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, 24 November 2008

The Baby P effect

The Daily Mail is already getting outraged at the burden on the tax payer - not of the promised tax increases - but of the alleged millions the lawyers will earn from applying to keep the identity of Baby P's mother a secret (the outrage is shared by the Times ).

The Sunday Telegraph speculates on the likely prison sentence the mother will receive (4 years seems to be the general consensus).

The Independent reports on the increase in care proceedings being issued as a result of the "Baby P" effect (a 27% rise in a 10 day period in November compared with the previous year) (this story is also picked up by the Times & the BBC (care cases 'soaring').

Friday, 21 November 2008

MPW's case Withers on the vine

Celebrity divorce Marco Pierre White has lost his claim against Withers who he claimed had encouraged his ex-wife to take private documents.

Mucca is back

By contrast, Heather Mills keeps us all entertained by complaining to the PCC about harassment, invasion of privacy and inaccurate reporting of her high profile humiliation in the divorce courts.

Peace breaks out for Madonna?

Good job not all divorcing couples behave like Madonna & Guy Ritchie who have deprived us all of an entertaining public spat by coming to an agreement not only about the money but also about the children.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Media interest continues on Baby P

The Guardian reports on the Government's refusal to publish the complete SCR into the Baby P case and also on Ofsted's first annual report on child protection and local authorities and on Government plans to make changes to the law .

The Telegraph reports that research shows that only 33 out of 189 children whose death has been the subject of an LA SCR were on the CPR . There is further coverage of the text message identifying the mother & her partner and includes something of the Commons debate on the topic. Another piece concerns the reaction of the sacked Paediatrician .

The text message disclosures have given rise to a police investigation according to the BBC.

Panorama's programme on Monday took a rather sympathetic line on social workers and said that a witch hunt was not was needed. You can watch the programme again on , BBC iplayer .

The Independent covers the fall in the number of care proceedings being issued & the fee hike .

The Standard also reports on the Government's refusal to publish the full SCR .

And the Times has Camilla Cavendish's take .

Monday, 17 November 2008

OJC to investigate President

The Guardian reports that the Office of Judicial Complaints is to re-open its investigation into the conduct of Sir Mark Potter, President of the Family Division, in providing a character reference for Bruce Hyman.

Fees for care cases

The papers have now turned their attention back to the care fees hike, raising concerns that it is putting local authorities off issuing proceedings.

See the Guardian , the
Independent and the Sunday Times .

The Telegraph raises questions about the promotion of Haringey's Head of Legal Services. It transpires that LB Haringey had been given a badge of quality by the Law Society three days before the death of Baby P.

There will be a programme on Panorama tonight at 8.30 pm on BBC One on What Happened to Baby P?

Sunday, 16 November 2008

The price for blowing the whistle

I am not usually a Daily Mail reader but I have to acknowledge their excellent coverage of the Baby P case. This article by Eileen Fairweather concerns the story behind the whistle blowing social worker and how quick Haringey were to launch an investigation against her after she raised concerns about another case. There are links within the story to a number of other thoughtful pieces about the case.

Friday, 14 November 2008

The wrong attitude to corporal punishment

The Daily Mail follows up on the story of the refusal to approve adopters who smacked a child by LB Newham, who have apparently once again turned the couple down for reasons which have already been described as unreasonable by Bennett J. See earlier post here .

Till virtual reality or mothers in law do us part ...

As if the divorce rate isn't bad enough as a result of adulterous misdemeanours with real people, a couple in America (where else?) have got divorced when the wife discovered that her husband's online character in Second Life was having an affair with another online character: see the Independent .

And from the Times, the story of an Italian man getting a divorce on account of his mother-in-law making life hell . Call me old fashioned but I thought that was what they were for!

Who Me?

The Baby P coverage continues apace with a veritable feeding frenzy searching for SOMEONE TO BLAME

The Times and the Independent suggest that the Government was warned 6 months by a former Haringey social worker before the child's death about failures to follow child protection procedures.

