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.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

'Forced Adoptions': behind the Iron Curtain

The Guardian carried an interesting article about forced adoptions in East Germany. Clearly cases that went on behind closed doors and where people are still not able to get straight answers to straightforward questions. From a West European perspective it is almost impossible to get one's head around such systemic abuse - not saying it not possible here - but my theory is that concerns in the present UK system are more about mess up than conspiracy - discuss?

Spare time: here's what I do in it

Spent a fascinating part of this evening with a Consultant Psychiatrist in Psychotherapy - one of the good guys in my view - talking about the service they offer, the questions the local service professionals have about the care proceedings / psychiatric interface - what should they worry about - should they get involved as experts in court proceedings etc. Really impressed by the commitment I was hearing to client care and the awareness of responsibility to the court process.

I would like to see more interdisciplinary opportunities like this. Why is it not a fundamental part of a lawyers' training or at least one offered generally by CPD training? Could not the GMC / RC Psych / Bar Council organise some joint training opportunities?

If not maybe I will. Any offers?

Panorama: interesting care case on experts

Watch again - Panorama on an interesting case involving experts and parents accused of NAI - Professor Tim David comes out smelling of roses - as I would expect from his careful approach in all cases especially to the differential diagnoses issues.

David Marsland to recommend sterilisation for abusing parents

Social workers should be able to recommend irreversible sterilisation for parents who abuse their children, according to a top academic.

Professor David Marsland, emeritus scholar of sociology and health sciences at Brunel University and professorial research fellow in sociology at the University of Buckingham, claims sterilisation is the only way to prevent abusers from continuing to harm their children.

Marsland will defend his controversial views during a live debate on BBC Radio 4's Iconoclasts tomorrow at 8pm.

LSC contracts: Law Society challenge

The Law Society is taking on the LSC over the family law contracts.

Solicitors' websites

What is this one about? Thanks to Charon QC

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Advocacy tips

Fun top tips on advocacy site from across the pond

Winning Trial Advocacy

I will add a few:

* Do research your expert - more than 3 in 4 of us don't and take it on trust. Check out what your expert really knows about children
* Listen to the throw away lines and phrases - when I fished the video out from among my children's Disney dvds denotes a certain lack of reverence for the court process - but it is the phrase that slips out and the witness tries to distance themselves from that can be the most telling
* think about the answers to the questions - not the questions themselves
* listen to the answers - don't stick to your script slavishly
* stop when you're ahead - you don't get paid by the question - less is usually more
* watch for the witness straying out of their field - get them back to what is clinically or forensically provable
* listen for the 'I would have' done X point - did they or did they not?

More thoughts to follow.

Shopportunity: round up

Thanks again to my sister's sister-in-law (mine too?) Kim for the shopportunity word!

Some places are just a total shopportunity.

Kingston is one. Bromley is another. Just fab all round.

I will just mention that Kingston has a collection of designer shops called Pie which are all fab. Also Bentalls, Heals, Russell & Bromley etc etc.

Bromley has a TK Maxx - I cannot get enough of TK Maxx. Bras & knickers at £2.99 a pop what more could a girl want for in life.

Chelmsford - I will at some point put in a plug for my favourite shop but there is a great little stretch of shops in Moulsham Street (opposite court - go under underpass and turn right) including a Cooperative Department store (the Quadrant) with fab concessions though rather an old lady air about it - worth a hunt through especially if there is a sale on - to top designer outlets. The top tip will be worth waiting for - the sort of shop where you get offered a glass of champagne or a coffee and a sympathetic ear, no pressure and I defy you to leave with a clothing need unmet.

Peterborough - strangely lacking in a TK Maxx - anchor John Lewis store in the main centre - but another strangely good Cooperative (the Anglia Regional at the back of the Westgate).

Remember though - a bargain is not a good bargain if it is merely something you can't use at a price you can't resist.

LSC contracts.

Good post on Nearly Legal about the LSC contract debacle.

