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.

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

A National Strategy on Neglect & Emotional Abuse

The NSPCC has published its research report on Developing an Effective Response to Neglect & Emotional Harm to Children (downloadable from this page as a pdf file or you can request a copy by email). The report outlines its case for a national strategy to be devised.

Children with Attachment Disorder

A thoughtful piece in the Times by Penny Wark considers the difficulties facing adopters raising children with attachment disorders, profiling in particular Melanie Allen's experience. Melanie has written a book about it - The Trouble with Alex - which I have ordered from Amazon and then review.

Parenting Plus for Professionals

Parentline Plus for Professionals has been launched as a website dedicated to professionals working with children & families. The website is already packed with useful articles on parenting & separation (a guide for parents can be ordered through the site) and on registration there is access to more.

Angela Cannings Foundation

The Angela Cannings Foundation website is now up and running though still in the building stage. There is an associated forum which is likely to make for lively reading, with Penny Mellor heavily involved. One case the team is tracking is the appeal of baby sitter Suzanne Holdsworth, who was convicted of the murder of a child in her care in 2005. BBC's Newsnight carried a feature on the appeal & the medical issues in which one of the officers who investigated the offence expresses concerns about the quality of the investigation, partly because important evidence about the child having a brain tumour was not put before the jury. The outcome of the appeal hearing is still awaited as judgment was reserved.

David Southall re-instated on register of doctors

The GMC has admitted that it should not have banned David Southall from working as a doctor because it wrongly applied its new rules retrospectively accordingt to the BBC but he remains barred from undertaking any child protection work. He faces a further disciplinary hearing in Manchester from 12th May in relation to breathing tank experiments.

Investigating Domestic Abuse

The Association of Chief Police Officers & the National Policing Improvement Agency have published new guidance on Investigating Domestic Abuse (pdf file). The guidance emphasises the link between domestic abuse & child abuse but ACPO will also be publishing revised guidance on Investigating Child Abuse & Safeguarding Children. The guidance is breathtakingly comprehensive and covers disclosure into family proceedings (as well as the fact that the sections on evidence gathering may assist in identifying the sort of documents & materials which could be requested). For the current guidance on police disclosure see the DCA website. More guidance is in development between Cafcass & ACPO on Information sharing in private law cases.

Fees Increase for Care Proceedings

More comment on the fees hike in yesterday's Times from barrister Stephen Cragg of Doughty Street.

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Family Procedure Rule Commitee Open Meeting

The Ministry of Justice has announced that there is to be an open meeting of the FPR Committee on 11 July 2008 from 10.30 - 1.30. You must apply for a place by 23 May 2008.

News Roundup

It's been a busy week in the news for family law subjects.

I am sure we have all been riveted by the Austrian family story with over 2,400 stories on Google news .

On Community Care there are stories about a Parliamentary debate on so-called forced adoptions , impending discussions between the LGA & the government about funding for the care issue fee hike & reports from TACT that foster carers are being pressured into applying for special guardianship .

The Telegraph has a long feature on divorced mothers as single parents & the legalities of leaving children alone or with a sitter .

The Observer features a high-profile appeal for foster carers supported by Cherie Blair.


The Times had a piece by DJ Gerlis critical of the fees hike for care proceedings.

The BBC reports on the non-prosecution of a doctor for the evidence he gave in the trial of Marianne Williams, the rather surprising two year community sentence handed down to Dr David Moore, Consultant at Birmingham Children's Hospital for downloading child pornography (GMC hearing to follow), Cardiff University research on the growth in violence towards children (more than double in the last year), & the the cost of violence towards women (£40 billion a year).

Blog roundup

I start where I usually start and you all should start with the inimitable John Bolch of Family Lore . Among his many recent posts I was particularly glad to read about the Independent's Happy List which is a truly touching, moving & inspiring list of people who contribute happiness to our lives. You can add your own nominations. John has also blogged about Tricia Walsh-Smith's you tube videos about her divorce, Stack v Dowden , & the downloadable booklet for separating parents published by Resolution .

