What are family lawyers talking about this week? By John Bolch

Cohabitation|Family|Family Law|Industry News|October 18th 2013

As I mentioned in this post, the High Court has decided that two children should have the MMR vaccination, despite this being contrary to the wishes of both the mother and the children themselves. This is, in fact, the third time that the matter has gone before the courts and on every occasion the court has decided in favour of vaccination. This does not, however, mean that the court will always come to the same decision. As Mrs Justice Theis was at pains to point out, every case will be decided upon its own merits, with due regard to the welfare of the children.

Liberal Democrat peer Lord Marks has introduced a new Cohabitation Bill, which would implement the Law Commission’s 2007 proposals to introduce new financial and property rights for cohabiting couples who separate. In 2011 the Government decided not to take forward the Commission’s recommendations during the current parliamentary term. As I have said many times, I believe the lack of property rights for cohabitants can lead to considerable injustice, and I therefore wish the bill every success. I will not, however, be holding my breath, as it is just a Private Members’ Bill without the backing of the Government, so its chances of getting through must be slim.

One Private Members’ Bill that is gaining support, though, is the Child Maltreatment Bill 2013-14. This Bill, backed by a campaign from charity Action for Children, aims to reform the criminal law on child neglect. Action for Children say that the law on child neglect doesn’t cover emotional neglect and creates confusion which stops police officers and social workers from working together. They have drafted a letter to Damian Green, the Minister of State for Police and Criminal Justice, requesting that the second reading of the Bill on the 22nd of November be used to fully explore the issues raised by the campaign. To date, the letter has been signed by over 30 MPs. Certainly, it seems to be high time that a law that was originally formulated in 1868 was brought up to date, and into line with the modern understanding of what comprises ‘neglect’.

One in seven councils in England is failing vulnerable children with “inadequate” child protection services, according to Ofsted’s first annual report into social care. The news has led to much finger-pointing, as the media pursue their usual witch-hunt for those to blame. However, as Ofsted itself points out: “in a climate of turbulence, increased workloads and intense scrutiny of children’s social care – much of it arising from public anxiety following a catalogue of high profile child deaths – many areas are struggling to improve their performance.” Perhaps it is time to support our child protection services, rather than continually criticise them?

Lord Neuberger’s warning that the Government’s cuts to legal aid threaten to deny justice to those who need it most is welcome, but is it a case of too little, too late? I’ve noticed on Twitter and elsewhere lawyers castigating the judiciary for sitting back and saying nothing while the cuts were being debated. I won’t comment on that, but we do seem to have crossed the Rubicon so far as legal aid for most private law family matters is concerned, as we will surely not now see it return.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby is continuing his drive for more transparency in the courts. In a speech on Monday he said that the Court of Protection should ‘be opened up to public and media scrutiny’. In particular, he proposed that there should be the same presumed right of media access to court of protection proceedings as there is in family proceedings, and that more Court of Protection judgements should be published, so that the public could be confident that justice was being done. Whilst I’m sure his ideas will be generally accepted, I’m also certain that there will be those who think he is not going far enough to end secrecy in the family courts.

And finally, the news that deep-voiced men attract more women has made me realise that there is, after all, an upside to the cold I have had all week. It has made me sound like Lee Marvin singing Wandering Star. Not sure about the cough though…

Have a good weekend!

Author: John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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