A week in family law: ISIS, a children’s charity closes and more

Family Law|Industry News | 7 Aug 2015 0

It is almost as if the family law news this week is mimicking the national and international news…

Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division, has ordered that the children of families who were suspected of attempting to travel overseas to join Isis fighters should be returned to them. The children had been removed under interim care orders. However, it is a condition of the President’s order that the parents wear electronic tags, which they had volunteered to do. The President accepted that there was some degree of risk of successful flight, but his considered assessment was that the degree of that risk was very small indeed, so small that it was counter-balanced by the children’s welfare needs to be returned to the care of their parents. As to the issue of tagging, the Ministry of Justice raised concerns over its cost, which may well restrict its use in future.

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (‘BAAF’) has announced that it has closed. The charity has been supporting, advising and campaigning for better outcomes for children in care for over 30 years. Its CEO Caroline Selkirk said that it had not been possible to sustain the organisation “in the face of significant changes and prevailing economic conditions”. Some of the BAAF’s functions have transferred to children’s charity and adoption and fostering agency Coram, and to a new entity, CoramBAAF Adoption & Fostering Academy. Very sad news indeed – let us hope that its implications for children are not too serious.

A social worker’s report was written so poorly it might as well have been “in a foreign language”, a family court judge has complained. Raising the issue during a family court hearing concerning two children who were facing adoption, Judge Jeremy Lea said the lack of plain English was not a matter of “linguistic pedantry” but a serious failing of those involved in crucial decisions. A friend of the family had put herself forward to care for the children, but the judge said the social worker’s report on the woman was written in such a way that he doubted the woman would have understood it. He rejected the concerns of the social worker and ruled that the woman should be able to care for the children. I must admit that I came across examples of this sort of language myself whilst I was practising, and a few times since…

In another busy week in court the President has handed down another judgment concerning “the plight of a vulnerable mother unable to pay the cost of family proceedings”. In Re M (A Child) the mother was effectively seeking to re-open care proceedings, following new evidence regarding her disability, which rendered her a vulnerable adult. Technically, she was seeking to discharge a supervision order and a special guardianship order. As legal aid is not available to cover such matters, the Legal Aid Agency (‘LAA’) refused the mother’s application for legal aid. However, the President said that the case was “plainly a “special Children Act 1989 case” in relation to which the mother is entitled to legal aid”. He therefore asked the LAA to reconsider and ensure that the mother has legal aid. Let us hope that they do, although as a lawyer on Twitter pointed out if they do not, then the court could discharge the care order and insist upon fresh care proceedings being instituted, as legal aid is available for them.

And finally, according to a headline in a certain national newspaper a mother could lose thousands of pounds in a divorce case, following an ‘incident’ involving a wooden spoon and her teenage daughter. The headline actually trivialises a serious point. The mother had been awarded the majority of the net proceeds of sale of the former matrimonial, as she needed to rehouse herself and the two children. However, after the incident the children’s relationship with their mother broke down, and they are now living with their father. Mr Justice Holman has ruled that, because of the change of circumstances, the father is entitled to appeal against the order. Hopefully, the parents will be able to settle the matter by agreement, rather than use up any more of the limited equity in the property on legal costs.

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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