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.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

They f*** you up , your mum and dad

Lord Justice Wall quotes Philip Larkin at warring couple in a custody battle. Surprising it is not done more often. I have been in two cases recently where litigation of one sort or another has been going on since the year 2000.

The full judgment is now available on Family Law Week

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Media access to family courts: Day 3

Still not actually seen any journalists myself. Yeovil County Court obviously of no interest but none apparent in the RCJ yesterday either.

Plenty of comments in the papers, however.

The Times reports on comment by Alison Stevens and others that files are being witheld from parents by social services.

The Press Gazette bemoans the lack of access to documents & calls on more journalists to 'pick up the torch'.

Camilla Cavendish comments on the family justice system in general, & expresses concern about the fee cuts.

The Independent goes to Gee Street & comments on the indecent haste with which the regulations were introduced.

AFua Hirsch comments in the Guardian calling for a lifting of the reporting restrictions.

Caroline Little from the ALC debates with Camilla Cavendish on Women’s Hour about opening up the family courts - listen again here . It is the first item on the programme.

Adam Wolanski's article on the main Family Law Week site summarises the rules & Chris McWatters' article sets the reforms in context with comments from Stephen Cobb QC.

But the for the real truth about family cases see John Bolch . To which I might add that clearly family barristers get paid far too much moneyh & hardly have to do any work!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Media access to family courts: Day 1

I can't say I noticed a deluge of reporters in the Hertford FPC where I was yesterday but clearly the press were busy.

The Guardian comments here.

The Times goes to Barnet County Court, and links to further stories about Manchester, Ipswich, Cardiff, Bath & Central London.

The Telegraph bemoans the damp squib.

And more from the BBC , Independent , Daily Mail . So far silence from the Sun.

The Mail also reports on Jack Straw's fury at civil servants sabotaging open justice .

Jack Straw himself says that
"existing reporting restrictions for the newly attending media will of course still apply to protect children and families, but I want to ensure a change in the culture and practice of all courts towards greater openness, and this is an important step towards that goal."

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Grand Opening Monday

Monday is the implementation date for the changes to the family proceedings rules, shifting the presumption in favour of permitting media entry into family proceedings. The new rules, Practice Direction and President's Guidance Note applicable to the new regime can be found on the Judiciary website here. Will there be a rush to the doors on Monday m0rning?

Monday, 20 April 2009

Report on Looked After Children Published

In the press this week is the publication of the House of Commons Children, Schools and Families Committee - Third Report on Looked-after Children. Press coverage has focused on earlier intervention by removal into care, the inadequacies of foster placements and a possible shift towards residential homes for children.

However the report is vast and there are a number of insightful conclusions, for example the proposition that the focusing of the efforts of social workers onto child protection is driven by resource constraints and public perception of the profession, and is less than ideal. The report concludes that this has the effect of distracting attention from the potential of social work to effect positive change in families, and makes the stakes of interaction too high (the fear that social work=removal into care). The report recommends that social workers should be freed up to work with families before problems become acute, and raises concerns about the extent to which administrative tasks prevent social workers spending time with families. Many social workers are likely to welcome a move back towards 'proper' social work - the business of getting out and working with families rather than form filling - helping struggling families to get along, rather than taking over parenting once things have fallen completely apart.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Fee cuts

The Solicitors Journal reports that barristers have reacted furiously to the LSC’s decision to call in Ernst & Young to report on the impact of changes in the way advocates are paid for family legal aid work.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Care proceedings roundup

The Times accuses Jack Straw of a confidence trick over media access to the courts and Lucy Reed comments as does Camilla Cavendish .

The Guardian reports that child protection authorities yesterday said they hoped to return an eight-year-old boy to his mother who had hit him with a hairbrush as soon as possible, but defended their decision to take him into care.

The BBC covers children in secure units to accompany their broadcasts Inside the Child Prisons Episode 1 .

Also on the BBC : police mistakes meant a chance to charge Baby P's mother with assaulting him was missed several weeks before his death, an unpublished report says. The same story in the Guardian .

The Times reports on an eight-year-old boy taken into care in Yeovil because his mother smacked him with a hairbrush for refusing to get dressed for school. The Guardian follows up with the Council's response and its hopes to return the child to the mother soon.

From Community Care - three social workers have been disciplined by Haringey Council after the north London authority found a backlog of child protection cases had not been dealt with in the wake of the Baby P scandal.

Fee cuts

In the Times Frances Gibb writes about the reaction to the fee cuts from the ALC, the FLBA & the Family Justice Council & barrister Belle Turner says she can't work at the new legal aid rates .

