About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Monday, 31 March 2008

All In a Day's Work?

As if social workers did not have enough today with the PLO in force from tomorrow here is an extract from the General Social Care Council's Social Work at its best: The roles and tasks of social workers .

Social work roles require a wide range of tasks to be performed. These can
include acting as broker to obtain the support people want through creative
use of all available resources; enhancing parenting and supporting the
physical, intellectual and emotional development of children and young people who need help, in line with the Children’s Plan; helping disadvantaged people of all ages improve their health and wellbeing; arranging good-quality alternative care for children whose parents cannot care for them, and for adults who can no longer manage in their own homes; and aiding people in poverty to improve their financial position, informing them about their entitlements, and supporting them to access training, work opportunities and benefits.

6 impossible things before breakfast?

An Inspector Calls

It's a deadly business.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

District Judges' new leader condemns domestic violence reform

The Times has published an interview with the new leader of the Association of District Judges, Edwina Millward, in which she criticises the changes to powers of arrest introduced last year. In the interview she claims that the Government's talk of being tough on domestic violence are being undermined by the decision to hand over prosecutions to the CPS, instead of allowing district judges to attach a power of arrest.
“Fewer victims appear to be applying to the courts for non-molestation
injunction orders — and more people who breach orders are escaping
punishment...... By its nature domestic violence happens in private and evidence
of a breach is often the word of the victim against the perpetrator.”

The higher standards of proof required by the CPS therefore mitigate against victims taking the case further and anecdotal evidence backs that up, she claims.

Publication of judgment disregards right to privacy, claims Heather Mills

I never thought I would cite such a source, but celebrity gossip website - perezehilton.com - has published the text of a statement from Heather Mills that raises, what I hope, will be the last angle of the McCartney divorce. In it Lady Mills claims that publication of the judgment
"is against the principle of privacy expected within family courts. A person has
a right to privacy when they a family court and this was taken away from me.
This decision appears to have been taken with disregard for my human right to
privacy and that of my daughter. It cannot be in her interests that one parent
is condemned by the media while the other is ‘protected’ or even revered."

We will wait to see if this claim goes any further but no doubt the tabloids and gossip columnists will take the statement to heart and leave her alone. Remind me, is the Pope a Catholic?

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Macca v Mucca

Heather breaks her silence!

The full judgment in the case is now up on the Family Law Week website.

Geek Lawyer has helpfully translated selected passages into plain English.

John Bolch selects the Judge's comment on Heather Mills' self-representation on the Family Lore blog and does the maths here .

Judith Middleton on her Divorce blog concludes that neither party can claim victory.

Marilyn Stowe aka the Barracuda on her blog considers neither party to have been realistic. Macca offered too little, Mucca asked for too much.

Pink Tape analyses the number of times the word 'unreasonable' appears in the judgment. See also her excellent post on Rex Judicata on custody of family pets.

The Press has had a field day. Typing in Mills McCartney to the Google news search reveals 3,529 articles and an awful lot of references to Money Can't Buy Me Love. The Google blog list is equally enormous.

Frances Gibb in the Times reports on Heather Mills' reaction to the publication of the judgment - tipping water over McCartney's lawyer and picks out the juicy bits from the judgment here as does Philippe Naughton who also reports on her rant outside court in which she claimed to have kept silent for 21 months. Another example of the gap between her view of the world and other people's as found by the Judge?

The Telegraph picks out the juicy bits here and has more to say about the water incident or as the Sun says she chucked Shaka.

The Guardian's take on it is written by Esther Addley.

Then there is the Mirror , the Mail &the Sun (lots of capitalised OUTRAGE & the opportunity to elect Mills or Burrell as the biggest liar).

And Heather herself: the judgment was outrageous and today she just wants to rest. Paul is keeping quiet. And that is the difference between them. She has her own website , by the way, but strangely enough it does not contain the text of the judgment.

News Round up

Eleanor Hamilton QC has been appointed as a Judge in the Family Division. She is to be known as Mrs Justice Eleanor King.

Professor Carolyn Hamilton is one of two new appointments to the Legal Services Commission.