The Ancillary Actuary blog published a post last month by Tom Tyler from my chambers on pensions . Peter Moore, the editor of the blog tells me that pension sharing reports from Bradshaw Dixon Moore always test how the scheme implements pension-sharing orders. If they identify a risk of financial harm, the details and options are set out in their trademark straightforward and readable report. You can email the firm to ask for a report and a copy of their free guide on pensions and divorce.

Pink Tape has blogged about that Coleridge speech & the new blog Laws of Love by Southampton based barrister, Mark Chaloner, who has also blogged about that Coleridge speech.

Diane Benussi's Benussi Blog has dealt with separation & sex tourism, telling children the truth & couples who separate living in the same town.

Divorce Solicitor Lynne Bastow talks about whether it matters who issues the petition, applying respectful uncertainty (ie scepticism) about what your child says about your ex, & how to tell if your wife no longer loves you.

Judith's Divorce Blog from Judith Middleton of Latimer Hinks blogs about Coleridge, the silly filly & involving the in-laws in divorce.

Marilyn Stowe's blog features posts on parents' views on their children's spouses, faith & divorce, investment trusts & marital mobile snooping.

And on my blog Bloody Relations there are some fine comedy videos (Monty Python & Peter Cook) & posts on contact post-separation, equal parenting time & McKenzie friends.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Divorce Online claims 5% of market

Family Law Week has received a press release from Divorce Online concerning a national media campaign they are about to undertake to increase their market share. The online divorce processing service claims that they now handle 5% of all divorces in England and that the number of divorces handled last year was up 50%.

Mark Keenan, Managing Director, was also quick to point out that the number of people using his services "is likely to grow as the credit crunch and looming recession starts to bite.”

Times Top Legal 100 published

The Times Law pages has pitched into the seemingly insatiable "list" industry with publication of "Law 100", its list of the most powerful lawyers in the country. They claim that the list

"aims to be different: it is not a list of excellence, popularity or media mentions — although these can be factors. So it’s not just big names or brilliant stars (take comfort, those excluded). Instead, we tried to select the most powerful and influential within the law today — in the judiciary, private practice, in-house, public sector or politics."

Top of the overall list is Lord Bingham, the Senior Law Lord, but the top family lawyer in the list, coming in at no 6, is Baroness Hale. Other notable inclusions in the Top 1oo are Sir Mark Potter, Nick Mostyn QC, Diana Parker of Withers and Fiona Shackleton, who would probably now win a most recognised lawyer vote among the public.

The full run down of all the lists is on The Times website

Monday, 21 April 2008

Public Law Fees Increase

The Ministry of Justice announces the outcome of consultation on the proposed fee increase for public law proceedings here and they do exactly what is says on the tin. The outcome is that they are going to increase the fees. They have consulted and they are still going to increase the fees. They will publish the responses to consultation in two months time. Any resemblance to Mr Mugabe's decision to delay the announcement of the actual results of the Presidential election in Zimbabwe is entirely coincidental.

Foster care assessment placements

Community Care starts an interesting debate on the anecdotal rise in mother & baby foster placements as an alternative to residential assessments. My experience is that some local authorities have been encouraging this alternative to residential assessments for some time if they have the right pool of professional foster carers to deal with the parents in appropriate cases. It can offer a lot better and less bruising experience to parents than residential but it is never available to couples. It would be fascinating to know what your experience is nationwide on the effect of the public funding changes on the use of residential assessment units? Comments please.

Child Protection Resources

A round up of useful resources is posted on Community Care .

Video Links & the magistrates courts

And another thing ... I have just been told by a magistrates court outside London that magistrates have no power to receive evidence by video link. I am not aware of any procedural or statutory bar on this but perhaps I am missing something. It makes a bit of a mockery of the references scattered throughout the PLO about all family courts making greater use of video link and similar technology to minimise the inconvenience to experts who might be in South Africa at a conference or having accidents in the Antipodes. Has anyone else come across this problem? Does it have a legal basis?

