Family court judges fear for their security from parents in courts

The family court judges across England have raised concern over lack of security from being attacked by angry or disturbed parents as often the security provided at the courts were dangerously inadequate.

Though judges have raised such concerns it is very rare for them to be openly critical about the security at the principal registry of the family division in central London and also at district courts around the country.

The concerns have been rising stemmed from the fact that in an incident a female judge was seriously injured in an attack and instances when parents shouted threats at them as well as throwing books and cups.

Speaking to Guardian on anonymity a judge had said that an angry father stood up and shouted anti-semitic threats at him. Another father had thrown a cup of water across the courtroom and another had thrown a book but fortunately the judge was far away from its reach.

Another judge said that he was constantly exposed while working as there was no security in the courtroom and sometimes he was alone with a parent. Generally they sit with a clerk who is mostly an elderly woman and vulnerable herself to make any defence in case of an attack.

He added how they were exposed while moving in corridors between the courtrooms, entering and leaving the building, going to toilets when they are to pass through a public area.

A third judge who has worked in the PRFD and courts across London said most district judges, even those doing highly charged family law cases, do not have courtrooms at all but hear the cases in their chambers with the public sitting around the table, and they don’t have anyone in the court room at all.

Judges said county courts often do not have a courtroom and a retiring room for district judges. This forces them to hear cases in their chambers, with those involved often sitting uncomfortably close, while the lack of a retiring room means judges have nowhere to go to go if it became necessary to escape an aggressive parent.

If anything happens only way of escape is through an adjoining door between the judges’ couirt and that of the other district judge said a family judge in London.

District judge Nicholas Crichton, founder of the family drug and alcohol court at Wells Street family proceedings court in central London, who was given a CBE in this year’s Queen’s birthday honours list, said it was a “recipe for flashpoint” to compel judges to walk through public areas and share corridors. Crichton said it was unfair to put anxious parents under the added stress of close proximity with the judge ruling on their case.

It was a hot spot where emotions run high with parents coming to court feeling criticised about their treatment to their children and possibility of their children being removed from them.

A spokesperson from her majesty’s courts and tribunal’s service said HMCTS took the security issue of judges within courts extremely seriously. And the security system was continually monitored to ensure that it was effective and proportionate and mitigates against risks faced.