Ruby Harrold-Claesson's lecture at the Families in Care, Conference for the Millennium, October 6, 2000

Ruby Harrold-Claesson's lecture at the Families in Care, Conference for the Millennium, Newcastle, October 6, 2000.

 

 

Ladies and Gentlemen!

 

First of all, I would like to thank Pat Hanley and Joan Mills for inviting me as guest speaker at the Families in Care, Conference for the Millennium here in Newcastle. It is a great pleasure for me to present the Nordic Committee for Human Rights (NCHR) at this conference. As you heard my name is Ruby Harrold-Claesson. I am originally from Jamaica and I ended up in Sweden because I am married to a Swede. I met my husband in France while I was studying Law and Political Science there.

 

I also have a Swedish law degree and I am the president of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights. We have a site on the Internet where we publish in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, English, French, Finnish and German. I am the webmaster.  If you visit the NCHR's English page on the Internet you will find an advertisement for this Conference. The Conference is also advertised under "Anslagstavlan", which means "Notice Board" on the Nordic page.

 

The Nordic Committee for Human Rights was founded in November 1996 by Nordic professionals from Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Finland. We were a group of lawyers who had come to realise that our countries had the very same practices concerning the taking of children into care, excluding the birth families and destroying the children's relations with their parents and relatives. This we deemed to be a serious violation of basic human rights and we decided to do something to rectify the situation.

 

The work that we do in the Nordic Committee for Human Rights focuses therefore on Article 8 of the European Convention, Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the child and Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These three International documents guarantee each individual's the right private and family life. I would like to point out that Article 8 of the European Convention does not only guarantee the parents' rights to private and family life but also the child's rights to private and family life. The NCHR also works with Article 6 of the European Convention - the right to a fair trial before an impartial tribunal. The first speaker this morning, Sally Bradley, QC, gave us an eloquent lecture about both Article 8 and Article 6 of the European Convention. You may wonder why we have to work with Article 6. The answer is that it is because parents in child-care cases do not get a fair trial in the Swedish administrative courts. The system invariably prevails over the individual.

 

One of the founders of the Nordic Committee for Human Rights, and also a member of the board, Siv Westerberg, has won nine cases against Sweden in the European Commission for Human Rights and seven in the

European Court
- primarily concerning the taking of children into public care. I'm sure most of you have heard about the Olsson cases - Olsson v. Sweden (1988) and Olsson 2 v.  Sweden,  (1992). These cases can be accessed on the NCHR's web site.

 

The Olsson case is typical for how the social authorities treated people during the time when forced sterilisations were allowed in Sweden. It is also typical for how the social authorities treat parents today. In the Olsson case, the social workers deemed the parents as being insufficiently mentally equipped, which was not at all the case. They just had their appearances against them. The social workers decided that they were not suitable to take care of their four children, so the children were taken into care and placed in different foster homes and the parents had to travel some 600 miles to be able to see their children. Siv Westerberg took their complaint to the European Commission for Human Rights. The European Commission declared the case admissible and the parents won a decisive victory over Sweden in the

European Court
. Sweden was condemned to pay a fine to the Olssons and the
European Court
ordered Sweden to return the children to their parents. However the social workers "recommended" that the social council should decide that the children should not be returned because they had been in their foster homes for such a long time. The administrative courts - which invariably implement the decisions of the bureaucracy - upheld this decision of the social authorities. So, and the Olssons found it necessary to submit a second complaint to the
European Court
. The parents won a second victory over Sweden, Olsson 2 v. Sweden. Even in this case the
European Court
found that Sweden had breached the Olsson family's human rights.

 

I can quote from the dissenting opinion of the judges Pettiti, Russo and Matscher in the

European Court
verdict in the first Olsson Case. The three judges described the breaches against the Olsson family as being a violation of the parents' "holiest rights".

 

There have been several other verdicts against Sweden since the Olsson cases were decided and it seems as if the

European Court
is tired of receiving these complaints. There have been thousands of complaints against Sweden for taking children into care unnecessarily, but unfortunately, for one reason or another, the
European Court
has failed to declare them admissible. Some experts attribute the unsuccessful complaints against Sweden to the fall of the "iron curtain" and the admittance of the judges from the former communist countries to the
European Court
, others say that it because Sweden became a member of the European Union. I personally think that it all depends on the fact that the Swedish government appoints the legal secretaries. They decide the fate of the complaints.

 

To start with, let me tell you a little about the Swedish system for child protection. The laws governing the taking of children into public care are

1 - the law of the social services and

2 - the law with special provisions for the care of young people, known as LVU.

