About the Family Law Week blog
The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.
Friday, 14 December 2007
Thursday, 6 December 2007
Wednesday, 5 December 2007
Tuesday, 4 December 2007
* (The author, Mistress Ruthie is a solicitor-advocate specialising in fraud, regulatory crime, road traffic law and licensing).
EVAW's point is that provision is patchy in most parts of the UK and in some places there are no services at all. We have already witnessed a tide of closures and many more face closure because of a funding crisis in the sector.
The Map of Gaps shows:
A third of local authorities in the UK have no specialised support services;
Most women in the UK have no access to a Rape Crisis Centre;
Less than one in ten local authorities have specialist services for ethnic minority women that would address forced marriage, female genital mutilation and crimes in the name of honour amongst other issues.
You can see the Map of Gaps as a pdf file here .
EVAW and the Commission are calling for the government and local authorities to take urgent action to stem the tide of closures and ensure that all women have access to these vital services.
"It's time to plug the gaps", says Liz Kelly, Chair of End Violence Against Women, "It is simply too costly to continue with the current situation. Women deserve access to quality support services."
Woman's Hour on Tuesday morning featured interviews about the EVAW campaign as well as an interview with Womankind whose recent research has highlighted the prevalence of attitudes amongst school pupils that reinforce violent behaviour.
After the verdict, Jacqueline Mitton, the chairwoman of the panel, told him: “Your multiple failings over an extended period caused the panel great concern. . . . in all the circumstances the panel has concluded that you have deep-seated attitudinal problems and that your misconduct is so serious that it is fundamentally incompatible with your continuing to be a registered medical practitioner."
Patricia Hamilton, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health, has said that the college is saddened & disappointed by the verdict. Health care professionals have a duty to act if they fear that parents have harmed their children and she expressed concern that the verdict may put paediatricians & social workers off performing child protection roles.
I do not understand this reaction. When one analyses the misconduct found against Professor Southall (by an independent tribunal before which he was more than competently represented, not only in this round but previously in 2004), it is difficult to see how this could be characterised as a health care professional acting on legitimate concerns in a properly professional manner. He has now twice accused a parent of murder without any proper evidential foundation and kept secret files on children containing materials which were then not available to their treating doctors. He previously accused Sally Clark's husband of murder, based on a tv interview alone and when he was prohibited from conducting child protection work. He did not at the current hearing or previously and has not in any interview expressed any remorse or regret about his working methods. Approaching a case with respectful uncertainty, as recommended by the Climbie enquiry, does not mean leaping forward and making accusations of ill-treatment, simply that one keeps an open mind and examines all possibilities. Professor Southall was rebuked by Mr Justice Collins for not having the sense or humility to withdraw his seriously flawed allegations and he just does not seem to be listening to anyone.
Numerous doctors and professionals are the subject of disciplinary tribunals and many have had an otherwise impeccable track record before their fall from grace. By all means, let us acknowledge the previous good track record, where it exists, but it cannot be right to pretend that this makes up for a serious professional misdemeanour, particularly when it strikes at the very heart of the professional role. There is no reason why Southall's disciplinary fate before his profession's panel should put off competent professionals from doing their job in child protection, even if, try as hard as they might, they make the odd mistake from time to time. Experts often say in care proceedings that they are unable to work with parents who will not acknowledge any wrongdoing. It is this failure to acknowledge any failure that has been Southall's undoing.
Monday, 3 December 2007
Delia Venables has published a piece about new family law blogs in the UK in her internet newsletter for September / October 2007. Click here to to subscribe to her newsletter .
The first and mother of them all is Family Lore by Chatham based solicitor John Bolch. John covers a variety of topics of interest to lawyers & non-lawyers with news & comments usually posted daily. Posts this month included : in-court conciliation, Government funding & the paramountcy principle, Hill v Haines & Mr Justice Singer.
I write a blog - Bloody Relations - mainly aimed at non-lawyers explaining aspects of UK family law and comments on family law topics in the news. Posts this month have continued a continuation of a series on parental responsibility, comment on experts, a series on missing words and orders in family cases. Obviously fantastic.
Pink Tape is written by a ‘mainly family law barrister’ (soon to be blogging here!) and this month she has been exercised & excited about the new guidance on Justices' Reasons, adoption & father's rights & Mr Justice Singer.
