was his job to do this and no one else's. 
  
Update - it seems that the reason for this case reaching the press again is to do with Vicky Haigh's appeal against sentence.  I haven't located the judgment yet but it was reported in the Telegraph by Christopher Booker.  You can read it here.

Vicky Haigh - Christopher Booker




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