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A week in family law: fostering concerns, bias and more

Family Law|Industry News | 5 Jun 2015 0

A real mixed bag of family law news this week…

Family lawyers’ organisation Resolution has supported a call for statutory provision of funding for the cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses. The call follows the comments of the Master of the Rolls in Re K & H (Children), in which the Court of Appeal held that the court had no power to order HM Courts and Tribunals Service to provide funding for a lawyer to cross-examine a child. I agree entirely with Jane Wilson, Chair of Resolution’s Domestic Abuse Committee, who pointed out that there is currently provision in the criminal court to allow payment for legal representatives to protect vulnerable witnesses, and said that: “It’s only right and proper that the same provision is made for victims of domestic abuse in the Family Court.”

Research carried out by The Fostering Network has suggested that teenagers in foster care in are being moved too often. According to the research, more than a third of teenagers in care are already living with their third foster family, one in four are living with at least their fourth family, and one in six with their fifth. The charity also said that about 8,000 more foster carers are needed to cope with rising demand, explaining that the vast majority of children in care will spend their entire childhoods in foster care, with only around 10 per cent being adopted. It is to be hoped that the research will ultimately lead to more satisfactory outcomes for children in care.

Various news outlets have reported that a two-year-old boy has been removed from his parents’ care because health workers raised serious concerns about the level of cigarette smoke and drug paraphernalia in the family home, with one health visitor saying that she had not come across such a “smoky house” in her ten-year career. However, as Marilyn Stowe has explained here, the level of cigarette smoke was just one of a number of concerns that emerged in the judgment. The judgment was published, but that did not prevent certain elements of the media getting the story wrong – so much for transparency.

A study by the University of Warwick has found that there is no evidence that family courts discriminate against fathers because of gender bias. Dr Maebh Harding, from the School of Law, reviewed 197 case files from 2011 and concluded that contact applications by fathers were in fact “overwhelmingly successful”. Her report, co-authored with Dr Annika Newnham from the University of Reading, paints a generally positive picture of the role of the County Courts in resolving child law disputes at the time of the study, although it does raise some concerns that equal or near equal care was being used as a way to ensure adult fairness, rather than achieving the best arrangement for the children. All of which I have been saying all along.

In a sign of the times, lawyers have been issued guidance by their professional bodies upon how to deal with litigants in person. I’ve not studied the guidance, which runs to some 28 pages, but from what I have read it seems to be mostly common sense stuff. Still, another layer to all of the other guidance that burdens the modern lawyer.

Lastly, a couple who can afford lawyers may be wishing today that they hadn’t called upon them so much. Although I have not yet seen the judgment, it has been reported that the headline-making financial remedies dispute between Richard and Ekaterina Fields has been finalised by an order of Mr Justice Holman, who described as “tragic” the fact that the couple had expended an eye-watering £1.2 million on legal fees. Perhaps, but at least they were left with sufficient to live on – the real tragedies occur when warring couples spend so much that they are left with insufficient to meet their basic needs.

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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