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.
This is particularly poignant since the latest crime statistics, whilst showing a decrease in murder overall, reveal an increase from 24 to 33 in the number of children killed by their parents as the Guardian reports. The British Crime Survey also reports that 28% of women & 18% of men report having been the victim of domestic violence at some point in their lives. Disappointingly, only 13% of victims reported the crime to police.
It's not, of course, just parents who are a risk - see this story in the Daily Mail about an unregistered child minder in Manchester who has just been convicted of manslaughter of a child who died from head injury. Despite admitting a number of violent acts towards the dead child, including biting and hitting, she was acquitted of murder.
It is perhaps ironic then that it is Nottinghamshire City Council which was criticised for its action in unlawfully removing a child from its mother within two hours of the child being born and ordered to return the child immediately as the Times reports. The case came before Mr Justice Munby of Re X Council v B fame. Ouch.
On the website Teaching Expertise I came across this article: Do children tell lies about sexual abuse? And can we tell if they are lying? written by Jenni Whitehead (a child protection development coordinator) in which she talks about her experience as an expert witness asked to assist in disciplinary tribunals involving allegations made against members of staff. She outlines her approach using the model developed by Undeutsch et al and the criteria they suggest should be considered when assessing the truth or otherwise of allegations. Undeutsch’s hypothesis was that statements about actually experienced events differ in content and quality from statements based upon fantasy, fiction & coercion. Jenni Whitehead also refers to the validity checklist developed by Steller & Boychuck. Although the article is aimed at education professionals, it is useful background reading in analysing children’s accounts and preparing cross-examination. David Bedingfield’s extremely thoughtful book Advocacy in Family Proceedings also contains a helpful and detailed consideration of this subject in the chapter on Child Protection Litigation.
Various news stories have caught my eye in the last couple of days:
Bruce Hyman, reportedly the only barrister ever to be sent to jail for attempting to perverting the course of justice, was sentenced to 12 months in prison when he sent his opponent, a father acting in person in a residence / contact dispute, an email referring to a fake case. Readers may remember the shockwaves this sent through the legal community at his extraordinary behaviour. Readers may also remember the vast quantity of character references submitted to the court on his behalf, including one from no less a figure than the President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter (the father in the case has made an official complaint against the President). For a reminder of the earlier media coverage see this Guardian report here The Judge in sentencing Hyman indicated that he should serve at least six months. I was somewhat surprised to learn that Hyman has in fact been released after only two months in custody and even more surprised that this fact seems only to have had limited media coverage – I read about it in the Ham & High . The victim of Hyman’s hoax has raised the issue of his early release with the MoJ via his MP.
The UK’s first drug & alcohol court, spearheaded by DJ Crichton in Wells Street in Central London had its official launch today. For further background see the Guardian .
There is much media interest in the impact of Lord Laming’s recommendations, following his inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie (listen again or read the transcript for the recent File on 4 feature on the Laming report on Radio 4). The Guardian flags this up in the context of the death of two children in Hackney who were killed a year ago on Monday by their mother. Despite her mental health problems and history of violence Hackney social services sanctioned her unsupervised contact. The children’s father and family are waiting to see whether they will be given access to the full report into their deaths following an investigation by the Hackney Safeguarding Children Board. The director of the Victoria Climbie foundation is calling for an independent inquiry into the children’s deaths and an urgent review of Lord Laming’s reforms. The father says that he was not told about mother’s diagnosis amongs other vital pieces of information.
The DCSF has sent a letter to Chief Executives and Directors of Children's Services introducing revised statutory guidance about Children Act 1989 court orders, which comes into effect on 1 April 2008, alongside a revised Practice Direction (the 'Public Law Outline', which provides guidance to judges/magistrates). The new Volume 1 'Court Orders' guidance replaces the guidance issued in 1991. The guidance includes the draft notice to parents of intended proceedings, a pre-proceedings checklist & draft directions.
The Institute for Advanced Legal Studies is hosting a number of free lectures on topics of interest to family lawyers.
