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Court-appointed expert can be named in ‘parental alienation’ case | Law

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A judge has ruled that a court-appointed expert can be named after their qualifications and conduct were challenged by a mother who claimed key evidence they provided led her children to be removed from her care against their wishes.

The case raises questions about the regulation and use of psychological experts appointed to the family courts, in particular when allegations of “parental alienation” are made – meaning a child has unjustly rejected one parent due to manipulation by the other. The Observer won an application to name the expert in the case after making a series of submissions to the family court.

Guidance states expert witnesses should be named in published judgments. But there have been recent concerns about transparency following several judgments featuring “parental alienation” where the names of psychological experts have been redacted. In October, the press was blocked from naming an expert who was replaced after a mother complained about their qualifications.

This latest case concerns the welfare of two siblings who have been the subject of litigation over many years since their parents separated. They were living with their mother when a shared custody agreement broke down because one of the children refused to see their father.

A psychologist with experience in “parental alienation” cases, Melanie Gill, was jointly instructed. In October 2020, she filed a report concluding the children had been alienated from their father by their mother and the family needed therapeutic intervention. The children were transferred to their father’s care and the mother was granted limited contact, which has gradually increased over time.

But at a hearing last month, a barrister argued that the mother’s case should be re-examined because the welfare orders made by the court were based on evidence provided by Gill, who was not properly qualified to provide the expert opinion or therapeutic recommendations she did, and should not have accepted the instruction.

In documents submitted to the court, Jo Delahunty QC wrote: “In private law proceedings, few decisions are as draconian or potentially life-changing as the decision to transfer residence against the will of one parent and the wishes of the children.”

She argued that the decision to transfer custody to the father and the welfare orders made were influenced by Gill, who reported in “circumstances where she was not and is not qualified to provide expert psychological evidence”.

At the 7 June hearing, Delahunty told Her Honour Judge Davies that her client was applying to have her case re-heard following a flurry of official guidance issued since the court made its findings and which brought the subject of court-appointed experts and their qualifications into sharp focus.

Delahunty quoted a speech given by the president of the Family Division, Andrew McFarlane, in which he said the court must be careful to only appoint experts with “relevant expertise” when “parental alienation” is raised. He added: “Pseudo-science which is not based on any established body of knowledge will be inadmissible in the Family Court.”

The barrister also referred to a December 2021 statement by the Association of Clinical Psychologists UK which highlighted cases where “psychological experts” who are not registered with the regulatory body the Health and Care Professions Council had in some cases made recommendations for children to be removed from their mothers based on “inappropriate diagnoses”. Delahunty told the court that Gill was not regulated and yet “attributes of her work fell within the skill base of a clinical psychologist”, which is one of nine protected titles that allow for regulation by the HCPC, which Gill is not qualified to register with.

If an expert is not regulated, there is no way of holding them to account for any potential misconduct, Delahunty made clear.

Professor Mike Wang
Professor Mike Wang, who submitted a letter to the court about the psychologist Melanie Gil’s role in the case. Photograph: Handout

She said that the chair of the ACP-UK, Prof Mike Wang, had submitted a letter to the court about Gill. “Mr Wang said she is not someone who should be calling herself a psychologist, is unregulated and should not be carrying out psychological assessments and making diagnoses.” She told the judge: “You now have cause to be deeply concerned about the evidence she gave.”

An earlier published judgment noted that Gill – although her name had been redacted – had suggested “various forms of therapy should be undertaken by each member of the family”. It states: “The therapists have liaised with [Gill] who has drawn together the work they have been undertaking.”

However, Delahunty highlighted guidance issued in May 2022 which says the court should be “extremely cautious” when asked to consider assessment and treatment packages offered by the same or linked providers.

She alleged that Gill had failed to disclose a business relationship with one of the two therapists involved with the family and claimed there was a “triangular relationship between the two therapists and Gill”.

In February, the father made an application to suspend all contact between the children and the mother in order for the therapy to be effective. Gill had signed a joint letter with the therapists recommending a “minimum of 90 days of no contact whatsoever” with the mother.

However, at a hearing the same month Davies advised that the therapy, which had been rejected by the siblings, should come to an end and the mother should have some contact.

At the June hearing the court heard how Gill had been investigated for using a protected title after claiming to be “trained in child forensic psychology”.

Delahunty said: “She was positively investigated by the HCPC that required her to cease using that title because she was in breach of the regulations order.”

The barrister also said that Gill did not take account of a previous 2015 judgment by a district judge which found that there had been coercive and controlling behaviour on the part of the father. And, in documents submitted to the court, she said: “Ms Gill adopted an approach in her assessment in which no account was taken of the children’s wishes and feelings.”

It was also claimed that, after her engagement as a court-appointed expert had ended, Gill was “inappropriately involved in therapeutic provision”, funded by the father without the mother’s knowledge.

Delahunty told the court that the impact on the mother of Gill’s report caused her to react in distress, and her actions, which the court read as “parental alienation”, were “instead a reaction to the changed living circumstances and the grief at being separated from the children, and the real fear they would now be placed in the home of a man who had been found to be coercive and controlling”.