Cross Border Mediation

Last summer, to very little fanfare by family lawyers, the UK adopted the EU Directive on Certain Aspects of Mediation in Civil and Commercial matters. This Directive will work to strengthen mediation for cross border EU family disputes and inevitably will therefore also impact on domestic mediation.

The preamble makes clear that civil matters include family cases although the Directive is not intended to apply to “rights and obligations on which the parties are not free to decide themselves under the relevant applicable law”[preamble para 10]. Although the UK has until 2010 to bring the Directive into force, the effect will be marked as the Directive sets out the obligation upon the UK to provide for proper mediation services to deal with cross border disputes.

The Directive provides in terms for mediation agreements to be enforceable across Member States which would provide an answer for cases crossing jurisdictions where the mediation has taken place in only one jurisdiction [Article 6].

In addition the Directive sets out clearly the mediation confidentiality that is expected and provides that it shall apply to all mediations save for in cases of public policy exceptions or to protect adults or children from harm... [Article 7].
Interestingly enough Article 8 provides that where cross border mediation has been used, limitation periods will effectively be suspended whilst the process is ongoing. Quite how this will tally with the impetus to be first past the post in relation to Brussels II R has yet to be worked out.

On 6th May 2009 Thomas More Chambers will be hosting a mediation seminar in which all these issues and more will be dealt with “All your questions answered – mediation and family therapy”. Suzi Power , an expert mediator and experienced mediator trainer with Resolution, will be the guest speaker at the seminar further details of which are available from www.thomasmore.co.uk

Sarah Lucy Cooper
Barrister, Thomas More Chambers
Resolution Mediator specialising in cross border disputes in particular with Spain

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Two minutes to save a life: sign up to donate organs

This year, 1,000 people in the UK alone will die because of a shortage of donor organs. There are 8,000 people in the UK currently waiting for an organ transplant that could save or transform their life.

90% of people in the UK, when questioned, said they would allow their organs to be used. Yet only 23% have signed up. Statistically, you are more likely to need a transplant than become a donor.

To coincide with World Health Day, today is also national Donor Day. In the time it takes you to read this, or boil the kettle for a cup of tea, you could have signed up to the Organ Donor Register and helped save a life.

I am passionate about encouraging as many people as possible to sign up; to close the yawning gap between the number of people saying they would and those that actually do. I'm doing this because I know only too well what waiting on the transplant list is like.

I was a perfectly healthy teenager when suddenly, just after Christmas 2004, I was taken ill and rushed into hospital. I was told that same day that I had end stage renal failure (ESRF) and needed to go on dialysis immediately, and remain on it for the foreseeable future until a suitable donor kidney was found. Aged 17, this came as an enormous shock to me and my family.

From then on, I required dialysis three times a week for three hours at a time. As well as dialysis, I had a strict fluid limit of 500mls per day and a special diet. The dialysis itself was restrictive, time-consuming and had unpleasant side-effects including low energy levels, tiring easily and almost constant nausea.

All the while, I waited patiently for that phone call saying the transplant was going to take place.

I am now 21 and I am pleased to say my story has a happy ending. In October 2008 I received the news I had been holding out for. A suitable kidney had been found.

Life since my transplant is barely recognisable; I have my health back and I am enjoying the freedom from dialysis which means I can do normal everyday things that people take for granted — socialising with friends, eating and drinking what I want. My family has got the old Holly back.

I've been using my newfound freedom to make sure other teenagers don't have to go through the same torturous waiting process I did: so that anyone, any age, anywhere has access to donor organs that could help save their life.

My campaign is called the Gift of Life , and today's national donor day is part of that. I've got an army of volunteers setting up donor desks across the UK to encourage people to sign up and then and then spread the word by displaying it on their social networking sites.

So go on, be a two-minute hero – put the kettle on. And while you're waiting, log on, sign up and save a life.

• Holly is one of 20 campaigners in Channel 4's Battlefront programme, which follows 20 young campaigners. The second series is showing next month
Reposted from the Guardian.

Open sesame: media access to the courts

As Camilla Cavendish is awarded the campaign of the year at the British Press Awards and Community Care claims the credit for making sure that the Sun did not get an award for its Baby P coverage, Frances Gibb speculates? reports? in the Times that only card-carrying accredited media representatives will be allowed into family courts and not bloggers (outrage!).

But finally the wait is over: the Ministry of Justice has offially announced that Open Sesame day will be on 27th April 2009 & the draft statutory instruments have been laid before Parliament.

