Britain’s most senior family law judge condemned a “slapdash” and “lackadaisical” approach to family court orders in a recent ruling.
Addressing two separate adoption cases, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, noted that in one Bristol County Council had given their reasons for opposing the parents’ wish to wish to appeal the adoption of their children just 45 minutes before the hearing was due to begin.
This was in spite of a previous court order which had required the authority to state their reasons no less than five days before the hearing.
A copy of that order had been delivered to the authority two weeks before the hearing but they had been unable to explain why it was not given to their legal department.
The judge declared:
“That the parents and their representatives should have been put in this position is quite deplorable. It is, unhappily, symptomatic of a deeply rooted culture in the family courts which, however long established, will no longer be tolerated. It is something of which I complained almost thirteen years ago…Perhaps what I say as President will carry more weight…”
The President continued:
“I refer to the slapdash, lackadaisical and on occasions almost contumelious [insolent] attitude which still far too frequently characterises the response to orders made by family courts. There is simply no excuse for this. Orders, including interlocutory orders, must be obeyed and complied with to the letter and on time. Too often they are not. They are not preferences, requests or mere indications; they are orders.”
“The court is entitled to expect – and from now on family courts will demand – strict compliance with all such orders. Non-compliance with orders should be expected to have and will usually have a consequence…..Non-compliance with an order, any order, by anyone is bad enough. It is a particularly serious matter if the defaulter is a public body such as a local authority. And it is also a particularly serious matter if the order goes to something as vitally important as…this case: the right of a parent facing the permanent loss of their child to know what case is being mounted against them by a public authority.”