The father, represented by Charles Hale QC, opposed the mother’s application on the basis that the same arguments were presented in court documents seeking permission for the mother to appeal in 2021 and rejected by a High Court judge, Mr Justice Peel.

At the June hearing, Hale said: “It was found that the mother was not credible or reliable. In contrast, [Peel] was positive about the father. He made clear “there were no grounds for appeal”.

Hale said the application should be struck out. He reminded the court there had been no appeal against Gill’s joint appointment at the time, adding: “Melanie Gill’s evidence was only one part of the evidence considered by the judge.”

“Everybody knew what her expertise was based on her CV, and nobody challenged it. It is an abuse of the process and an attempt to undermine the appeal process.”

He went on: “In any event, the application must fail on its own merit. The children are thriving.” Addressing Davies, he added: “There is no solid grounds for a re-hearing of your decision. The importance of your judgment is and was in the best interests of the children, and that is undeniable in view of their current situation.”

Handing down a judgment on 15 June, Davies said she had taken account of the various guidance issued since the court made its findings.

She said all the parties had agreed on Gill, who was jointly instructed because she had extensive experience in “parental alienation” cases. Davies said she had considered other evidence in addition to Gill’s report, including that of the children’s guardian and her own analysis of the “credibility of the mother based on her own evidence”.

The judge acknowledged that “for many years” there has been a debate about the definition of a “psychologist”, arguments about the differences between types of psychologists – such as a clinical psychologist or someone who followed a degree course in psychology – and the various professional bodies’ opinions on whether or not only those registered with the HCPC should be instructed in cases.

“At some point, simple guidance will be helpful to everyone to avoid the type of arguments that have arisen in the current case,” she said.

Citing recent guidance, Davies noted that it remains at the discretion of the courts to appoint experts who are not regulated. “Whether this is a good thing or not is not for me to determine,” she added.

Of Gill’s findings, she said: “I accepted her conclusion about alienation. I did not agree with her recommendations for stopping all contact [with the mother]. The findings are and remain significant to the children.”

The financial and emotional cost to the parties “has been immense” she said, adding that the children are thriving and another year of litigation would be damaging for them.

Rejecting the mother’s application to reopen the final hearing, Davies told the court: “A new report by a new expert would not assist the children. This is not a case where new evidence has come to light. There is no reason to think a re-hearing will result in anything different.”

The Observer made an application to vary the automatic reporting restrictions applied to private family court hearings, and a further application to name Gill.

Davies made clear she made no criticism of Gill and the court made no findings that discredited her. She told the court: “She had not held herself out as being something she is not. She fulfilled her instructions. I have come to the conclusion there is no reason why the name of the expert cannot be disclosed.”

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Brazilian woman and fake seer con elderly mother out of $142 million | International

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A woman was arrested on August 10 by Rio de Janeiro police who charged her with conning her mother out of millions. In a strange story of greed abetted by fake psychics, Sabine Boghici and her accomplices stole more than $142 million in money, jewelry and artwork from Boghici’s mother over a two-year period.

Geneviève Boghici, the widow of a major art collector and dealer named Jean Boghici, was walking out of a bank in January 2020 near the famous Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) when she was approached by a supposed psychic prophesying her daughter’s imminent death unless she underwent “spiritual therapy.” They walked together to Boghici’s apartment, where the psychic threw some shells in a mystical ritual that confirmed the tragic prophesy. The 82-year-old victim knew that her daughter suffered from psychological problems, and her affinity for the supernatural swayed her to transfer $980,000 to the swindlers.

Soon after the two-year con began, the elderly woman became suspicious and halted the money transfers when her daughter started to isolate her from friends. Sabine would not allow her mother to use the phone and dismissed all the domestic workers, justifying them as Covid-19 precautions. Yet Sabine and her cronies entered freely to loot her mother’s home of its valuables. Several psychics took items from the home, saying they were “cursed” and needed to be “prayed over.” The increasingly suspicious Geneviève tried to resist, but Sabine began threatening her life. According to the police, she wouldn’t allow her mother to eat and put a knife to her throat.

Police recover 'Sol Poente' by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.
Police recover ‘Sol Poente’ by Brazilian painter, Tarsila do Amaral.Policia Civil de Rio de Janeiro (EFE)

The victim told the police that her daughter had some sort of relationship with one of the supposed psychics, Rosa Stanesco Nicolau, who practiced her trade in Rio de Janeiro as “Mãe Valéria de Oxossi” (Mother Valeria), and was a known con artist. Starting in September 2020, under constant threat from her daughter and accomplices, the elderly woman made another 38 bank transfers to the thieves.

Sabine and her cohorts stole 16 paintings and sculptures, and sold them all to art galleries or private buyers. Two of these works – Elevador Social (Social Elevator) by Rubens Gerchman, and Maquete para o menú espelho (A model for my mirror) by Antonio Dias – were bought by Eduardo Costantini, owner of the Museum of Latin American Art of Buenos Aires (Argentina), for his private collection. The São Paulo (Brazil) gallery owner who brokered the deal said he was not suspicious because he had known the family for a long time and the seller was the daughter of the deceased art collector. Constantini released a statement saying that he bought the paintings in good faith and was in direct contact with Genevieve Boghici.