Floating like a butterfly, not stinging anyone

I was recently in a case in the RCJ which should not have been floating but ended up doing so. For those of you not familiar with this predicament, in the RCJ you are usually given a fixture date ie a date where the court says you will be listed for hearing on such and such a date with a specific time estimate and barring Acts of God you will get on at the appointed hour or near enough. Or you can take an at risk hearing which means you turn up and hang around and hope to get a Judge if one of the other 50 million cases that day collapse. The RCJ has a relatively good track record of getting you before a Judge for at least some time even if you are listed at risk. But this is not much good when you need a whole day of court time. It is particularly galling therefore to turn up thinking you have a fixture only to find you are floating ie they haven't in fact got a Judge to hear the case but one might turn up. You only find out you are unexpectedly floating at about 3pm the day before. You are not generally given any explanation of the reason for this unless you specifically ask. You do not want to be the one jumping up and down about it as you are usually trying to negotiate with listing to get an alternative and one that fits everyone's availability so you need to be ultra-charming and not snarling about why you haven't got a Judge in the first place. Possbily your Judge went sick, possibly something else more urgent came along or something has overrun. In fairness to listing, I have not yet managed to find out what this is all about or the reason for the system they adopt to deal with floating cases but it is absolutely maddening and a huge waste of (usually public) funds. The other day there were 5 counsel, 2 lay parties, 2 social workers & a Guardian all hanging about. We go to court 33 and sit and wait. No one comes to speak to us to tell us what is going on or why we have been bumped off or when we might get heard. The pack of us had to troup up to the list office to find out when we might get another fixture (by this time our time estimate had expanded up to 2 days). Everyone is wildly inconvenienced - cases have to be returned to accommodate the new listing etc. In fairness, the court staff worked a miracle and are able to offer a date in 3 weeks. But who knows whether the same thing will happen all over again on the next occasion. Would it be too much to ask to install some kind of direct line to the list office from outside court 33 so that communication could be facilitated (a bit like the cab freephone in a supermarket)? Or that we could have somewhere to go an work while we wait or an indication of being released until 12 or something? And how do we then get the agreed directions approved and our wretched SIP form stamped. I will try to speak to the list office about this to hear it from their point of view and I appreciate they have a lot of their time taken up with Counsel having a hissy fit and managing the impossible but it does seem to me at least that in this day and age of technology, emails, mobile phones, & video links there must be a better way. Any thoughts?

Doctors and the diagnosis of abuse

Another interesting resource on this topic is this article by Dr Newberger from Massachussets & another one she co-wrote with Jane Snyder in which she discusses professional consensus or lack of it on what constitutes evidence of abuse with reference to research which shows that doctors tend to take a less serious view of possible signs of abuse.

On a related subject, the RCPCH has declined to pass a motion of no confidence in the GMC but has said 'the College continues to have grave concerns over the current GMC procedures in child protection.' according to the Press Association .

The Physical Signs of Child Abuse

The Royal College of Paediatrics & Child Health has at long last published their revised guidance on the Physical Signs of Child Abuse which you can order here .

Friday, 11 April 2008

Nagalro & the PLO

In the News section on the NAGALRO site is a link to a speech by Helen James, the Nagalro Chair, on the PLO, Early Interventions & the Children's Guardian and another link to Nagalro's response on the PLO questionnaires.

Nagalro on the PLO

CHILDREN’S VOICES REDUCED TO ‘JUST A FAINT CRY’
UNDER NEW COURT ARRANGEMENTS

Speakers at a NAGALRO reception in London on 8th April warned that
children at risk of abuse and neglect will not be adequately safeguarded in the
crucial period before care proceedings are started under recently introduced
court arrangements.

Alison Paddle, the departing Chair of NAGALRO welcomed a speedier and
more flexible approach to court proceedings for children as a result of the new
‘public law outline’, but cautioned that ill-thought out changes to the complex
family justice system will bring unintended and risky consequences for
children.

