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.

Friday, 30 October 2009

Contact & the internet age

An interesting article on Community Care about the impact of technology on supervised contact .

This has been cropping up as an issue in my cases for some time now with printouts from facebook becoming a regular feature of evidence and teenagers in particular arguing that being deprived of a mobile phone is practically a breach of their human rights. Quite apart from the monitoring nightmare that it represents in general terms for whoever is caring for the children, it is made even more difficult by the development of a seemingly incomprehensible style of communicating (u don dat doncha etc). Facebook now has the facility for translating things into Latin which I might find easier to understand than yoofspeak!

Scott Schedules

It was a thought provoking day in Brentford. I seem to be doing a run of fact finding hearings and I greatly enjoyed the CPD seminar on the subject given last night by my colleague in Chambers, George Butler. The text of the seminar will be posted on the 4 Brick Court website soon. One of the matters which caused the Judge disappointment was the state of the so-called Scott schedules. It was a private law case with allegations of domestice violence. The documents which had been prepared by each party simply set out a list of allegations made by the Applicant in one table with a separate table prepared for the Respondent setting out the responses.

A Scott Schedule is so-called after a Mr Scott, a surveyor, who invented the tool for use in litigation. It is most often used in the Technology & Construction court. It has no set structure in civil litigation as it will depend on the case and the nature of the allegations as to what information will assist the court. This is what the Technology & Construction Court guidance says:

5.6.1 It can sometimes be appropriate for elements of the claim, or any Part 20 claim, to be set out by way of a Scott Schedule. For example, claims involving a final account or numerous alleged defects or items of disrepair, may be best formulated in this way, which then allows for a detailed response from the defendant. Sometimes, even where all the damage has been caused by one event, such as a fire, it can be helpful for the individual items of loss and damage to be set out in a Scott Schedule. The secret of an effective Scott Schedule lies in the information that is to be provided. This is defined by the column headings. The judge may give directions for the relevant column headings for any Schedule ordered by the court. It is important that the defendant’s responses to any such Schedule are as detailed as possible. Each party’s entries on a Scott Schedule should be supported by a statement of truth.

In family cases, Scott schedules can be used to good effect particularly in cases involving domestic violence, injuries to children & the allocation of chattels in ancillary relief or indeed, generally to set out threshold findings sought. The precise contents of the schedule will vary according to the case type but essentially the schedule should give each allegation or item a number, summarise each party's case on each finding and cross reference to any relevant evidence in the bundle. There could also be a final column for the court to record its findings on the allegations although it may be easier for the court to incorporate the schedule into a judgment in which the findings are recorded.

The Judge at Brentford indicated that if proper Scott schedules were not prepared when ordered the court would be likely to adjourn the case for the work to be done, with possible cost penalties.

Contact & residence

I was asked by a Judge in Brentford County Court the other day whether it was possible to make a contact order without first making a residence order. Quick as a flash, my opponent, who had the benefit of having been asked this by the same Judge recently was able to answer by pointing to this paragraph in the Red Book (in the footnotes to s 8 of the Children Act 1989):

Contact orders cannot be made without first determining with whom a child lives—Contact orders cannot be made without first determining with whom a child lives, since it is the residential parent who allows the child to stay with the person who has a contact order in their favour (Re B (A Child) [2001] EWCA Civ 1968). However, there does not need to be a residence order in force before there can be a contact order.

Actually on reading the judgment I am not sure that it is clear authority for the proposition that a residence order is not necessary but it is probably as close as it gets. The case arose because a Judge had managed to get himself into a pickle by ordering contact to both parties and as Ward LJ said a shared contact order is a creature unknown to law.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Interpreters for deaf & hearing impaired litigants

I quote below from the court service website

Her Majesty's Courts Service will meet the reasonable costs of interpreters for deaf and hearing-impaired litigants for hearings in civil and family proceedings.

