Munby P: Judicial intervention not the answer to helping those like 'X'
â€˜Blood on our hands' remark and press interest led to swift action, says lawyer
Sir James Munby, who last week said he and society would have “blood on our hands” if proper provisions were not made for a suicidal teenager, has urged the state to protect other young women with similar needs.
In a judgment dated 3 August, Munby P called on the state to provide a 17-year-old girl (who he calls ‘X’) with a “supportive and safe placement” upon her release from youth custody. He admitted his “shame and embarrassment”, as the head of family justice, that he could not do more for her.
In a further ruling yesterday, Munby P approved an order for X to be moved into a secure unit this Thursday (9 August) where she will receive a bespoke package of care. However, he said NHS England’s actions wouldn’t have been as “effective” or “speedy” without his intervention.
“This, however, is not a matter for congratulation; on the contrary, it is, of itself, yet further cause for concern,” he said. “The provision of the care that someone like X needs should not be dependent upon judicial involvement, nor should someone like X be privileged just because her case comes before a very senior judge.
“I emphasise this because a mass of informed, if anecdotal, opinion indicates that X’s is not an isolated case and that there are far too many young women in similar predicaments. How are they to be protected?”
Sir James ordered NHS England to file and serve all available documentation relating to X’s care and treatment plan by Wednesday, or to explain why it might be incomplete.
Staff at the secure unit where the teenager has been kept said it would not be “more than 24 to 48 hours before they receive a phone call stating that X has made a successful attempt on her life”.
A recent assessment of X revealed the gravity of risk to herself and led Munby P to conclude there was an “overwhelming” need to place her in a suitable, secure clinical/hospital setting.
Munby P went on to criticise the “disgraceful and utterly shaming lack” of mental health support for the increasing number of children and young people in the UK who share similarities with X.
He said it was, in 2017, “a disgrace to any country with pretensions to civilisation, compassion and, dare one say it, basic human decency,” that he should have to express himself in such terms.
Simon Rowbotham, the Denby & Co lawyer who represents X’s guardian in court, agreed that Sir James’ comments, and the media reaction that followed, had made all the difference.
“They were stark words – ‘blood on their hands’ – that has picked up a lot of momentum, a lot of support for the case, a lot of criticism,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“And I think that the sad reality would appear to be that, had this case not been in front of the president, and had the president not said what he said, we don’t know where we’d be on Monday, but it was looking unlikely that we would’ve got what we’ve got.”
But for Munby P’s intervention, Rowbotham said X would have ended up in a facility that wouldn’t have met her needs. “It would’ve either been more severe and even more restrictive than she needs, or it would be where she is at the moment, which is a placement trying to do its best but having to sit on her for hours on end and the judge said: ‘It’s not really living, at the moment, it’s an existence’. And that is continuing every hour that she is not where she should be.
“Certainly, from looking at the reaction and the position from the media last Thursday, it seems as though we would not have got at least as swift a reaction as we have got had the judge not said what he said.”
Matthew Rogers, reporter