The Family Proceedings (Amendment) (No.2) Rules 2009 (SI 857/2009) will apply in all courts except the magistrates and The Family Proceedings Courts (Miscellaneous Amendments) Rules 2009 (SI 858/2009) will apply in the Magistrates courts.

By 10.28 (3) (f) allowed into court will be: duly accredited representatives of news gathering and reporting organisations. And by (4)

At any stage of the proceedings the court may direct that persons within paragraph (3)(f) shall not attend the proceedings or any part of them, where satisfied that—

(a) this is necessary—

(i) in the interests of any child concerned in, or connected with, the proceedings;

(ii) for the safety or protection of a party, a witness in the proceedings, or a person connected with such a party or witness; or

(iii) for the orderly conduct of the proceedings; or

(b) justice will otherwise be impeded or prejudiced.

11.4 is interesting too:

(1) A party or the legal representative of a party, on behalf of and upon the instructions of that party, may communicate information relating to the proceedings to any person where necessary to enable that party—

(a) by confidential discussion, to obtain support, advice or assistance in the conduct of the proceedings;

So no restrictions on who can be talked to about a case for this purpose although the regulations go on to say it must not be passed on any further. Mum's the word.

Social workers: damned if they do, damned if they don't

On the one hand

2 reports warned of Doncaster social services' failings says the Times.

Calderdale SCRs find 'systemic failings' in child protection says Community Care.

Nottingham baby case review reveals procedural failings again in Community Care.

The Mail reports on a Tameside case in which a child died . The SC review found failings in how professionals involved with the family shared information, failed to identify indicators of neglect and were obstructed in their contact with Child J.

Surrey loses its bid to challenge Ofsted children's services rating (Community Care) as its application for judicial review is turned down by the High Court.

Community Care also highlights concerns about a Gravesend children's home and says pressure is mounting for a public inquiry into the alleged abuse of girls placed in the church-run home in the 1980s, which was first exposed by Community Care more than a year ago.

One of the former residents of this care home is Teresa Cooper author of the blog No2Abuse and she writes about her experiences on the blog. I am grateful to her for drawing my attention to some of the articles referred to in this post. You can listen to a podcast of her interview with Natasha Phillips .

On the other hand the Times reports : too many children at risk of serious neglect or abuse are being left with their parents because the care system is considered such a poor alternative, the head of the NSPCC has said. Andrew Flanagan, the new chief executive of the charity, said that after the Baby P tragedy the debate should shift to why foster and residential care were considered “not a good option” and the steps needed to improve the system so that it was not used as an excuse to leave children in danger.

The Mail picks up the story of the Dean family who have recently successfully defeated care proceedings which it describes as a a sad and worrying saga - and one that seems to be becoming all too familiar - of overzealous social workers acting on a flimsy diagnosis and ultimately tearing an innocent family apart.

The Mail also suggests in a story about a family's challenge to the placement of a child with gay adopters that gay adoptions are being actively promoted by Left-wing ministers and councils.

Single mother adoptions are lumped into the same category by the Mail in this story about an adoptive parent given a conditional discharge after years of cruelty to her adopted child . The Mail comments 'The adoption was one of the first by a single mother after social workers and adoption agencies began looking for single parents and gay couples to adopt, in some cases in preference to married couples.' And it concludes : 'In the late 1990s, social workers began to choose single parents as adoptive mothers on the grounds that children who had been born to single parents are better brought up in one-parent homes'. I was only surprised that there was not some outrage expressed about the sentence.

The Mail is obviously on a mission. In this story they report that a father branded a paedophile in a police and social services 'witch hunt' is claiming damages in the High Court for being put through a 'ghastly nightmare' five years long .

The Times dissects the adoption system suggesting both that social workers strive too hard to keep children with birth families and that the assessment process for prospective adopters rules out people for insufficient reasons.

But one social worker at least has fought off a misconduct hearing. The General Social Care Council has ruled that the social worker in Re X (the McFarlane case) was not guilty of misconduct (although she all of the allegations but one made against her were upheld).

Myerson: the credit crunch divorce case and the comments

The synopsis: a City fund manager hit by the credit crunch went to the Court of Appeal yesterday in an attempt to renegotiate £9.5 million of his divorce settlement

The Myerson case

Frances Gibb in the Times

Guest blogger Robin Charrot on Marilyn Stowe's blog.

Minette Marrin in the Times

Why Marilyn Stowe feels sorry for Brian Myerson .

Marilyn Stowe in the Guardian on why Myerson should not appeal further.

Sandra Davis of Miscon de Reya in the Guardian

John Bolch in Family Lore on why Myerson was no surprise.

That's enough Myerson Ed