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A week in family law: judges, interpreters and more

Highlights of a relatively quiet week:

A county court judge has been criticised by the Court of Appeal for adopting a “ruthlessly truncated” and “fundamentally unprincipled” process when he made final care orders at what the parties expected to be a directions hearing. In Re S-W (Children) Liverpool City Council had applied on 18 July 2014 for care orders in respect of three children. Less than three weeks later, at a case management hearing, His Honour Judge Dodds at Liverpool County Court made final care orders in respect of each child. Lady Justice King in the Court of Appeal said a transcript of the hearing revealed that “within a matter of minutes” the judge had “made abundantly clear, in trenchant terms, his determination to conclude the case there and then by making final care orders”. The mother’s appeal against the care orders was allowed, and the case was remitted to a different judge for re-hearing.

Outsourcing firm Capita has been ordered to pay £16,000 by the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, for its “lamentable” failure to provide interpreters seven times in the course of a single adoption case. Sir James’s comments highlight concern among lawyers and MPs at the way in which the court interpreting service contract is operated. Two years ago the justice select committee described the manner in which the service was privatised as “shambolic” and said it had resulted in trials collapsing and suspects being remanded in custody unnecessarily. Capita took over the service in 2012 after it bought another firm, ALS, which had been awarded the contract. Not a good advertisement for privatisation.

In a historic move, MPs have voted in favour of the creation of babies with DNA from two women and one man. This will make the UK the first country to introduce laws to allow the creation of babies from three people. In a free vote in the House of Commons, 382 MPs were in favour and 128 against the technique, which stops genetic diseases being passed from mother to child. A further vote is required in the House of Lords – hopefully, there will be no delay there, in which case the first such baby could be born next year.

A report published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee says that the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) is on track to make a significant and rapid reduction to the amount that it spends on civil legal aid. However, the report says that the MoJ introduced major changes on the basis of no evidence in many areas, and without making good use of the evidence that it did have in other areas. Further, it has been slow to fill the considerable gaps in its understanding, and has not properly assessed the full impact of the reforms. Who would have guessed?

And finally, in a controversial case that demonstrates once more what difficult decisions our family judges are regularly faced with, Mr Justice Cobb has authorised the sterilisation of a mother of six with learning difficulties. The 36-year old woman has Autistic Spectrum Disorder and specialists said she had physical health problems that could put her life in danger if she became pregnant again. Mr Justice Cobb authorised the health authority and social services to use forced entry into the woman’s home and ‘necessary restraint’ so that she could be taken to hospital for the sterilisation procedure. He said: “The ethical, legal and medical issues arising here are self-evidently of the utmost gravity, engaging, and profoundly impacting upon [the woman’s] personal autonomy, privacy, bodily integrity, and reproductive rights.” He also emphasised that the Court of Protection will only intervene in the life of a person who lacks capacity where it is demonstrated that it is in their best interests to do so.

I have said it before and I’ll say it again: I would not wish to be in the position of having to make such decisions.

Have a good weekend.

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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