Less supportive post by John Hemmings (August 6th) - I have posted a comment - join in do! I am puzzled by his reference to parents being refused legal aid. Perhaps he knows something we don't? I am also disappointed by his reference to lawyers rolling over in the face of care proceedings. I am sure some do a very bad job but I think most of us give it a good go. It is true that one doesn't win very often at a final hearing if you are representing a parent. In my experience if you are going to win in the sense of children returned home to parents you will usually have done so before the final hearing which is then compromised with a supervision order or the LA withdrawing. I do not agree that most care orders are made without justification but I do agree that some are made without sufficient justification and because one judge takes a view that another one would not. I would like to see more involvement of the higher courts in the general administration further down the line - the occasional Court of Appeal Judge in the magistrates court? Some sort of random review / spot checking of judgments? A point for the Family Justice Review perhaps?

I would also like to see this quote from Hedley J inscribed somewhere in every court room:

Re L (Care: Threshold Criteria) [2007] 1 FLR 2050:

“…society must be willing to tolerate very diverse standards of parenting, including the eccentric, the barely adequate and the inconsistent. It follows too that children will inevitably have both very different experiences of parenting and very unequal consequences flowing from it. It means that some children will experience disadvantage and harm, whilst others flourish in atmospheres of loving security and emotional stability. These are the consequences of our fallible humanity and it is not the provenance of the State to spare children all the consequences of defective parenting. In any event it could simply not be done.”

Cafcass: Why? The value of Children's Guardians

The leader of Surrey Council recommends scrapping Cafcass according to this article in Community Care -he suggests the responsibilities are transferred to the local authorities. Back to square one then with LAs funding GAL's Panels - I remember one GAL telling me in the olden days that she had to be careful what she said in evidence because if she was too often critical of the LA she would be dropped from receiving work.

I have been thinking more about the cases involving GALs and why their role is so essential. A colleague spoke a heresy out loud which has been knocking around my meagre brain for a while. Why is there so much emphasis on cases involving babies? It seems to us that from a forensic viewpoint these are the cases with arguably the least active role for the GAL and the least demanding since wishes and feelings cannot be ascertained. That said I can think of one recent case where a GAL's stance in relation to a very young child was pivotal because she went and observed the contact - more than once - and was so impressed with the father's handling of the child and his relationship that she argued very hard that he should not be ruled out. And he wasn't and the child is now placed with him. We could probably have got there without that since there were glowing contact notes but it would have been very much more difficult and the GAL's direct observations could become part of the evidence in a way that submissions from the solicitor could not have matched. Generally speaking, however, I wonder whether the baby cases should really get the priority they do.

I am happy to report that in my long running saga without a GAL since November that a GAL has been appointed. Immediately on holiday and unable to come to court till February but at least a step in the right direction.

Eyes for Lies Blog: Naomi Campbell

Not strictly family law I know but if you need any expert assistance to decide whether you prefer the evidence of Naomi Campbell or Mia Farrow take a look at the Eyes for Lies Blog. The blog is written by one of the so-called wizards who are able to spot a lie in a nano-second. It's a fascinating concept backed by a lot of science and research and brought to popular culture through the excellent Lie to Me starring Tim Roth. The series is inspired by the life and work of Dr Paul Ekman who is the scientific adviser to the show.

That said, I am not sure that it requires a wizard to reach a view on this one - see this excellent blogpost - Diamonds Lies & Videotape - of White Rabbit (aka criminal lawyer Andrew Keogh).

Family Justice Review: scope refreshed

Justice Minister Jonathan Djanoglyhas written in Community Care about the need for a cheaper family justice system based on mediation. He has apparently 'refreshed the scope' of the FamilyJustice Review accordingly. The Review is currently conducting a call for evidence and this part of the process is open until 30 September 2010.