In 2012, a fire in the Boghici’s Copacabana apartment destroyed part of their valuable collection, including Di Cavalcanti’s Samba and Alberto Guignard’s A Floresta (The Forest). Sol Poniente (Setting Sun), painted by Tarsila do Amaral in 1929, is one of the most valuable works in the Boghici collection ($49 million). It survived the 2012 fire but not the rampant greed of their daughter. The stolen painting was found under a bed by police, who arrested Sabine and three other people, including the fake seer. In a final twist to the whole bizarre story, the scamming psychic was apprehended trying to escape through a window.

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India’s HIV patients say shortages leaving hundreds of thousands without drugs | Global development

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Hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV in India are struggling to access treatment because of a shortage of antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, according to campaigners.

Up to 500,000 people have not been able to get hold of free ARVs from government health centres and hospitals over the past five months, they say, as the country experiences stock shortages of key drugs.

ARVs that are available in privately run pharmacies and shops can be prohibitively expensive. Some people have been given alternative drugs, but others have stopped taking any medication.

“Does the government even realise that at least 500,000, or one-third of the patients, are affected by this? Some adults are being given 11 doses of paediatric medicine to compensate,” said Loon Gangte, president of the Delhi Network of Positive People (DNP+), an NGO that works to improve the treatment and facilities for people living with HIV and Aids. “We only demand an uninterrupted monthly supply. This treatment is our right.”

According to Gangte, who has been protesting with about 30 others outside India’s National Aids Control Organisation (Naco) in Delhi for 22 days, at least 12 other states, including Assam, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Punjab, are facing ARV shortages. He said several state governments have asked patients to change their longstanding drug regimes.

“The [Covid-19] pandemic had already broken our backs. Now this shortage is pushing us further into penury,” Gangte said.

Kedar Nath, a 30-year-old street vendor taking part in the protest, said he has not taken his ARVs on several occasions over the past two months. He cannot afford the £50 a month it would cost to buy the drugs on the open market.

“I have been taking these drugs for the last 13 years. They have helped me continue with my life despite the virus in my body. But the recent shortage has turned my life upside down since I can neither find the strength to work, nor have any savings to live off,” he said.

According to government figures, 2.35 million people in India are HIV-positive. About 1.5 million people are on antiretroviral therapy, far lower than the World Health Organization’s “90-90-90 target” – under which 90% of people with HIV are diagnosed, 90% are on ARV treatment, and 90% are no longer infectious.

India says it aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. In 2019, an estimated 58,900 Aids-related deaths were reported in the country.

The government has refuted Gangte’s claims of a shortage. The Indian health ministry said it had “reviewed the entire situation and held a series of meetings with the protesters. ARV drugs are being provided for [a] duration of less than one month, but at no point in time has there been any shortage of drugs for any of the PLHIV [patients living with HIV]. There is adequate stock nationally for 95% PLHIV.”

Naco did not wish to comment. However, in a letter seen by the Guardian that was dated 30 May, Naco asked all state Aids prevention and control societies, which oversee HIV testing and treatment in each state, to switch to other regimes “to tide through the crisis situation as an interim arrangement”.

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J&J Stops Global Sales of Scandalous Talc-Based Powder After 130 Years

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Once one of its top products for families, J&J’s talc-based powder has been haunted by claims of causing cancer in recent years even as the company consistently denied what it has called rumors and “misinformation”.

Johnson & Johnson has announced it will be ceasing the sales of its talc-based powder, two years after stopping them in the US and Canada, after keeping it in its product line for 130 years. The company will be replacing the product with a cornstarch-based powder.

“As part of a worldwide portfolio assessment, we have made the commercial decision to transition to an all cornstarch-based baby powder portfolio,” the company’s statement said.

The J&J talc-based powder has been at the epicenter of several lawsuits claiming it caused ovarian cancer due to the presence of a known cancer-causing material – asbestos. However, the company has repeatedly denied these allegations, despite losing $3.5 billion in these lawsuits.

As the firm announced the retirement of the talc-based powder, it once again repeated its long-held position on the controversial product’s safety.

“Our position on the safety of our cosmetic talc remains unchanged. We stand firmly behind the decades of independent scientific analysis by medical experts around the world that confirms talc-based Johnson’s baby powder is safe, does not contain asbestos, and does not cause cancer,” the statement said.

Apart from losing a number of lawsuits, J&J faced tough questions following a 2018 Reuters investigation, which claimed the company knew about the asbestos contamination since at least 1971 but failed to act on it. As the veins of asbestos are often found in talc deposits, the extracted talc used to make the powder can be contaminated with the cancer-causing mineral.

A view of the Supreme Court in Washington, U.S. January 19, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.06.2021

Pay Up: Supreme Court Rejects J&J’s Request to Appeal $2 Bln Verdict in Talc Cancer Case
Despite continuing to maintain its innocence, J&J stopped selling talc-based powder in the US and Canada in 2020, citing the harm done to the sales by the “misinformation” about its safety. However, the company continued to distribute it around the world alongside the cornstarch-based alternative, which will now completely substitute it.



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