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, 28 July 2008

The hidden untouchables: part 1

In Family courts: the hidden untouchables the Times continued its series by Camilla Cavendish about the family justice system. In this piece she talks principally about the lack of accountability within the system. She cites Munby J on EPOs as evidence of this. I take the point entirely that this case revealed a catalogue of errors which the system at first instance did not handle well. However, I would argue that the very fact of its ventilation before Munby J and the publication of the judgment provides precisely the sort of accountability she advocates. EPOS generally, and this one in particular, come up at the very last minute. What realistic chance would there have been that the press would have been available to report this story and able to understand (given that there was no evidence filed and this was part of the problem) from the oral evidence given, that there was a miscarriage of justice in the making?

She goes on to consider the other ways in which accountability is inhibited. First, she makes a good point about the lack of councillor regulation. This has always been a grey area and the light of democracy is perhaps not sufficiently shone on it by the amendment to the rules (FPR r 10(20A) allowing a party to disclose to an elected representative or peer the text or summary of the judgment for the purpose of enabling them to give advice, investigate a complaint or raise a question of policy or procedure. The judgment itself and alone, particularly in the case of justices' reasons, is not necessarily going to reveal the problem. I can also see that councillors & MPs are inhibited in raising questions of policy by the constant hiding behind 'data not centrally held'. It would be refreshing and informative if there were a co-ordinated research programme aimed at investigating the concerns raised by those who argue that there have been miscarriages of justice. I do not subscribe to the conspiracy theory that there are still vast numbers of unfounded allegations of MBSP but without information about how many cases in which it is raised I can only fight anecdotal fire with anecdotal fire. If at least one Judge had cast doubt on its very existence and numerous experts have written articles about the need for a clear analysis of the facts before reaching conclusions that a concern of fabricated illness is well founded it might be sensible to look into it.

I also agree with her concern that it is no easy business for parents to complain about local authorities. I think she is right that it takes a courageous parent to complain in the middle of care proceedings about the conduct of the social worker whose evidence to the court may well recommend the removal of children from the parents' care. I usually recommend that my clients wait until after the court case, even if I think they have a valid complaint about something. I do not find that it is a problem getting permission to release documents for the purpose of a complaint (the rules only say you cannot disclose documents without the permission of the court): rather that the chain of people to whom the complaint should be addressed usually involves the very people who are the subject of the complaint and that for understandable if not necessarily entirely valid reasons the response is often that the complaint cannot be investigated whilst proceedings are ongoing. I suspect she is right that many parents are not aware of the role of the General Social Care Council and I must admit to being fairly ignorant myself. A gap I will plug and blog about both here and on Bloodyrelations .

I will continue commenting on this article in a separate post.

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