Family judge 'ashamed' by support for suicidal girl


Sir James Munby

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Sir James said: “It is a disgrace… that a judge in 2017 should be faced with the problems thrown up by this case”

Society should be “ashamed” for not protecting a suicidal girl in secure custody, a senior judge has said.

The president of Family Division of the High Court said there would be “blood on our hands” if the 17-year-old did not now receive adequate supervision.

She is due to be released in 11 days, but a secure unit place has not yet been found for her – a situation Sir James Munby said was “utterly shaming”.

NHS England said “every effort” would be made to find appropriate care.

A spokesman said: “We have heard the comments from the judge and completely agree that a solution must be found.”

The girl, identified only as “X”, has tried to kill herself several times.

‘Profoundly disturbing’

The judgement in the case of “X” revealed she was convicted at a youth court and has been detained in custody for almost six months.

Sir James had previously noted the “enormity of the task facing the local authority” but stressed that the need for a final care plan was “overwhelming”.

During the latest hearing in July, he emphasised this need further, adding: “On a large number of occasions… X has made determined attempts to commit suicide”.

Staff at the unit where she is being held have said sending her back to her home town would be a “suicide mission to a catastrophic level”.

The judgement said: “Staff do not think it will take more than 24 to 48 hours before they receive a phone call stating that X has made a successful attempt on her life.”

An earlier ruling heard how unit staff had witnessed “a profoundly disturbing and distressing scene when X self-harmed by repeatedly banging her head and face against the wall”.

‘Damning condemnation’

When X was younger, she “was a child with poor school attendance, low-level criminality and periods of absconding”, a previous judgement said.

In Sir James’ judgement, delivered in private in the High Court family division sitting in Manchester , he said: “If this is the best we can do for X, and others in similar crisis, what right do we, what right do the system, our society and indeed the State itself, have to call ourselves civilised?

“The honest answer to this question should make us all feel ashamed.”

He went on: “I feel shame and embarrassment; shame, as a human being, as a citizen and as an agent of the State, embarrassment as President of the Family Division, and, as such, Head of Family Justice, that I can do no more for X”.

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The judge said copies of the ruling would be sent to the chief executive officer of NHS England, the home secretary, the health secretary, the education secretary and to the justice secretary.

Labour MP Luciana Berger, who previously served as shadow minister for mental health, tweeted: “Devastating judgement. @Jeremy-Hunt this can’t wait. You need to fund some extra CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service) beds today.”

Conservative MP and former children’s minister Tim Loughton wrote: “This is worrying and very significant from James Munby who is widely respected.”

Liberal Democrat former health minister Norman Lamb told BBC Radio 4’s World At One that the judgement was “a damning condemnation” and “a reflection of a failure of the system to provide support for families across the country”.



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