Haringey apologies according to the Guardian.

Lynne Featherstone MP calls for someone (anyone) to resign . She has a little list and is not impressed with the parachuting in of the man from Hampshire as mentor.

A comment worth reading is from Simon Jenkins who begins
Surprise, surprise. How we all hate the nanny state - until nanny takes a day off. Then we want nannies galore. We want nannies with whips, nannies with locks, keys and public inquiries. Labour, Liberal or Tory nannies are suddenly the order of the day.

The Telegraph reports on the Daily Mail's reports that Baby P's mother has had another child while in custody and according to the Guardian LB Haringey tried to prevent the child being removed from her until, apparently, they were overruled by the police???

The Press Association reveal that Ofsted & the Social Care Inspectorate identified 'issues for improvement' at LB Haringey months ago.

Sky News reports that Gordon Brown will do something to make sure it never happens again .

This is Life says that there have been 115 complaints to the ombudsman about LB Haringey since the death of Victoria Climbie . Right at the end of the article it is revealed that in only one case was there a finding of maladministration.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Déjà vu?

I can barely keep up with the avalanche of press interest in child protection following the revelation of social services involvement in the Baby P case. It seems the press is now back to damning social services because they don't, rather than because they do and I notice a deafening silence from some of the usual critics of the system. Looking at the information which is already in the public domain, including that there were some two visits a week from social services in the several months before the child's death. The serious case review does not suggest any great systematic failing on the part of LB Haringey. It seems to come down to the fact that a quantity of people were simply not doing their jobs to a good enough standard. The serious case review was however prepared by the Local Children's Safeguarding Board, chaired by, you've guessed it, the Director of Children's Services for LB Haringey. I would have thought the conflict of interest was obvious and even if not obvious was decried even by the DfCS some 18 months ago. I note too that the legal team advised at one point that there were insufficient grounds to issue care proceedings: I wonder if this isn't yet another example of a local authority failing to distinguish between cases where the evidence justifies issuing proceedings and those in which an immediate removal is supported by the evidence. Public interest in the case seems set to be maintained with yet another enquiry being commissioned from Lord Laming together with an independent review of children's services.

In the meantime ...

Be warned that some of the newspaper reports contain detailed accounts of the child's injuries, including body maps and computer generated images,

LB Haringey's own statement

The Serious Case Review Executive Summary (pdf file)

The Telegraph's overview of the criminal case with video summary

The Telegraph's time line

The Times: heads not likely to roll

The Telegraph: call for heads to roll

Community Care on Ed Balls' commissioning of a joint area review by Ofsted

Community Care: Director of the Climbie Foundation says the case is worse than the Climbie case

Community Care on the review of progress by Lord Laming

The Daily Mail on the Brown / Cameron Commons Clash - this article also provides an excellent overview of the whole case and the main protagonists (but watch out for the disturbing images).

Sky News

BBC coverage

Times: Baby P's mother thinks she will be home for Christmas

The Guardian : BASW Head defends social workers

Camilla Cavendish: why first impressions are dangerous

Beatrix Campbell comments in the Independent

The Guardian rounds up expert reaction to the case :comments from, Sharon Shoesmith, Beverley Hughes, Ian Johnston, Harry Ferguson, Dr Hamilton, Tim Loughton, Eileen Munro, Wes Cuell & David Bellotti.

Reuters reports that the General Social Care Council is to look at the social work practice in the case

Friday, 7 November 2008

PRFD Practice Direction re bundles, orders & listing

New PRFD Practice Direction issued by HHJ Altman, DFJ for London which came into effect from 15th October 2008

Bundles must be removed immediately after the end of a hearing. Judges will not allow them to be left inside or outside the court for collection the following day.

