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Family courts must open up to avoid ‘outrageous injustices’, warns Ukip

Secrecy within the UK’s system of family courts is allowing social workers to “ride roughshod” over ordinary people and resulting in the unnecessary breakup of families and forced adoptions, the Ukip MP Douglas Carswell has warned.

Outlining a Ukip policy paper on opening up the family courts, the Clacton MP said a “juggernaut” of legal process currently leads to “outrageous injustices” and is calling for greater sensitivity and openness in the courts system.

Carswell said: “There is a scandal at the moment. Once the legal process starts it is like a juggernaut and it breaks up families. Most of the time that is justified but some of the time it is not.”

Carswell, who is keen to broaden Ukip’s policies beyond its opposition to Britain’s membership of the EU, was speaking as the party published a policy document recommending a series of reforms to open up the family courts. The paper, written by Carswell and Duncan Simpson, the deputy director of Ukip’s parliamentary research unit, calls for:

More use of special guardianship orders to allow grandparents to take over the care of a child.

The opening up of placement and adoption order proceedings to the media on the same basis as other family law proceedings.

A requirement that all judgments be published, except where the presiding judge seeks and obtains a contrary order from the president of the high court family division.

The media to be allowed access to expert reports on an anonymised basis with restrictions enforced only in the most exceptional cases.

Carswell said: “We feel very strongly that the secrecy in the family courts is leading to some outrageous injustices. It’s the big cartel courts and the legal profession and the social workers riding roughshod against ordinary people. We think common sense is needed to address this. That means more openness in the family courts.”

Ukip’s only MP suggested that his reforms would have prevented the heartache suffered by Karissa Cox and Peter Butler, who lost custody of their child after being wrongly accused of abuse. The child was put up for adoption after the couple took their baby to hospital after the six-week-old started bleeding from its mouth. Staff at the hospital noticed bruising on the baby, prompting the authorities to take the child into care and to charge the parents with child cruelty.

The parents were cleared this month, by which time the child had been adopted. “If our reforms had been in place that case could not have happened,” Carswell said.

The Ukip MP said he accepted that in many disputed cases children need to be taken into care or adopted against the wishes of the parents. “I am not saying it is wrong for the state to forcefully break up a family. There are times when it has to do that.

“But at least the evidence should be tested in an open court. At least there should be some opportunity for people to know what it is they are being accused of … and at least the people who are preparing the evidence ought to have met the people they are giving evidence about.”

Carswell, who has a strained relationship with the Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, said the policy paper showed how he was broadening the party’s interests. The MP launched the policy document with his party ally Suzanne Evans and the former Liberal Democrat MP John Hemming, who has campaigned on adoption issues.

Carswell said: “People might say: ‘Hang on, Ukip doesn’t normally spend a lot of time talking about adoptions and the family courts. Well, actually … I can’t think of another example where the big powerful system is ignoring ordinary people to such an extent. This is exactly the sort of area Ukip should make a priority.”


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The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

Worried about the use of big data for corporate gain? Look not further than the credit scoring system in the US, which has profound impact on our daily lives and is a source and perpetuator of systemic racial injustice.

In response to aggressive marketing by the “big three” multinational credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – employers, landlords and insurance companies now use credit reports and scores to make decisions that have major bearing on our social and economic opportunities. These days, your credit history can make or break whether you get a job or apartment, or access to decent, affordable insurance and loans.

Credit reports and scores are not race neutral. Rather, they embed existing racial inequities in our credit system and economy – to the point that a person’s credit information serves as a proxy for race.

For decades, banks have systematically redlined black and Latino neighborhoods, refusing to make conventional loans or locate branches in non-white and lower-income areas, notwithstanding laws that obligate banks to meet the credit needs of all communities they serve, consistent with safe and sound banking operations. Thanks to financial services deregulation and the advent of asset-backed securitization, a multi-billion dollar “fringe” financial system has filled the void, characterized by high-cost, destabilizing products and services, from payday loans to check-cashers – which banks typically also own or finance.

People and communities of color have been disproportionately targeted for high-cost, predatory loans, intrinsically risky financial products that predictably lead to higher delinquency and default rates than non-predatory loans. As a consequence, black people and Latinos are more likely than their white counterparts to have damaged credit.

This firmly-entrenched two-tiered financial system has had devastating consequences for entire neighborhoods of color. Starting in the 1990s, financial institutions began flooding historically-redlined neighborhoods with predatory mortgages that ultimately led to the meltdown of the global economy. Waves of foreclosures hammered neighborhoods of color for more than a decade before the crash and black and Latino Americans bore the brunt of the ensuing foreclosure crisis, recession and spiking unemployment. Droves of people turned to high-rate credit cards to cover even basic expenses, contributing to the consumer debt crisis and spawning a bottom-feeding debt-buying industry that purchases old debts on the cheap and then uses the courts to extract judgments disproportionately from people and communities of color. These judgments are then listed in their credit reports, which also brings down their credit scores, in turn limiting a whole range of opportunities.

Although Wall Street is no longer pumping toxic mortgages into black and Latino neighborhoods, people and neighborhoods of color continue to reel from the foreclosure crisis, which many predict is far from over. Meanwhile, racially discriminatory and subprime auto lending are on the rise, payday lenders continue to extract billions of dollars from low-wage workers, and student loan debt has surpassed the trillion dollar mark. One in five Americans has unpaid medical debt, with more than half of all African-Americans and Latinos carrying medical debt on their credit cards. By definition, people who take payday loans and have uninsured medical debt are struggling, and are likely to miss payments. Missed payments translate into decreased credit scores.

This information – unpaid medical and credit card debt, student loans, and mortgages, as well as foreclosures, bankruptcies, debt collection judgments, wage garnishments – appears on people’s credit reports and lowers their credit scores. And the credit bureaus make humongous profits by selling this information about all of us.

In New York City, a coalition of labor, community and civil rights groupsrecently won the strongest ban on employment credit checks in the country. It’s a major economic justice victory, but we know it’s just a first step. We knocked down this discriminatory barrier because there is no demonstrated connection between a person’s credit history and his or her likely job performance or character. Credit checks can also block applicants with no or “thin” credit histories, including many students and immigrants. Rather, using credit information to make hiring decisions – or to rent apartments, set insurance terms, or extend credit – is a clear way to perpetuate inequality, poverty and segregation.

Credit reports and scores are mirrors of our manifestly two-tiered financial system, and more broadly our system of racial wealth inequality and unequal opportunity. In our culture, indebtedness – and certainly failure to pay one’s debts – is deeply entwined with concepts of morality. The insidious notion that our credit history speaks to our reliability as human beings is largely taken for granted.

The credit bureaus and the information they sell have out-sized influence over our lives. It’s time to stop these pernicious practices and the systemic injustices that underlie them.


daily alternative | alternative news – The Huge Racial Injustice Hidden in Our Credit Scores

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