LAURA HOYANO (Faculty of Law, University of Oxford; Fellow in Law, Wadham College) will speak on “Litigating Child Abuse across Boundaries: two courts and two standards of justice?” on Tuesday 5 February 2008 at 6pm.
ANNE BARLOW (School of Law, University of Exeter) will speak on “Cohabitation and Marriage: what has law got to do with it?” on Monday 11 February 2008 at 6pm.
PROFESSOR NICK WIKELEY (John Wilson Chair in Law, University of Southampton) will speak on “The Redesign of Child Support: the triumph of hope over experience” on Tuesday 19 February 2008 at 6pm.
HELEN REECE (Reader in Law, Birkbeck College, University of London) will speak on “The Degradation of Parental Responsibility” on Wednesday 27 February 2008 at 6pm.
REBECCA PROBERT (School of Law, Warwick University) will speak on “Moral Marriage, Mistresses and Mayhew: cohabitation and the law in nineteenth-century England” on Wednesday 7 May 2008 at 6pm.
You and Yours is running a series on Social Care (in conjunction with Woman's Hour.
10 children, thought to have been forced into crime, have been removed into the care of Slough Borough Council following police raids, the BBC reports .
The Guardian reports on the findings of the British Social Attitudes Survey which show a Britain increasingly tolerant of alternative family arrangements except in the area of housework - woman are still doing the bulk of the laundry!
Congratulations to Anthony Douglas of Cafcass who received a CBE in the New Years Honours List. In an article in Community Care he sets out some thoughts on the PLO and the "implementation year" ahead.
I was rather astonished to hear of the immigration, at least temporarily, of an internationally renowned family law expert from Australia into these less inviting waters as this Family Law Week news item relates. Professor Parkinson has come over here to express a few concerns he has about the proposed new child support system (see this earlier post on CMEC ). Professor Parkinson hails from the University of Sydney and this webpage gives a potted summary of his extensive academic track record.
The Observer reports on the so-called Daddy Wars, a phenemenon apparently rampant in the US in which fathers, deprived of their role as breadwinners, fight to assert themselves in the sphere of childcare.
This is a theory apparently propounded by Dr Caroline Gattrell in her paper, 'Whose Child Is It Anyway? The Negotiation of Paternal Entitlements Within Marriage', which will be published next month in the peer-reviewed Sociological Review. She found that men develop strategies to secure their position at the centre of the home. 'I saw fathers in dual-career couples consciously mobilising their so-called "paternal rights" as a reaction to the shift in the traditional patriarchal culture of power and authority,' she said. 'They asserted their paternal "rights" in a way that suggested that children have become the focus for power and negotiation struggles.' So there you have it! It certainly seems to fit with some of my recent experiences of private law contact / residence disputes where time with children is traded with as much hard-nosed bartering as one might expect in a bear market.
As I stepped off the train at Waterloo tonight I was greeted by headlines suggesting that Black Monday was upon us once again as share prices took a huge tumble. I then read in various London papers that two weeks after D-Day comes Blue Monday, the day which some Psychiatrists and Psychologists say we all experience the biggest low of the year (for an account of the somewhat spurious science behind this designation see this Wikipedia page . Debts, despondency over resolutions we have already failed to keep and the dank and dismal weather all contribute to a general air of gloom (in fact it is the warmest January day since records began and any minute now I predict a global warming jag).
However, perhaps borrowing from the equally spurious science expounded in Rhonda Byrne's the Secret, apparently if you expected to be blue today you will be.
Mike Finnigan, of corporate and personal development company Advance Performance, which specialises in human behaviour, said: "If you think about January 21 as 'Blue Monday' then the part of the brain known as the reticular deactivating system will immediately begin to focus on things that arise during the day. Associating a day with something such as an increase in negative or even suicidal thoughts is a very dangerous thing to do. The danger is, if you think that something is going to be 'blue', then it will naturally lead you to act negatively."
Good job I only found out about this after a rather ordinary miserable Monday or I might have been even more downhearted! New Year's resolution to self: think only happy thoughts on Mondays (and don't get depressed when you forget to do so).