Some great new articles on the Family Law Week website:

John Gumbleton has written on the considerable variation in the approach of different local authorities to possible rehabilitation and the resources that they develop or devote to helping children return safely to their parents.

David Chaplin has interviewed Lord Justice Thorpe , Head of International Family Law. Later this year the inaugural International Family Law lecture will take place, funded by the FLBA & Resolution.

John Wilson writes on privilege and accidental disclosure . He is a rather brilliant fellow who once had a rather brilliant pupil!

Following the Panorama programme about shaking baby syndrome the BBC announced that Keran Henderson is to appeal against her conviction.

The NSPCC added its considerable weight to the criticisms of the proposed issue fee increase for care proceedings. The Law Society is not impressed either. The views of the ALC & the Family Justice Council are of like mind.

Children cared for by members of their extended families or social networks in general appear to do at least as well as those in traditional foster care, according to a research briefing from Research in Practice .

The President of the Family Division gave a the Resolution Inaugural Annual Lecture in which he expressed his hopes for the PLO as a mechanism for defeating delay & announced that DCSF will issue guidance to local authorities on adoption procedures which the PLO does not deal with He also spoke about ensuring that the child's voice is heard both in the context of public and private law proceedings and a new initiative along the Early Intervention lines called DAtrys To that end he wishes to encourages judges to talk to children directly if appropriate training could be provided to them. He was strangely silent on the proposed issue fee increase other than to emphasise that it had nothing to do with the PLO and that anything which discourage local authorities from acting appropriately to protect children could hardly serve the best interests of children!

Monday, 17 March 2008

Heather Mills could inspire DIY divorces

The Observer carried a story on Sunday featuring comments from James Pirrie speculating that 70% of divorces could be soon be by litigants in person. In advance of the judgment today, he told the paper that

'People are thinking, "If Heather Mills can represent herself in court and take on that Mr Mostyn, whom everyone says is the best lawyer in the country, then I can give Mr Bogstandard from down the High Street a run for his money"

You can read the full item on The Observer website

Monday, 10 March 2008

News roundup

Lisa Arthurworrey is appealing to the General Social Care Council against a decision not to register her on grounds of competency. We are tantalisingly told in a related article that she has admitted to writing inappropriate emails to the GSCC but not what they said.

The mother in the Nottingham case lost her appeal against the interim care order made by a District Judge (see Family Law Week's case report of Re G [2008] EWCA Civ 86 but the case has been remitted to Munby J to consider whether there should be a s 38(6) assessment. Rather interestingly there is a reference to the LSC agreeing to fund a viability assessment at the Cassel hospital. I am hearing reports that they will not do so normally.

Munby J, who is now seized of the case, is quoted in the Daily Mail as demanding better training for social workers and hospital staff over the original unlawful removal. It looks from the press coverage that a s 38(6) assessment has been ordered.

Every Child Matters has published a guide for local authorities on their duty to provide information, advice & assistance under the Children Act 2006 which is downloadable from this page

Researchers have called into question the effectiveness of early support to mothers via the Home Start scheme as Research in Practice reports. The website has a summary of the research findings and a link to the full research report by Jacqueline Barnes, Kristen Macpherson & Rob Senior.

By contrast, the National Evaluation of Sure Start shows that children behave better and are more independent if they live in areas with Sure Start Children’s Centres. Other findings show that parents have more positive parenting skills and provide a better home learning environment for their children, helping prepare children to do well at school and make the most of their talents.

The Court of Appeal has decided in K K (A Child) that a local authority does not have the final say on the matter of a young person's age and identity, and that such a decision should ultimately rest with the court. A court has power in family proceedings to direct the local authority to investigate issues such as age and identity under s 37.

The Times reports on plans to establish 100 specialist domestic violence (criminal) courts.

Panorama tonight features the case of Keran Henderson, the childminder accused of shaking a baby in her care, and will include interviews with US biomechanic experts. The case is also discussed in the Daily Mail .

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Family Law Blog Roundup

The industrious John Bolch whose excellent blog is called Family Lore has just published a post rounding up the recent activities on all the UK family law blogs . Saves me another job!