The LVU-law states that "children can be removed from their parents because of negligence, ill-treatment, sexual abuse or other conditions in the family". The words "other conditions in the family" usually creates a big problem, because anything can be drawn in under that heading. For example, if a 40 year old mother of four children should disagree with the 26 year old social worker - who has just graduated from the social college and only has text-book knowledge about children, because she has no children of her own - about how to take care of her children, that could fall under "other conditions in the family". Because, if the mother should disagree with the social worker then that means that she does not know what is "best for her child". That is one of the stipulations that the NCHR is working to have removed from the LVU-law.

 

We also have the Parent and Guardianship Code, Chapter 6 Section 1, which forbids parents from smacking their children. Smacking a persistently disobedient child is called "child abuse" in Sweden, as I'm sure you are all aware. However, the Anti-smacking law is an imperfect law, a "lex imperfecta" because unlike the provisions of the Penal Code, it doesn't state that "if you smack your child you will be arrested, charged, prosecuted and sentenced to prison and your child will be taken from you". Those are the prospects facing a parent who smacks his/her child. The parent risks prosecution, fines or a prison sentence and the children will be removed from their home and put into foster care. But, if the child should be ill-treated in the foster home, no one cares, no one does anything about it, because of course, the child is in the safe care of the state.

 

I shall give a brief description of how the cases where social workers decide to take children into care work. LVU-cases are very intrusive in the family's integrity and their private life. Before proceeding further, I would like to remind you that the right to private and family life is guaranteed by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

 

LVU-cases are very intrusive in the family's integrity and their private life and the social worker has very strong powers so, these cases run automatically. The social worker "recommends" what she thinks should be done. The social worker's "recommendation" is then endorsed by her supervisor. Then the endorsed "recommendation" is submitted to the social council, i.e. the lay-politicians whose duty it is to give legitimacy to the social worker's work through their decision-making powers. They are usually only briefed on the case. They are not shown any documents to support the social worker's allegations that the parents are unsuitable and that public care would be in the best interest of the child/children. The members of the social councils very seldom ask any questions or to see any documents. The politicians say that they "have full confidence and trust in the social workers". So, the social council, relying on their they "full confidence and trust in the social workers" decides in accordance with the social worker's recommendation to take the child or children into care. The do not question the impartiality or the fairness or the competence of the social worker since one expects civil servants to follow the Constitution and the law governing their work.

 

LVU-cases are decided in the County Administrative Courts. At the outset, the parents in question and the child/children are supplied with legal representatives. The law prescribes that the parent/parents and child/children should have separate lawyers. They are deemed to have opposing interests. The parents are sometimes allowed the lawyer of their own choosing, but the child has to accept the unsolicited legal representative. In the majority of LVU-cases the child's lawyer pleads in accordance with the recommendations of the social workers. The parents have no say as to the choice of lawyer for their children.

 

The parents can - and most often do - appeal against the social council's decision to the

County Administrative Court
. However, since the supervisor has endorsed the social worker's recommendation, the social council has decided upon it and the child's lawyer pleads the same, the administrative court will automatically issue a verdict to that end. The parents can appeal against the verdict of the County Administrative court to the Administrative Court of Appeal. The law also gives the parents the right to appeal all the way to the
Supreme Administrative Court
, but it is a losing battle. Finally the parents can submit a complaint to the European Court of Human Rights, but very few lawyers dare proceed that far for their clients. Lawyers who complain to the
European Court
risk their careers in Sweden. (Cf. Limiting the Rights of Attorneys and Denying the Right to Counsel and The Defence Counsel: The weakest link of the Legal System in Sweden).

 

The process that the Swedish parents have to go through is quite similar to that which Noreen O'Faolian described in her presentation earlier today. Often the parents' lawyer and the parents receive the documentation shortly before the meeting in the social council, but in some cases they receive it a week or two earlier. The social workers usually produce very thick reports and we as lawyers are supposed to go through the reports, meet and discuss the case with our clients, talk to their witnesses, prepare the case and represent our clients in the court proceedings. That is very time-consuming. However, it often occurs that the judges decide in their verdicts that "a case of this type should not take more than ten to fifteen hours", so they set the fees to match ten or twelve hours of work. I have had several such verdicts. Of course, a court decision limiting the attorney's fees is made to discourage lawyers from taking these cases. Since these cases are cases that have direct impact upon people's lives, they invariably take a lot of time, i.e. if one is to do a good job for the client, and if the parents are to get a fair trial in court. All the scenarios I have described are direct violations of the parents' and the children's Article 6 rights to a fair trial before an impartial and independent tribunal.

 

The NCHR also works with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which guarantees the child the right to family life. The authorities are now claiming that a child's rights to private and family life also include the foster family - which is totally absurd.