Alistair MacDonald, co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children in the
keynote address, ‘The Voice of the Child – Still a Faint Cry?’, pointed out that
the new court approach to care proceedings requires local authorities to work
more closely with parents when considering going to court for care orders.
Parents are entitled to legal assistance when they receive a ‘letter before
proceedings’ from the Local Authority, but children have no entitlement to
independent representation until a later stage, when a court application has
actually been issued. He called for the early appointment of a children’s guardian when this ‘letter before proceedings’ was sent, in the interests both of natural justice and to ensure children have independent representation to protect their interests andput across their views when crucial plans are being made about their future. Mac Donald said: ‘Vitally, the involvement of the Children’s Guardian following the letter before proceedings would also militate effectively against collusive agreements that satisfy an adult agenda at the expense of the interests of the child.’

MacDonald advocated access to legal help for the child too, saying: ‘The
concept of access to justice for children and young people cannot be limited
and must extend outside the boundaries of court proceedings.’
He concluded: ‘Sadly, whilst the central aim of the pre-proceedings process is
to fix safe and sustainable arrangements for the child, the voice of the child
within this process is a very faint cry indeed.’

Helen James the new Chair of NAGALRO today said: ‘The 3100% increase in
court fees that local authorities will have to pay to take a case of neglect or
The Professional Association for Children’s Guardians, Family Court
Advisers and Independent Social Work Practitioners and Consultants
abuse to court is a deterrent to vital safeguarding measures. Put that together
with the loss of specialist family lawyers who are leaving the field because of
cuts in legal aid funding and the late involvement of the children’s guardian
and solicitor and a very worrying picture emerges. The protective
mechanisms for vulnerable children are being seriously weakened, and their
rights are being undermined.’

DNA testing

Further to my earlier post about DNA testing, the Government has just added a new service to the list of those accredited under s 20 of the Family Law Reform Act 1969 & has republished the complete list .

Research on the Care System

Community Care carries an article by June Statham summarising and comment on the research below.

Title: The Pursuit of Permanence: a study of the English care system
Authors: Ian Sinclair, Claire Baker, Jenny Lee and Ian Gibbs
Institution: University of York, commissioned by the Department for Children, Schools and Families as part of a research initiative focused on the Quality Protects programme.

ABSTRACT

This study traced the "care careers" of more than 7,000 children looked after by 13 English local authorities. It analysed why children entered and left the care system, the reasons for movement and changes of placement within it, and the outcomes for different groups of children. It concludes with recommendations for how the care system should work and what it should offer.

Click here for the summary of findings from the research (pdf file).

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Coleridge J's speech to Resolution

The full text of Mr Justice Coleridge's speech at the Resolution conference is
here (opens a pdf file).

PLO in Practice

It would be great to hear from other practitioners about how they are finding the PLO and what different courts are up to. For example, are courts changing their listing practices and not listing cases until the IRH? I am aware that in Medway the court is using Fridays as a directions day, Monday to Thursdays are being used for hearings and cases are no longer being listed for 5 days but for 4 on the basis that each case should get a clear start and the undivided attention of the Judges. Some Judges are refusing to hear cases unless the PLO documentation is submitted by email by a certain time the day before the listed hearing. Some Judges are insisting that hearings should only be referred to as one of the stages of the PLO and not called directions hearings (ie they are CMCs or IRHs). FPCs are taking even more of an age to wade through the checklists and standard directions. Also anecdotal evidence suggests that a lot of local authorities are issuing cases like fury before the fee increase expected on 5th May. What's happening in your neck of the woods?

And by the way have you signed up to the Family Law Week CPD service and looked at / listened to my slides / podcast on the PLO?

Thermal Injuries

The NSPCC has published an information leaflet Thermal Injuries on Children based on a systematic review of the quality work in the world literature about scalds and burns sustained by children. It is one of a series of information leaflets on aspects of physical child abuse based on a collaborative project by the NSPCC and the Welsh Child Protection Systematic Review Group at the Department of Child Health, Cardiff University. Others in the series include Bruising, Fractures, Oral Injuries & Human Bites and are available on the Welsh Child Protection Systematic Review Group website .