Solicitor Lynne Bastow specialises in divorce and her Divorce Solicitor
blog is a nice mix of top tips for dealing with the emotional side of it together with legal pieces. This month she has covered whether divorce will make you happier, can a holiday save a marriage, hanging on to your ex & mediation.
Solicitors’ firm Spain Williams run a blog called Family Matters which has good advice about aspects of matrimonial law. Posting is not that frequent but worth waiting for and this month has covered divorce on the grounds of desertion.
Judith Middleton is a Darlington based divorce lawyer whose blog Judith's Divorce Blog is quite personal & fun with pieces this month on the Christmas shopping, her friend Constance's divorce, that modern phenomenon, the divorce party & the divorce & remarriage of Lord Haw Haw.
Diane Benussi is a solicitor specialising in divorce and writes a lot about the emotional aftermath of divorce & separation & how to deal with divorce proceedings. The Benussi Blog
posted this month about how to cope with Christmas, why people want to be married in spite of the divorce rates & what to do if your ex does not want to see the children.
Marilyn Stowe, of Stowe Family Law, writes the Marilyn Stowe blog for lawyers & non-lawyers. She has posted recently on past cases, suitably anonymised, Heather Mills & the Saga Divorce.
Sophia Cannon, a barrister at Tooks Court, is the author of The Paramount Principle . Only occasional postings & nothing since October when she posted about the sexual exploitation of children and being a television lawyer. More please!
Clarendon Chambers produce a Family Law Team Update with comments on legislation and case law. The blog seems to have come to a bit of a halt at the beginning of October but what is there is interesting.
Sunday, 2 December 2007
Former Law Society Chief Executive, Janet Paraskeva, has been appointed as the Chair Designate of the Child Maintenance & Enforcement Commission to be established by a Bill which is up for its Third Reading this week. See the announcement by the CSA .
The aims of the CMEC & the Bill are to:
- Establish a new child maintenance delivery organisation, to be known as the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission, to deliver child maintenance and replace the Child Support Agency.
- End the requirement that parents with care who claim certain benefits are automatically treated as having applied for child maintenance, encourage parents to make their own child maintenance arrangements, and give them more choice as to how they do so.
- Streamline and simplify how child maintenance is calculated enabling money to get to more children more quickly.
- Introduce tougher enforcement powers to collect arrears of child maintenance from parents who fail to pay.
- Introduce powers to reduce child maintenance debt more effectively
- Introduce a new scheme to make lump sum payments to people suffering from mesothelioma who were previously ineligible for such payments, within 6 weeks of them making a claim.
The NACSA website sets out more precise details on what the is proposed by the new scheme and what they think about it. Another note of scepticism is sounded by the Chair of Resolution's Child Support Committee, Kim Fellowes as reported on Family Lore . Resolution's press release on the subject is now on their new website .
Clearly the CSA will not be sorely missed by Journalist Clover Stroud, from whose article in the Sunday Times (He Won't Pay - so I Have To) will be happy to dance on its coffin when it finally goes.Unfortunately this will not be until 2009 for existing cases and 2010/2011 for new cases.
On 1 July 2007, the remaining provisions of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 were implemented. Section 1 makes the breach of a family non-molestation order a criminal offence punishable by up to five years' imprisonment. Section 4 extends availability of non-molestation and occupation orders to those persons that have never cohabited or married.
In addition, the Forced Marriage Act 2007 received royal assent on 27 July 2007. The aim of the Act is to provide protection to those at risk of forced marriage and to provide recourse for those who have already been forced into marriage. Under the Act, a person who is being forced into marriage or has been forced into marriage may apply to the court for a Protection Order. The court can order the behaviour or conduct of those responsible for forcing that person into marriage to change or stop or to impose requirements upon them. If they fail to comply with the court order they will be dealt with by the court and indeed may be sent to prison.
Here the Home Office publishes its annual reports on the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plans .
Womens Aid has published a Kidspeak report setting out how children view & experience domestic violence.
Last but not least there is a helpful article: Domestic Violence & Ex Parte Applications: Getting the Affidavits Right by Byron James.
"The power of amendment is so wide in this case that it amounts to a power to rewrite the contract."
The court went on to hold that the unilateral power to amend in such a wholesale way on short notice was an unjustified obstacle to the opening up of public procurement to competition & that it infringed the principal of equal treatment. It did not make it any better that if firms did not like the proposed amendments they could simply terminate the contracts.
Unfortunately, as is obvious from this Times report the LSC are obstinately clinging to their reform plans and say that it will merely mean they have to terminate & re-tender for contracts more frequently.
