Friday, June 20, 2008

Judicial Overreach North of the Border

In previous posts, we've discussed several court cases where it appeared that judges went too far, but this case, from Canada, is one of the most jarring in recent memory: A 12-year old girl who defied her father's orders to stay off the Internet was subsequently forbidden by him from going on a school trip. She decided to take her dad to court...and she won:
If you deny your children access to TV or withhold their allowance, can they take you to court? And win?

That implausible scenario emerged after a judge in Gatineau, Que., sided with a 12-year-old girl who challenged her father after he refused to let her go on a school trip for disobeying his orders to stay off the Internet.

Experts in family law and child welfare say they were dumbfounded by last Friday’s ruling by Superior Court Justice Suzanne Tessier.

“As a lawyer and as a parent,” said Ottawa family lawyer Fred Cogan, “I think it’s state interference where the court shouldn’t be interfering.

“I’ve got six kids,” Cogan said. “I certainly wouldn’t want a judge watching over everything that I do, and I wouldn’t want my kids being able to run to the judge.”
Experts say that it's unlikely for other Canadian courts to rule in a similar manner, and the father is appealing the case, but the judge's decision still boggles the mind. Is even the most ardent nanny-stater in favor of this type of family decision being made by a judge?

Hat tip: The Volokh Conspiracy, where host Eugene Volokh, tongue-in-cheek, pretends the story is from the satire site The Onion. It almost is too strange to be true. (And it's scary to see how Volokh's sarcasm was lost on some of his readers.)

Also, one of the Volokh commenters points out a paragraph in the story that seemed unusual to me as well: A big source of the conflict was that the girls' parents are divorced. The (non-custodial) mother was in favor of the daughter going on the school trip, but the school required consent from both parents. In cases of divorce like this, I'm surprised that there aren't more messy situations like this. Shouldn't the custodial parent have the final word?

Another commenter points out that, since many people seemed to be in favor of the state stepping in to prevent parents from administering corporal punishment--we discussed this here the last week as well--that such a ruling was the next (il)logical step.

I'll let Eugene Volokh have the last word here:
But it seems to me the absurdity remains: It's absurd that a judge would step in to decide whether grounding a child from a school trip is "excessive punishment." If the mother petitioned for a change in custody, that would indeed justify (and require) a judge's intervention, because it would involve a major life decision, and would determine which parent should have disciplinary authority -- something the courts have to do in case of a divorce -- rather than whether a particular grounding decision was justified. But when the school policy is that both parents must consent, which is to say that each parent has veto power, and one parent does exercise his veto, it makes no sense for a judge to decide the matter for herself instead of leaving it to the vetoing parent's judgment.
I only hope that no judgements of this nature are rendered here in the U.S. anytime soon. The nanny state must go!

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