Statistics released by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) show that More than two-thirds of court areas in England have failed to meet a target for care proceedings to be completed within 26 weeks. The figures also showed that the average time care applications that were completed between April and June this year stood at 31 weeks. The 26-week limit was brought in by the Children & Families Act 2014 and applies to cases initiated from the 22nd of April. Whilst that means that the limit is unlikely to apply to the cases referred to in the statistics, it still indicates that the target is likely to be missed in many cases, which is not at all surprising.
A couple have been given permission to keep a two-year-old girl they brought into England from Nigeria after a High Court judge concluded they had been deceived into thinking that they were her parents. Mrs Justice Hogg said that the woman had thought she had become pregnant and given birth after undergoing “herbal treatment” at a “treatment centre” in Lagos which cost around £4,500. However, DNA tests in England revealed that the child’s DNA did not match either parent. Social workers had suspected that the couple had wrongfully attempted to pass the child off as their daughter and had “concocted a story”, but Mrs Justice Hogg concluded that the girl must have been removed from her mother when newly born and handed to the couple without them realising. In the light of that ruling, social workers agreed to the couple becoming the child’s guardians, and Mrs Justice Hogg gave her approval to this arrangement. This is not the first case of this type – see, for example, the case D (A Child), decided by Mr Justice Coleridge in 2012.
A former family judge has claimed that children are being damaged by the rising number of estranged couples representing themselves in family court, following the legal aid cuts last year. Crispin Masterman told BBC Wales that the emotional, mental and psychological wellbeing of children involved in such cases risked being damaged by the court process. He said that taking lawyers “out of the equation” in most cases had meant more contested court hearings and longer delays in resolving cases. He said: “The damage that’s done is both emotional and probably, in some cases, psychological as well, and the difficulty is that parents don’t see this, they’re so tied up in their own issues that they forget that the child’s welfare is the paramount issue.” The Ministry of Justice predictably responded by saying that legal aid is still available for mediation – but that is obviously only of use where the case is suitable for mediation.
On the same subject, the House of Common’s Justice Committee has been told that litigants in person are not getting fair hearings. The committee was taking evidence on Tuesday from a number of people including Susan Jacklin QC, chair of the Family Law Bar Association, Dave Emmerson, co-chair of Resolution’s legal aid committee, Nicola Jones-King, co-chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children and Jane Robey, director of National Family Mediation. The justice committee is enquiring into the impact of the cuts to civil legal aid last April, although one would have thought that their impact was obvious.
Lastly, the biggest talking point amongst family lawyers this week was surely the Ashya King case. There has been an enormous amount of discussion about the rights and wrongs of what happened, and the actions of the various agencies involved. I will not get into that, save merely to say that I am glad that Ashya has now been reunited with his parents. The case did, of course, go before the High Court after wardship proceedings were issued by the local authority, and for anyone who is interested the order made by the court on the 29th of August can be viewed here.
Have a good weekend.
Photo by Jack via Flickr