A. Bundles and case management documents.
1. Supplementary Direction

The President’s Practice Direction (Family Proceedings: Court Bundles) (universal practice to be applied in all Courts other than the Family proceedings court) [2006] 2 FLR 199

This direction is made pursuant to paragraph [2.5] of the above stated Practice Direction. ‘Hearings’ within the provisions of the Practice Direction will include the following so that the requirements as to bundles and the other provisions will apply

a) Public Law Children’s Hearings
All hearings of whatever length.
b) Private Law Children’s Hearings
Save as below, all hearings of whatever length:
• For hearings of less than one hour a bundle is not required (unless circumstances make this appropriate) but other case management papers under paragraph 3 must be filed.
• The Practice Direction does not apply to Conciliation Hearings.

PLEASE NOTE THAT AS FROM the 15th October 2008 this will be strictly applied. Late or non-filing of bundles and Case Management documents under the President’s direction are likely to result in adjournment at the expense of the defaulting party.

2. Witness Bundles.
a) These MUST not be filed before all directions and other hearings unless witnesses will be required to give evidence, and then only relevant bundle extracts should be filed.
b) Where practicable witness bundles should NOT be filed before the hearing, but should be brought to court for use at the hearing itself

3. Content of bundles
Parties are asked to ensure that the content of bundles is kept to the minimum required to deal with the relevant issues.

4. Bundles after a hearing
The PRFD has no facility either for the storage of bundles or to dispose of them without substantial cost, as they are confidential. Accordingly all bundles must be removed immediately after the end of a hearing.

Faxing of documents will not be accepted except in exceptional circumstances and only where the document is short. Late faxing of documents will not be accepted as a means of delivery to the court. Confidential documents such as statements and reports must not be sent by fax. Sending long documents by fax is not permitted save by prior arrangement.

Whilst email is useful for ancillary documents such as position statements and other practice direction documents it should not be used for evidence or other evidential material because of length and lack of confidentiality. The Court Service is reviewing the issue of confidentiality.

1. The Clerk assigned to a particular Court has the overall responsibility to oversee and facilitate the production of the Order. Where there is no clerk in court practitioners should enquire as to which clerk will be responsible for the production of the order for the particular court.

2. Where counsel or solicitor agrees to draft the order, this must be e-mailed by no later than 4.00 pm on the working day following the day of the hearing. Any delay beyond that period may make it necessary to re-list the case so as to finalise the order with a potential liability for wasted costs. In all circumstances the proposed order must be sent by email to the clerk responsible for the court at the time, and to the generic email address (prfd.familycourtorders@hmcourts-service.gsi.gov.uk). This applies even to those cases where arrangements are made to email the order to the Judge as well, and in such circumstances it would be helpful to remind the clerk that the order has also been sent to the judge for checking.

3. In Public Family Law cases, all CMCs will be listed at 10.00 am. Any hearing dates in an order should provide for and specify judicial reading time

Any urgent case for the ‘DJD’ will not be accepted unless issued at the counter by 3.15pm. Any cases issued later in the day will be listed for the next available day, unless permission is obtained in cases of genuine emergency to issue late.

In all cases where appropriate, and particularly in Family Law Act applications the applicant must complete a draft of the pro-forma order to hand to the judge at the outset of the hearing.

Any listing for a hearing of a public family law case, whether urgent or otherwise, will be listed, if possible, before the judge assigned to that case and not in the DJD list and practitioners are asked to co-operate in this arrangement when requesting a listing.

There is a continuing problem in the adjournment of hearings in public law, especially of final hearings, and practitioners are asked to co-operate in avoiding these particularly by timely communication between themselves and the court about the progress of a cases so as to anticipate difficulties at the earliest opportunity.

Barack Obama & family law

From the official Obama website comes Barack Obama's commitments on family issues including:

Strengthen fatherhood and families:
Obama and Biden will work to remove some of the government penalties on married families, crack down on men avoiding child support payments, fund support services for fathers and their families, and support domestic violence prevention efforts.

No doubt the clinching policy which explains his election victory!