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Welcome to the Laws of Love

A new family law blog - Laws of Love (a family law blog dealing with all aspects of relationships (legal and just plain odd) - from Mark Chaloner, a Southampton based family barrister, was launched on the same day as the PLO and made has made a very good start with a piece on contact. I am particularly glad of today's post on Coleridge J's speech to Resolution which tells us more about what the Judge had to say. Saves me a job!

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Talking of Kinship Care

Following my earlier post on the kinship care research, the Guardian reports on the lack of financial support offered to grandparents.

Public funding deal

And now have a look at this press release from the MOJ about the deal done between the Law Society & the MOJ here .

I wonder if they got a settlement uplift?

Very interesting post in the Nearly Legal blog about the recent settlement of litigation between the Law Society & the LSC. Comments please!

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Kinship Assessments

New research reported on Community Care concludes that kinship care is an under-explored option in care cases. Community Care links to a summary of the findings. The full report is to be published soon on the BAAF website .

The summary of findings is set out below. In an astonishing 55% of cases studied there was no indication of any consideration of kinship care. Essentially the research concluded that for children under 5 kinship care was less likely to break down than long-term foster care but more likely than adoption. For children between 5 & 12 kinship care was more susceptible to breakdown than either foster care or adoption but there were a number of factors influencing this including the lack of support for kinship placements and the level of damage sustained by children before they moved to a kinship placement. Financial support was an issue and inconsistent support was offered by local authorities. General support was insufficient and inconsistent. Social work predictions of problems and the potential for disruption were not reliable. Parental contact was not generally found to pose a risk to children though it was problematic in a significant minority of cases. Anticipated contact difficulties were not accurately predicted. Kinship carers also reported a high level of dissatisfaction with social workers (25%) with frequency of change of social worker being the biggest source of complaint.

Finding 1: There is scope for a more systematic exploration of the kinship option for all children prior to proceedings. This could lead to more/earlier placements for
some children.
Finding 2: Kinship care can deliver Quality Protects Objective 1 for many children but it does not work for all.
Finding 3: Better or poorer outcomes are not solely dependent on individual
circumstances.
Finding 4: Pre-placement assessment is important but problematic
Finding 5: The support needs of kinship placements need to be more adequately
addressed
Finding 6: Kinship care facilitates the maintenance of some family links and
contact is usually safe but it is often difficult.

Our conclusions can be simply stated: kinship care can be a positive option for many abused and neglected children but it is not straightforward and requires careful assessment and adequate support. Therefore, if the full potential of kinship
care is to be realised, there must be clear central and local policies, appropriate infrastructures and adequate resourcing. These are not new conclusions and were highlighted by, amongst others, Hunt herself in the Scoping Paper for the
Department of Health in 2001. Since then, some progress has been made and there is now stronger research evidence on some aspects of the subject. It is to be hoped that the inclusion of kinship care in the White Paper Care Matters:
Time for Change (DfES, 2007), brief as it is, may result, at last, in this form of care getting the more concentrated attention it so clearly deserves


The summary report makes a number of specific recommendations which make interesting reading.

The report picks up on a number of social work hostilities / indifference to kinship care which certainly seem to chime with my experience. I have reservations about what I see as the expectation by social services that kinship carers should be able to pass through the same hoops as non-family foster placements and a too ready dismissal of the not so perfect grandparent. Kinship carers are perhaps far more likely to put up with behaviour from a damaged child than non-family foster carers and therefore not to withdraw readily when the going gets tough. It will be interesting to see whether the emphasis in the PLO on Family Group Conferences & kinship assessments pre-proceedings might make a difference.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

A fund of information


The Ancillary Actuary has a useful post here referring to an seminar handout by John Buck of Tanfield Chambers on Pensions in Divorce. The handout can be downloaded through the blog.







Tom Tyler of 4 Brick Court Chambers has also provided a seminar handout about Pensions