 

It must be noted that statistics and scientific studies show that children in foster care do not fare well. I will therefore give you a little example from yesterday's (October 5, 2000) edition of the Swedish Daily (Svenska Dagbladet). This is a report about the number of children in care in Sweden, and the problems with depressed teenagers and suicide among teenagers. Most of these youngsters are in care. Statistics show that children in care are more prone to crime and to commit suicide than children who live with their birth-parents.

 

Being president of the NCHR, I receive information from the four Nordic countries. Only two weeks ago I received information about a 16 year old Norwegian girl who had committed suicide. The teenage girl had been in care from age two. The reason for this was that her mother had developed a mental disorder. The father applied to the social authorities for help in the form of day-care for the little girl, because it was difficult for him to take care of his wife and his daughter and also cope with his work. His applications were turned down. The mother committed suicide and then the social workers took the little girl into public care. The father fought a 14 year long battle with the social authorities to get his daughter back. She ran away several times and she was found by the police and returned to the foster home. Two weeks ago, she gave up the battle and took her own life. So now the Norwegian social workers have two more lives on their consciences - the mother's and the daughter's. But the social workers never assume - nor have to assume - responsibility for consequences of their work.

 

I find it therefore satisfactory that the British government has now imposed the European Convention on Human Rights on all the British authorities and at all levels. Sweden signed and ratified the European Convention in 1950 and on January 1, 1995 the Convention was incorporated into the Swedish Constitution. However, the Swedish government has done nothing to educate the authorities and the courts in the spirit of the Convention.  Therefore, the authorities and the court systems show very little or no respect for the European Convention. The bureaucrats and the judges do not want to hear about Human Rights. As far as they are concerned, Sweden is a perfect society, so the only rights that the individual has, or needs to have, are those accorded by the state - i. e. the political party that has been in power for over 50 years, the social democratic party. I'm sure you are all aware of the fact that there is a long list of cases that have been decided against Sweden in the European Court of Human Rights.  I am therefore really pleased to see that England is upholding its traditions as a free and democratic society.

 

Going back to the law on the social services, this law stipulates voluntary measures to be taken with the consent of the parents. The law with special provisions for the care of young people also stipulates that care should be offered in agreement with the parents or the youngster and his parents. The social workers rarely comply with these requirements. Usually they take the child, then they make their investigations. The social workers also accept anonymous reports, which is a breach of Article 6 of the European Convention, which guarantees everyone the right to a fair trial, to be able to cross examine witnesses for the prosecution, in the same manner that the defendant is allowed to cross examine witnesses that he /she has called.

 

Your organisation is called "Families in Care". Unfortunately, in Sweden and the Nordic countries, we can't talk about "Families in Care" instead in Sweden we have a situation with "Families in Abuse". The parents and children who have fallen into the public care system have been - and are being - abused by the social workers, the social councils and the administrative court system.

 

Let us study some figures for a moment. Sweden has a population of 8,5 million inhabitants. We can compare that to the population of London, which is 10 million. At the same time, Sweden has an army of over 300 000 social workers.

 

Here is a child care case that I'm sure will interest you. It is that of British mother whose British child was taken into public care and turned into a Swede. You can read about "The Edner Case" in the English section of the NCHR's website.

 

So far I have sent a total of four complaints to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for Mrs Edner and her child. I intend to publish the complaints in detail after we've received the admissibility - or non admissibility - decisions from the

European Court
.

 

In addition to what's on our website I would like to introduce you to a very interesting book:

Whores of the court, by Margaret A. Hagen. In this book professor Hagen deplores the system that allows doctors and specialists who have never met the patient give a diagnosis and suggest remedies. I have seen how such a system works in Sweden both in child care cases and in mental health cases. The "patient" can not sue the specialist because there is no doctor-patient relationship.

 

Also, for more information about the Swedish system I would like to refer you to the lecture given by Mrs Siv Westerberg, attorney-at-law and medical doctor. Mrs Westerberg has won nine cases in the European Commission and seven cases in the

European Court
for Human Rights in Strasbourg. The Olsson cases that I spoke about a few minutes ago were her cases. Mrs Westerberg is one of the founders of the NCHR and she is one of our Board members.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your attention and welcome to visit the NCHR's web site.

 

Thank you.

 

 

The Trip to Nowhere. Family Policy in the Swedish Welfare State Analysed by Means of Comparative Law Method Immanent in the European Convention on Human Rights
By Jacob W. F. Sundberg

 

Limiting the Rights of Attorneys and Denying the Right to Counsel
By Eric Brodin

 

The Defence Counsel: The weakest link of the Legal System in Sweden
By Max Scharnberg

 

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