Radicalisation and the Family Court – protecting children from the threat of extremism

‘The fight against Islamist extremist terror…needs every school, every university, every college, every community to recognise they have a role to play’. These were the words of David Cameron, in February this year, following the disappearance of three British school girls, Kadiz Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum. It was believed that these three girls had been indoctrinated over the internet and had travelled to Syria to join Islamic State.  

Throughout 2015, it has become apparent that this is not just a one-off situation. UK counter terrorism experts believe that at least 50 British children have travelled to Syria to join Islamic State. So what can be done to protect children from this emerging threat of radicalisation? 

Last month, the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, issued guidance regarding radicalisation cases. 

At present, the Court the can protect children by one of two methods. 

Firstly, the Court can make a child a ward of court. Anyone with a genuine interest in or relation to the child may make an application. The application for wardship must be made in the High Court and the child immediately becomes a ward of the court - as soon as the application is issued. At this point, custody of the child will lie with the Court and no important steps can be taken in respect of that child, without the Court’s consent. Most notably, a child who is a ward of court can not be removed from England or Wales without the Court’s consent. If consent is not given, police assistance may be sought to prevent the child from leaving the country.  

Alternatively, the Local Authority may initiate care proceedings. The Court may make an Interim Care Order if it is satisfied that the child is suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm and that harm is attributable to the care given to the child or if the child is beyond parental control. With an Interim Care Order, the Local Authority shares Parental Responsibility for the child. The Court will also consider whether the child can safely remain at home or whether the child should be placed in Foster Care. Whilst under an Interim Care Order, the child may also not be removed from England or Wales without either the written permission from all those with Parental Responsibility or the Court’s consent.  

In these cases, matters may begin as wardship and then become care proceedings, or vice versa. With both methods, the Court and parties will need to be alert to a number of factors – including the need to protect all parties’ right to a fair hearing and the fact that some of the evidence, such as that received from the police and other agencies, is likely to be highly sensitive. 

Given the complexity of these issues, all matters regarding radicalisation are to be heard in the High Court.  

At Wolferstans, we have a team of highly skilled and experienced lawyers who specialise in child protection matters. If you have any concerns regarding your child or any associated child protection concerns, please do not hesitate to contact us on 01752 663295. 

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