LSC Family contracts

As I travel round the country I am picking up news of the firms who have not been given contracts to continue with some or all of their family work and my heart goes out to all those affected. I understand that the net effect of this contract round is that 47% of firms have been refused contracts. The Independent carries a story about Dawson Cornwell being refused the contract to take on forced marriages work. 'Bonkers' as the lady from the Henna Foundation succinctly puts it.

More on the contracts in the Guardian following a Resolution survey

I have heard that someone is judicially reviewing the LSC but am unable to track down any reported cases. Does anyone know of one?

Friday, 6 August 2010


Forgive my ignorance fellow bloggers but I have learned a new word today. Splog I knew the concept having had to delete a number of supposedly helpful comments to my blog posts which seemed to suggest that the blog was the greatest thing since sliced bread whilst secretly trying to get readers to go to a website promoting something usually of no relevance to readers of the blog - at best - and often promoting friendships with ladies from the Ukraine or supplies of certain performance enhancing drugs.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Cafcass: Why? The value of Children's Guardians

I have posted a lot recently on Cafcass and the failure to deliver the service we had got used to. I am still struggling with a case involving a 12 year old girl with proceedings issued in November last year and no Guardian in sight and the child becoming increasingly distressed that no-one is advocating her views. Back in court next week and fairly difficult to know how to take the case forward - can the foster placement contain her when she is saying she desperately wants to go home to Dad? Should she? What steps should the local authority be taking to explore this option?

The Law Gazette reports on the grave concerns of the Interdisciplinary Alliance for Children (membership including the FLBA, the AIRE Centre, ALC, CRAE, BAAF, Voice, RCPCH, NYAS, BASW) and their call to the government to take urgent action and not wait for the conclusions of the Family Justice Review. The Family Law week site also picks up this news item.

The Gazette also reports that family lawyers’ group Resolution suggested to the government’s family justice review panel last week that the burden on Cafcass could be reduced if courts directed parents to obtain private social work reports where they could afford to, instead of having them prepared at public expense. It seems to me that it is a rare case where the parents can themselves afford to pay for social work reports and they are in grave difficulties assessing the competence of particular social workers to do this job. I understand the impulse but it would not help in my case where the father is unemployed (and even if working would be unlikely to earn enough). The court can already appoint ISWs to do the work at public expense.

I started to think about the sorts of cases where a GAL's view is critical and helpful taking account of my own recent cases and conversations with solicitors appointed to represent children without the benefit of GALs.

* cases where the solicitor needs to consider whether a child is competent to give their own instructions
* cases where an interim removal decision is finely balanced - particularly with groups of children, older children, children with learning disabilities
* cases where the local authority set off from the outset with a clear view against the parents and continually fail to acknowledge the strengths of the parents or the challenges they face
* cases where the child might have something to disclose such that the solicitor will run into grave difficulties in having these conversations without another appropriate professional present
* cases where someone with social work training needs to consider whether the support plan proposed will provide sufficient support / service levels
* cases where social work practice is below par or contaminated by the management view (not that we have a policy but we very rarely support interim care orders where children are to remain with parents or are placed with relatives)
* cases where the parents and the local authority have become polarised about the nature versus nurture debate - is it parenting or ADHD / ASD?
* cases where the parents need the independent view of the GAL in order to move to a place where they can understand what is in the child's best interests and start to support it, however painful
* cases where a perfectly competent solicitor / advocate cannot meet the children or does not have the social work skills to interview them and facilitate easy communcation and lacks the time to do so (often they would not be paid to do so)
* cases where someone with those social work skills needs to understand the local resources and whether they can offer the child a service which they need

Not an exhaustive list but one which points up to me that we are missing out on vital informed advice in family cases and it starts to look like there is no case where the input of a GAL would be redundant or unnecessary. If there is a secret plan afoot to do away with Guardians and allow the lawyers to dictate the process it is a backwards step for children, in my view. It may be the case that a competent lawyer with lots of experience can do a very good job without a GAL in some cases but this is usually because they have had years of debate and discussions with good quality Guardians who enable them from time to time to manage without that specific input.