If you are new to blogs this post is a good way to start looking at the UK family law blog scene. If you like a particular blog, including this one you can subscribe to it. If you have Internet Explorer 7 you just click on the orange button on the toolbar. When the blog changes to the subscription format you confirm that you want to subscribe. To find the blog feed you go to your favourites centre and click on feeds and you will find a list of the blogs you subscribe to. Anytime you are online the feeds will be updated. If you do not yet have IE7 you can subscribe to a blog through Google Reader or do a search to find another blog feedburner.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Cohabitation reform in abeyance

Justice Minister Bridget Prentice has made a
written ministerial statement
announcing the government's response to the Law Commission's paper on the financial consequences of relationship breakdown for cohabiting couples.

The statement in full reads as follows:

"The Law Commission published their very thorough and high quality report on 31 July 2007. It makes recommendations to government on certain aspects of the law relating to cohabitants. It considers the financial consequences of cohabiting relationships ending either by separation or death. It follows two years of work by the Law Commission.

The report has been carefully considered and the government has decided it wishes to seek research findings on the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, which came into effect last year. This Act has provisions which are similar in many respects to those which the Commission recommends.

The Scottish Executive intend to undertake research to discover the cost of such a scheme and its efficacy in resolving the issues faced by cohabitants when their relationships end.

The government propose to await the outcome of this research and extrapolate from it the likely cost to this jurisdiction of bringing into effect the scheme proposed by the Law Commission and the likely benefits it will bring. For the time being, therefore, the government will take no further action.

The decision has been reached because of the need for government to obtain accurate estimates of the financial impact of any new legislation and the likelihood that we can obtain a view of financial impact by drawing on the Scottish experience of similar law reform."

Refreshingly honest, at least. And a breathing space before we all have to understand some new system. Unless, of course, you live in Scotland.

News Roundup

Ofsted has published Joint area review (JAR) reports for Hammersmith and Fulham, Knowsley, Bracknell Forest, Derby, Gloucestershire, Leicestershire, Liverpool, North Lincolnshire and Wandsworth. The services reviewed include council services, health services, police and probation services, and publicly funded services provided by voluntary bodies. Evidence from other inspections, including schools, further education colleges and residential settings, also contribute to the review. You can look at the reports for the individual authorities
here .

Ofsted also publishes its reviews of LA adoption & fostering services and residential units on their social care page .

The Fatherhood Institute and Department for Children, Schools and Families have produced guidance for local authorities and children’s trusts to help them develop parenting support services which are effective at strengthening father-child relationships. The guidance, which consists of a 'checklist' of father-inclusive approaches, is aimed mainly at Parenting Commissioners and those involved in drawing up Parenting Strategies, but will be of interest to anyone with a strategic role in children's services. DCSF will review implementation and follow up with Parenting Commissioners 'at some point after the Parenting Strategies have been submitted'.

The London Safeguarding Children Board has published its procedures for safeguarding children abused through domestic violence.

The NSPCC is running a course on Child Sex Abuse & the Law on 8 - 9 April.

You can sign up for a weekly CASPAR email alert from the NSPCC as well as weekly email alerts on New in the NSPCC library .

In case you missed it, registered members of the Law Society can use their new online legal library which has been developed in conjunction with Lexis Nexis.

The Observer previews a government commissioned study (The 'Care Profiling Study' report produced by a team at the University of Bristol, led by Judith Masson. It analyses the characteristics of a sample of nearly 400 cases of care proceedings that went before the family courts between 2004 and 2007) which apparently concludes that social workers are generally more than justified in bringing care proceedings.

Katy Dowell comments in the Lawyer on the proposals to make family court decisions publicly available.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Special Guardianship Resources

For an introductory article on Special Guardianship which includes the relevant sections of the Children Act see 4 Brick Court's seminar handout on the subject.

BAAF has a great platform page with information about SGOs and links to the legislation, regulations & DFCS Guidance.

The DFCS Guidance is now on the Every Child Matters website, together with the regulations and a guide to assessing the support needs of applicants.

The Court of Appeal has dealt with appeals in three important cases concerning Special Guardianship:

Re S (A Child) (2007) EWCA Civ 54 . The applicant was a foster carer with a very good relationship with mother (who was likely to have ongoing relationship with the child) but who would have preferred adoption – the SGO was upheld by the Court of Appeal.