Many people have a friend or relative who usually interpret for them. If the deaf person wants such a person to interpret for them, they will need to ask for permission from the Judge. The Judge must be satisfied that the friend or relative can exactly interpret what is being said to the court and what the court is saying to the deaf person.

Unless the relative or friend has a recognised qualification in relaying information between deaf and hearing people, it may be better to use a qualified interpreter. The friend or relative may still be able to attend and provide support, but permission should be sought from the Judge first.

If an interpreter is needed, the court will make arrangements for an interpreter to attend.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

DCSF research on adoption & fostering outcomes

The DCSF has published a research briefing looking at how successful adoption and long-term foster care is for children in providing security and permanence, and promoting positive outcomes.

The conclusions are summarised below.

This study has shown that the experience of longterm,stable foster care may be very positive. Although it cannot give legal security, long-term foster care may provide emotional security and a sense of permanence to children. The problem remains, however, that although long-term foster care can offer permanence, in practice it may fail to do so. However, it is important to take account of the fact that children typically enter their permanent placements in foster care at a significantly later age than adopted children:

  • Timely decision-making and timely planning for permanence are essential to enable children to enter their permanent placements as early as possible. This may enhance both the likelihood of placement stability and,where this is in children’s best interests, the chance of adoption This has implications both for children’s services and the courts;
  • Carer adoption gives later-placed children a chance of adoption. It is important, where it is appropriate for the child, for carers to be encouraged and supported to obtain a legal order , for example residence, special guardianship or adoption;
  • Placement quality is as important as placement stability.

You can download the research brief.
The Nuffield Foundation has published an interim report on the working of the Family Drug and Alcohol Court, one year on from its inception.

The court, based on a US model, is being piloted at the Wells Street Inner London Family Proceedings Court for three years to the end of December 2010, funded by the DCSF, MoJ and Home Office and three local authortities. The research team was headed by Professor Judith Harwin of Brunel University.

This interim report looked at the experiences of the 37 families who had been through the court (the research team had predicted 60 families). From that sample they found that maternal substance misuse was the trigger to all the care proceedings before the court; that over half the mothers also had suffered mental health problems and domestic abuse and that half of them had criminal convictions (two thirds of the fathers involved had criminal records).

Overall the researchers found that the court operated efficiently and increasingly as a problem solving court, with judges engaging in acivities outside their normal remit, such as solving housing or financial difficulties. This pro-active attitude and the quick assessments of the multi-disciplinary team were valued by the parents who had been involved in the court. However the researchers also found that the numbers coming through the court were lower than expected, as were the numbers using the parent mentor scheme. Further work would need to be done to address these issues.

The summary and the full interim reports are available on the Nuffield Foundation website

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Collaborative Law

It's not just for solicitors you know. Family Chambers 29 Bedford Row have been putting on their thinking caps and have formed themselves a collaborative law group. A first for the bar?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Elsewhere in the news: sham marriages, mental breakdowns and the social workers checklist

More 4 news reported on a sharp increase in sham marriages being reported this year. The report claims that the increase is due to a Law Lords decision which ruled that regulations in 2006 designed to prevent such marriages were unlawful. Registrars across the country are apparently seeing one such marriage a week so that the figure less than three hundred in 2006 could rise to 500 or more this year

The report followed the sentencing of a mother and son in Birmingham for arranging seven sham marriages and you can view it in full on the More4 website.

There was also plenty of coverage for the High Court proceedings in which it has been claimed that a now penniless millionaire faked a mental breakdown to delay disclosing the whereabouts of some £400m that is thought to have gone missing. The Times has a report on it here.

Meanwhile The Guardian has reported on a new checklist for Harrow Borough Council’s social workers to ensure that they check for as many signs of possible neglect as possible.

But for something completely different, The Telegraph has helped John Cleese out by highlighting his new tour John Cleese… or How to Finance Your Divorce which launched on Friday. The comic claims he has only started performing again to pay for the recent £12m divorce payout.