Working Group On Bar Reporters

The Scottish Government is chairing a working group – established in 2013 – to examine the role of court reporters in child welfare cases; typically those involving contact, residence, parental rights & responsibilities or specific issue orders.

“We need to understand where our competence is and isn’t.”

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“We are not good at reasoning with uncertainty. … At the very least we should recognise that and we tend not to.”

[Talking about Sally Clark’s wrongful conviction for murdering her two baby sons.] “At the Sally Clark trial, all of the lawyers just accepted what the expert said. So if a paediatrician had of come out and said to a jury: “I know how to build bridges. I’ve built one down the road. Please drive your car home over it.” They would have said: “Well paediatricians don’t know how to build bridges; that’s what engineers do.” On the other hand he [the paediatrician] came out and effectively said or implied: “I know how to reason with uncertainty; I know how to do statistics” and everyone said: “Well that’s fine; he’s an expert.“”

“We need to understand where our competence is and isn’t.”

Oxford mathematician Peter Donnelly reveals – in his Ted Talk – the common mistakes humans make in reasoning with uncertainty, and the devastating impact these errors can have in court. [If you’re pressed for time, start viewing the talk from 13:35]

Overconfidence .. the most “pervasive and potentially catastrophic” of all the cognitive biases ..

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Overconfident professionals sincerely believe they have expertise, act as experts and look like experts. You will have to struggle to remind yourself that they may be in the grip of an illusion. Daniel Kahneman

“We need to act. And we need to act now.” [2004]

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Those who are critical of our family justice system may well see this case as exemplifying everything that is wrong with the system. I can understand such a view. The melancholy truth is that this case illustrates all too uncomfortably the failings of the system. There is much wrong with our system and the time has come for us to recognise that fact and to face up to it honestly. If we do not we risk forfeiting public confidence. The newspapers – and I mean newspapers generally, for this is a theme taken up with increasing emphasis by all sectors of the press – make uncomfortable reading for us. They suggest that confidence is already ebbing away. We ignore the media at our peril. We delude ourselves if we dismiss the views of journalists as unrepresentative of public opinion or as representative only of sectors of public opinion we think we can ignore. Responsible voices are raised in condemnation of our system. We need to take note. We need to act. And we need to act now.

The Honourable Mr Justice Munby
F v M [2004] EWHC 727 (Fam) (01 April 2004), [at 4]

“We cannot make good news out of bad practice.”

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Edward R. Murrow

“Inadequately trained people put into a position of incredible power.”

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“I don’t think there was any malice – an awful lot of stupidity – but no malice. I think the people involved really genuinely thought they were doing the right thing. … People involved in child protection and the whole social work field are poorly trained. Everyone goes on courses and that’s great. ‘I’ve been on a two-day child protection course so I’m now an expert’. That’s what worries me, I think it could happen again. Not the same scenario, but the same underlying problem: Inadequately trained people put into a position of incredible power.”

Surgeon Dr Helen Martini, wife of the now retired local GP, in an interview 20 years after the Orkney child sex abuse scandal

I can see any child – any child in the world – EXCEPT MY OWN. And anyone can see my child, except me.

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How can the present system possibly claim to act in any child’s best interest when the ‘resident parent’ can invite any new man or new woman into the home of that child, with no questions asked? .. No police-checks, no court appearances. New lover is presumed fine to be with that child from day one. I can see any child – any child in the world – EXCEPT MY OWN. And anyone can see my child, except me.

Roger Crawford, Blog Comment, 14 November 2013

.. the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make.

by expoƒunction

I have said this many times in the past but it must never be forgotten that, with the state’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which family judges are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make.

Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division and President of the Court of Protection, from his speech at the Annual Conference of the Society of Editors ‘Freedom to Inform’ London, 11 November 2013.

“… the work on human cognition and probabilistic reason should be up there as one of the first things any educated person should know.”

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I would say, without hesitation, if somebody were to ask me what are the most important contributions to human life from psychology, I would identify this work as maybe number one, and certainly in the top two or three. In fact, I would identify the work on reasoning as one of the most important things that we’ve learned about anywhere. I argued at Harvard that when we were trying to identify what should any educated person should know in the entire expanse of knowledge, I argued unsuccessfully that the work on human cognition and probabilistic reason should be up there as one of the first things any educated person should know. I am unqualified in my respect for how important this work is. So whatever difference in emphasis is not on whether these are important profound discoveries, which they are, but where to take them, and how ultimately to explain them.

Steven Pinker, Edge Masterclass 2011