The Ancillary Actuary is a relatively new blog from Bradshaw Dixon Moore, legal actuaries based in Littlehampton. Ian Downing, of Act Family Law, reviews the pension valuation software produced by the firm in a recent article on Family Law Week . The service costs £25 per valuation and Ian concludes that the service is hard to fault for the price.
As is usual at the beginning of the year my thoughts turned to New Year’s resolutions. I was rather stuck for ideas for myself so I decided it would be much more fun to make a list of resolutions which I wished that other people would make. Firstly, of course, all UK family lawyers must resolve to read the Family Law Week website and blog on a daily basis. Secondly, it would be great if some more of you could resolve to contribute to the blog. And wouldn’t it be lovely if the Legal Services Commission could resolve to reacquaint itself with the fundamentals of economic reality? It would be also quite interesting if the new ministers at the Ministry of Justice could devise a policy or two relating to family law – any policy – even a Tory one? It would be good too if someone could resolve to clarify the relevant departmental and political responsibilities for matters to do with children but I am not sure who to pin this one on! Some appreciation of the work of family lawyers by the general public or at the very least the fourth estate would not go amiss either but I am trying to be realistic. And for myself? To resist the temptation to emigrate to sunny climes where the trees are full of kookaburras and koalas.
I hope Family Law Week’s blog readers have been able to take advantage of the natural hiatus of Christmas and New Year to take some time off and get a proper break. I have to admit that the postings on the blog have been a little thin owing to my own absence in another jurisdiction. However, I am ever alert to family law issues, even on holiday, and was interested to read that in Australia, as in the UK (see this post on the Editorial blog ), the festive season is usually break rather than make for many struggling relationships. About 10 -20% of divorces in Australia are instigated in January or at least investigated (through an initial lawyer appointment – the peak month for issue is May), brought on no doubt by close proximity and the contrast between the fantasy of Christmas versus its reality. Just as in the UK there was much news coverage of D-Day as the Monday of the first full week back in the office after the Christmas break is known. Australian popstar Natalie Imbruglia led the trend announcing her prospective divorce on January 4th.
The trouble is, of course, that this is not altogether unwelcome news for family lawyers. Happy New Year, here’s my card ...
PS In my catching up on legal news, I was shocked to read about the Medley divorce case the Times of the iniquity of one man in Yorkshire in the throes of a marriage breakdown and which David Chaplin commented on in an earlier post . His wife, on discovering that the family home was in danger of repossession sold his personalised numberplate from the Ferrari. His revenge was to take and destroy one shoe from every pair she owned and destroy a large quantity of her clothes. And he had the cheek to appeal against his conviction for criminal damage. If he came up in front of me on a charge of messing with a woman’s shoes he would be lucky to escape with his life.
Following on from my last post on mediation, the UK College of Family Mediators has changed its name to the College of Mediators. The College plans to widen its membership to include mediators from other fields and aims to build on its experience of the last ten years in family mediation to support good practice and to promote the mediation arena generally. For more information see: www.ukcfm.co.uk
The BBC has reported that twins who were separated at birth married each other without knowing they were related.
The British couple have been granted an annulment by the High Court after they discovered that they were brother and sister. Their identities and circumstances have been kept confidential however it is reported that they were separated soon after birth and were adopted by different families. What an extraordinary sad and tragic story. I think that every child should know who its biological parents are.
The case was raised by Lord Alton in the House of Lords debate on the Human Fertility and Embryology Bill in December. Critics of the Bill fear that relaxing rules on who can have fertility treatment will weaken further the link between children and their biological parents. The Bill has already been reworded after objection that patients would need to show that they had “a social network”. It is now proposed that doctors must ensure that patients can offer "supportive parenting". The Lords will vote on the amended Bill next Thursday.
The Times has reported on proceedings in an appeal against criminal damages charges as a husband and wife carried out tit for tat threats on each others property during their divorce. Neil Medley had been found guilty of criminal damage when forensics had discovered metal bra clasps among the debris of a fire when he allegedly burned £4,000 of his wife's lingerie. He had also stolen one shoe from each pair of her£1,000 shoe collection.
All this was retaliation for the wife having sold his personalised numberplate for his Ferrari and their son's remote controlled toys.