LSC to axe 600 jobs

When I first read this story ( LSC to axe 600 jobs ) a small but very mean part of me was tempted to think something small and mean and not very sympathetic. And then I thought - if there is only half a budget to administer they won't need so many people to administer it and clearly nothing is sacred. And to add insult to injury the half a budget that is left will just take even longer to get to the lucky ones who remain in work. These are indeed dark days.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Care fees not irrational

Community care reports that four councils' application for Judicial Review of the care fees hike has been unsuccessful. The full judgment from Bailii is here . Dyson LJ in the lead had no trouble dismissing each and every argument put forward by the local authorities. Bennett J (who has been having a busy time of it!) saw much force in the arguments advanced by the Law Society and NSPCC but ultimately felt compelled to agree with the lead judgment.

Supporting Disabled Parents & SCIE

Community Care has a useful roundup on supporting disabled parents here which has reminded me about the SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence website which is well .. er.. excellent and packed with resource guides and research summaries on aspects of social work practice.

Adoption Week

Community Care comments on gay couples still being overlooked as potential adopters in the run up to National Adoption Week beginning Monday November 11th.

DV statistics

The Guardian summarises recently released information on DV prosecutions : the number of people prosecuted for domestic violence increased by 11% last year and the number of those convicted of such crimes rose by 5%, a Home Office report revealed yesterday.

Click here for the full report: the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan (opens a pdf file).

Doing Porridge does not mean you can't read them the story of Goldilocks

The Dartmoor based Storybook Dads' contact scheme is featured in the Guardian. See here for the Storybook Dads Storybook Dad website . The scheme now extends to other fathers apart from their children such as army dads. Worth bearing in mind and including specifically in a court order for contact if father is in custody.

On and on and on and on

Mr Justice Bennett, despite his uncharacteristic descent into plain speaking, clearly failed to put an end to hostilities between two warring parents when he said to them in 2004 :"I hope that this hearing really will represent the final round of hostilities....The mother and father have a lovely daughter who brings them much happiness and to whom they are both devoted.... If I may put it colloquially and bluntly: for her sake, give her a break." The mother has just attempted to appeal the financial settlement (BBC report) but is still vowing to take the case to Europe over 4 years later. Thanks to John Bolch for the link to the Bailii judgment and for his interesting post on the subject on Family Lore . As he says hats off to the lawyers who must have assisted the court and were acting pro bono but when a court says about our skeleton argument: "it contains a great deal of learning. In my judgment, however, it does not advance Mr or Ms X's case" we should perhaps take the hint that we may have lost sight of the wood for the trees.

No Smoking!

Smokers in LB Redbridge are to be banned from fostering according to the BBC from 2012 unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Drugs: the wider impact

The Observer carried an interesting feature on the impact of drug addiction on kinship carers in advance of a documentary shown on Channel 4's Dispatches on November 3rd : Mum Loves Drugs, Not Me which you can watch again by following the link.

The dreaded referral to social services

An interesting insight into the investigation of a child protection referral is provided by the only single mum in the village in the Guardian.

Camilla returns to the fray

Camilla Cavendish is back with another attack on the family justice system , this time suggesting that victims of domestic violence may be being doubly abused, first by the perpetrator of physical violence and then by the court or state who may place reliance on the perpetrator's allegations against the mother. Incidentally she begins her piece by saying that her original instruction from the editor was to write about family justice until we're sick of it. I don't really need to comment do I? Fortunately Pink Tape has taken up the cudgels on this article.

No crackdown on smacking

A couple have been allowed a rehearing in relation to their application to adopt a second child, sibling to their first adopted child, despite social work concerns about their attitude to smacking according to this Daily Mail story . The relevant local authority are rethinking their position which Mr Justice Bennett appears to have described as unreasonable, bordering on the bizarre and in dangerous territory.

CSA / CMEC: plus ca change?

The Independent raises questions about whether CMEC will represent any improvement over the CSA , particularly in terms of compensation payments.