Saturday, 1 December 2007
Fran has had mental health problems earlier in her life and now she is expecting a baby. The local authority are apparently saying that they will remove the baby at birth, having been advised that Fran might harm the baby as a result of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome. Fran was understandably terrified about what will happen. She moved into a different local authority area but has now decided to take herself off to Europe.
I don't know all the background details of the case but if half of what is written about the case is true, it is difficult to see how the local authority would have persuaded a court to grant them an emergency protection order or interim care order: see the article on the Interim Removal of Children from their Parents on the main Family Law Week site. In one of the cases referred to Mr Justice McFarlane specifically says that cases involving fabricated or induced illness with no medical evidence of immediate risk of direct harm to the child will rarely warrant an emergency protection order. In addition there is case law which suggests that Munchausens Syndrome By Proxy (MBSP) or factititious illness (a syndrome in which parents are thought to fabricate or induce illness in children) does not even exist. Mr Justice Ryder said this: "The terms ‘Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy’ and ‘Factitious (and Induced) Illness (by Proxy)’ are child protection labels that are merely descriptions of a range of behaviours, not a paediatric, psychiatric or psychological disease that is identifiable. The terms do not relate to an organised or universally recognised body of knowledge or experience that has identified a medical disease (ie an illness or condition) and there are no internationally accepted medical criteria for the use of either label. In reality, the use of the label is intended to connote that in the individual case there are materials susceptible of analysis by paediatricians and of findings of fact by a court concerning fabrication, exaggeration, minimisation or omission in the reporting of symptoms and evidence of harm by act, omission or suggestion (induction). Where such facts exist the context and assessments can provide an insight into the degree of risk that a child may face and the court is likely to be assisted as to that aspect by psychiatric and/or psychological expert evidence." Fran says that she has been diagnosed as likely to suffer from this syndrome by a Paediatrician who has not in fact ever met her. Further she says that the Psychiatrist(s) that know her do not agree. It is difficult to see how that diagnosis could possibly be made on a paper assessment before the baby has even been born and suffered any harm at all. Writing about diagnosing MBSP, Professor Tim David, a leading Paediatrician said: "This is one area where confusion can occur. The diagnosis is made in the same way as in any other case of physical abuse, and not by identifying certain parental characteristics, such as the mother being a nurse." And even if it were true that Fran did have the condition of MBSP this does not mean she could not be given support and Psychiatric treatment.
I appreciate that the public debate has been rather one-sided in that the local authority have not been able to contribute much by way of detail, but it does seem that Fran would have had a good case to put to the court. I can't help thinking that I might well have been tempted, if in her shoes, to duck out of all the stress and strain of combining first time motherhood with care proceedings by skipping off to live abroad. I do wish though that the public debate that there has been had included a little more about the legal principles and difficulty likely to be faced by local authorities when trying to justify removal & a little less on baby adoption targets which in fact have been withdrawn.
Thursday, 29 November 2007
Wednesday, 28 November 2007
Anyone can practice as a private family law mediator and can have gone on any course by any provider (or indeed none at all). Mediators may also be qualified as lawyers, social workers or counsellors but this is not compulsory. The lack of regulation of mediators is not satisfactory as the quality of mediators in the private field varies from excellent to poor and is not regulated by a core professional body. However, in order to take on public funded cases they have to be approved to the LSC standard which is usually done by the following route. Mediators undertake a foundation mediation course by a provider accredited by the UK College of Family Mediators. There are five providers who run family mediation courses to the standards of the UK College of Family Mediators. These are National Family Mediation (NFM), Resolution, Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR), Hertfordshire Family Mediation and Key Mediation.
The foundation course usually contains five modules taken over the course of a year. The trainee must then complete a period of supervision taking cases from induction through to agreement and writing a portfolio relating core criteria to evidence from cases. On satisfactory completion of a portfolio it will be signed off by the supervisor and sent to the UK College of Family Mediators to be assessed. If passed, the mediator is deemed suitably qualified to undertake public funded mediations by the LSC. College membership, assessment and continuing professional development is specified as a requirement (except for members of the equivalent Law Society family mediation group) by the Legal Services Commission for family mediators who wish to work with publicly funded clients in England and Wales.
Therefore mediators accredited by the UK College of Family Mediators or who have completed a mediation course with one of the UK College’s approved providers and/or those who take on LSC mediations have been trained well. This does not mean that they are all excellent mediators nor that mediators without college approval do not do a good job but it is at least an assurance of a standard of basic and ongoing training and accreditation.