Re A-J (A Child) (2007) EWCA Civ 55 . The child was placed with the paternal uncle & aunt who feared that the parents would not co-operate and that future litigation would be a burden. Adoption was preferred at first instance & upheld on appeal.

Re M-J (A Child) (2007) EWCA Civ 56 . The child was placed with maternal half-sister – mother with history of drug abuse and recent relapse who was not truly accepting the need for permanence away from her – adoption was preferred to SGO & s 91(14) & this was upheld on appeal.

The following principles can be distilled from these cases:
  • the fundamental differences between the status & power of adopters & special guardians must be considered when the court is applying the welfare checklist;
  • The level of care required before a SGO is made is evident from the requirement to give notice and for the local authority to prepare a detailed report;
  • The court must give full reasons for preferring one order over another;
  • Trial judges have a broad discretion when weighing the competing advantages of each type of order such that appeals will rarely be justified (in none of the above cases was the appeal successful);
  • An SGO may be imposed on a party who would prefer a different order;
  • The SGO regime is less intrusive than adoption and the fact that it therefore involves a less fundamental interference with existing relationships may be a determining factor;
  • Adoption can involve a ‘skewing or distorting’ of family relationships and this too may tip the balance in favour of the SGO;
  • On the other hand, the greater protection from future litigation afforded by the adoption order may be determinative in some cases;
  • Similarly, the greater permanence of adoption may offer the greatest welfare advantage.

    In the case of Re (A Child) [2007] EWCA Civ 1748 , the first case to reach the Court of Appeal on special guardianship, the court considered various issues relating to the special guardianship report & the investigations of the local authority. It held that it was not open to the court to define or limit the scope of the special guardianship report or restrict or reduce any of the matters which the regulations stipulated needed to be considered. The court further held that, where an prospective applicant for a special guardianship order required the leave of the court to make an application it was not possible for that person to give notice to the local authority of their intention to do so before they had obtained that permission. Finally the court decided that a judge should not invoke section 14A(9) to compel a local authority to perform its obligations under section 14A(8) at the instance of a person who needs but has not obtained permission to apply for a SGO unless section 14A(6)(b) applies.

    The CA again considered the question of the nature of the Special Guardianship report in an addendum to Re S - Re S ((a Child) (No. 2) 2007 EWCA Civ 90 . It transpired that the court at first instance had made a SGO without having the benefit of a special guardianship report. The CA held that strictly speaking a report of some sort was required and that the court could not make an order without it. However, only minimal data would have been in the report which was not already available and the gap could be plugged by filing a report which cross referenced material already filed and added any missing information. Generally whenever a special guardianship report was needed, the court should consider the form it should take if it would be right to depart from the form and if a fresh investigation was not necessary.

    In Re L (Special Guardianship: Surname) [2007] EWCA Civ 196 the Court of Appeal refused permission to a special guardian to change the surname of the child. The child was placed under an SGO with the maternal grandparents. The parents were both drug addicts (though attempting to abstain) & there were issues of domestic violence. The relationship between mother & the grandparents was complex and the father was hostile and the subject of an injunction. The grandparents wanted the child to be known by their surname. The child had already been known by several surnames and the grandparents wanted to ‘normalise’ the situation and give the child a sense of belonging. The Judge refused their application saying that it was contrary to the child’s interests to be known by a different surname and her circumstances needed to remain as faithful to the reality and truth of her situation as possible, notwithstanding the complication of having to explain the different surname to professionals dealing with her as part of the grandparents’ family unit. The Court of Appeal agreed holding that ‘honesty is the best policy. This family must honestly face up to its fractured constitution. E must learn to live with the fact that she is being brought up by her grandparents not her parents.’ The fact that the court is reminded by the legislation to consider the issue of surname when making an SGO did not create any presumption or bias towards doing so.
  • Monday, 3 March 2008

    The Judge'summing up

    The inimitable Peter Cook. Your mission ladies & gentleman, should you choose to accept it, is to write the grounds of appeal.