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A week in family law: Sharia, human rights and more

A ‘mixed bag’ of a week.

Mr Justice Hayden has barred five teenage girls who had shown an interest in going to Syria from travelling abroad. The girls – two aged 15 and three aged 16 – were made wards of court, removing their passports and banning them from leaving England and Wales. The High Court proceedings were issued after Tower Hamlets local authority raised concerns. Mr Justice Hayden also ordered the removal of the passports of a number of adults involved in their care, having found that here was evidence to suggest that family members in the case had not been full and frank with social services, and that the girls were becoming more radicalised. A very sad but topical case.

In another sign of the times a man has been awarded £39,000 damages and costs against his former wife after claiming that she deceived him into thinking that he was the father of their son born following IVF treatment. The couple had attended a clinic in Spain where he gave a sperm sample. However, his wife later returned to the clinic where she was impregnated with the sperm of a former boyfriend. The boy was born in 2005. The couple separated when he was about six months old and divorced in 2008. The man said that he looked after the child when his wife was working and paid more than £80,000 in maintenance. In 2011 a dispute arose over his contact with the boy, and the woman then told him that he was not the biological father. This was subsequently confirmed by a DNA test.

Continuing the topical theme, the Home Secretary Theresa May has announced that there will be an independent investigation into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales. In a speech in London focusing on Islamic extremism, she referred to problems concerning the divorce of Muslim women and said: “There are some areas where – like in the application of Sharia law – we know enough to know we have a problem, but we do not yet know the full extent of the problem. For example, there is evidence of women being “divorced” under Sharia law and left in penury, wives who are forced to return to abusive relationships because Sharia councils say a husband has a right to “chastise”, and Sharia councils giving the testimony of a woman only half the weight of the testimony of a man. We will therefore commission an independent figure to complete an investigation into the application of Sharia law in England and Wales.”

A report by the House of Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding the UK’s compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has been published. Whilst the Committee welcomes the progress made by the Government in recognising children’s rights in law and policy, it says that more still needs to be done. The Report also points to areas such as immigration, legal aid and children in custody where, despite the Government’s specific commitment to the Convention on the Rights of the Child made in December 2010, some policy developments have actually worked against the best interests of children. Let us hope that the next government does better.

In its response to the report and recommendations of the external Voice of the Child: Dispute Resolution Advisory Group, the government has endorsed the recommendation that children be included in family mediation sessions. The Group recommended the adoption of a non-legal presumption that all children and young people aged 10 and above should be offered the opportunity to have their voices heard directly during dispute resolution processes, including mediation, if they wish. The recommendation was welcomed by the charity National Family Mediation, which believes that involving children in mediation can help shift parents’ attention away from the bitterness they feel towards each other, to focus on the child’s future instead.

And finally, the Supreme Court has allowed the local authority’s appeal in In the matter of S (A Child). The local authority was appealing against a costs order made upon a father’s successful appeal against a placement order. The Supreme Court said that the general rule that costs should not be awarded against a party, including a local authority, in children’s proceedings, in the absence of reprehensible behaviour or an unreasonable stance, applied to appeals. It held that local authorities should not be deterred from their statutory duty to protect children by bringing proceedings, and that must surely be right.

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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