The Most Important Thing Is the Welfare of the Child; THE Family Courts Recently Opened Their Doors to the Media, Albeit with Restricted Reporting and Protection of Children's and Families' Identities. Gazette Courts Reporter GARETH LIGHTFOOT Talks to Teesside's Senior Family Judge about His Long Experience and Hard Decisions, and Steps into a Middlesbrough Family Court: Trials of a Family Court Judge

Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England), July 13, 2009 | Go to article overview

The Most Important Thing Is the Welfare of the Child; THE Family Courts Recently Opened Their Doors to the Media, Albeit with Restricted Reporting and Protection of Children's and Families' Identities. Gazette Courts Reporter GARETH LIGHTFOOT Talks to Teesside's Senior Family Judge about His Long Experience and Hard Decisions, and Steps into a Middlesbrough Family Court: Trials of a Family Court Judge


THIS man can order you to work hundreds of hours unpaid for your community, fine you thousands of pounds or lock you up for life.

But Judge Michael Taylor feels his power to remove children from their natural parents is one of the most "Draconian" available to judges since the end of capital punishment.

He is speaking after using that weighty authority - with a heavy heart - to have children adopted in the family court.

And he is well aware of what the birth parents might think of him, despite showing them understanding and sympathy.

"I'm sure that couple will leave court with one memory in their mind - that I was the awful person who took their children away," he said.

"And that's an understandable reaction."

He reflects on another case of a vulnerable teenage mother: "She wanted me to give her the child and give her a chance.

"It's very difficult saying to a 16-year-old girl, I'm sorry, you've had the opportunity to bring up your baby, you haven't been able to do it and there's now a chance of this baby being adopted.

"She found it difficult to understand what was going on. She would frequently collapse in tears or shout at me.

"At the end of the day the one thing that you're concerned about and the most important consideration in the case is the welfare of the child."

As Teesside's designated family judge, he has seen the excesses of harm, physical and sexual, caused to children.

Five or six cases a year on Teesside deal with the most serious physical damage. "We see awful injuries inflicted as a result of actions of parents," he said. "We act in cases like that as judge and jury. It carries a huge amount of responsibility."

The judge must grapple with events which took place behind closed doors involving children often too young to be called as witnesses, to try to find where the truth lies.

Then he decides the future of the children. A task too fraught and complex, he believes, for a jury of ordinary folk without expertise.

Judge Taylor reels off examples of troubled lives involving abuse both to children and parents, drug use, mental impairment, poverty and isolation. "These cases are very, very emotionally charged. When I first started dealing with cases like this, 14 or 15 years ago, I found it incredibly difficult. I think that a lot of my colleagues don't want to do this sort of work because of the emotional baggage it carries.

"When you get home on an evening you've got to try and switch off and relax.

"That doesn't mean you don't think about the case and occasionally wake up at 4am and your mind wanders to it. …

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The Most Important Thing Is the Welfare of the Child; THE Family Courts Recently Opened Their Doors to the Media, Albeit with Restricted Reporting and Protection of Children's and Families' Identities. Gazette Courts Reporter GARETH LIGHTFOOT Talks to Teesside's Senior Family Judge about His Long Experience and Hard Decisions, and Steps into a Middlesbrough Family Court: Trials of a Family Court Judge
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