Monday, 26 November 2007
Sunday, 25 November 2007
Friday, 23 November 2007
Reunite say that this year they have recorded a 22% increase on child abductions in the first half of this year compared with 2006.
Thursday, 15 November 2007
Joanne Harris, formerly of Garden Court Chambers, has also been appointed as a Circuit Judge and is sitting in Watford. She is the first of my contemporaries to be appointed to the Circuit Bench and whilst it will be a very great pleasure to address her as Your Honour it will also be more than a little weird and makes me feel ever so slightly old & grown up.
The Children Act 2004 is now fully in force & introduced a number of initiatives including the Children's Commissioner, the ContactPoint Information Database, the Safeguarding Children's Boards & the Children & Young People's Plan. Nick Armstrong & Eleanor Wright have written a helpful commentary on the only reported case on the Act so far - Re LH & MH . For an overview of the main provisions of the Act see the guide on 4 Brick Court's website .
It is difficult to see from this case (albeit the decision was obviously based on the facts of the particular case) how an application for permission to revoke is ever going to meet the high standard of ‘arguable case’ which Wilson LJ has prescribed in Warwickshire.
An updated article considering this case and the related case of
Re P (on leave to oppose adoption applications) can be found on 4 Brick Court's website .
Tuesday, 13 November 2007
A mother's decision to put a child conceived during a one-night stand
up for adoption has turned into a legal dilemma over parental rights
The woman, 20, has told the court of appeal she does not want anyone
to know the identity of the father, a work colleague. However, her
local authority believes her family and the father should be
approached to see if they are willing and able to look after the baby girl, who is now 17 weeks old.
A county court has already ordered that the woman's parents and the father should know. Yesterday three appeal court judges were asked to reverse that order. The local authority is preparing to take the child into care after receiving a report that she was "abandoned" by the mother at the hospital where she was born.
Eleanor Hamilton QC, representing the mother, said she had not told
her parents or the father about her pregnancy because she did not want them to know. "This girl was unable to bring herself to tell the
parents and drove herself to hospital in the dead of night to have the child.
"She is a perfectly ordinary girl in a job she loves, who is living
her own life. That should be taken into account by the court." Ms Hamilton said the mother lived away from her parents.
Although the parents now know about the child, she has consistently refused to name the father. Ms Hamilton said: "It was, on the account given by the mother, a one-night stand with a fellow employee while
both were on the rebound having broken up with long-term partners.
"He is now back with his fiancee, continuing with that relationship,
and has no idea she has given birth to a child."
Judith Rowe QC, representing the baby's legal guardian, said that if
the woman's family could not help or were unsuitable, then the father and his family would be approached. Ms Rowe said the local authority believed the child should be brought up by the family if possible.
Lord Justice Thorpe, who led the panel of three judges, said: "That sounds doctrinaire. It is difficult to imagine a more dysfunctional family than this."
A court order prevents identification of the mother and child, the
local authority and where the case occurred. Judgment was reserved.
On a similar point in Re L (2007) was a case where the local authority needed guidance as to whether they should attempt to contact the natural father before placing the child for adoption. The mother claimed that she did not have any information about his identity of whereabouts. Initially Munby J had directed that the mother should be asked once more for information at a hearing, but as that did not result in anything concrete he concluded that nothing further should be done to pursue the father.
Monday, 12 November 2007
The Government has announced its plans to introduce new legislation dealing with services for vulnerable children & children in care following on from the Care Matters consultation & Green & White Papers. The main elements of the Children & Young Persons Bill will consist of provisions:
- Giving pilot local authorities the power to test a different model of organising social care by commissioning services from ‘Social Work Practices’ and enabling regulation of these practices;
- Increasing the focus on the transparency and quality of care planning and ensuring that the child’s voice is heard when important decisions that affect their future are taken;
- Increasing schools’ capacity to address the needs of children in care, including placing the role of the designated teacher on a statutory footing and ensuring that children in care do not move schools in Year 10 and 11 except in exceptional circumstances;
- Ensuring that young people are not forced out of care before they are ready, by giving them a greater say over moves to independent living and ensuring they retain support and guidance as long as they need it; and
- Improving the quality and stability of placements for children in care, securing higher placement standards, ensuring that children in care and custody are visited regularly.
All sounds very laudible. No further information available as yet as to that old devil the detail.