A week in family law: SGOs, the LAA, ISIS and more

Family Law|Industry News | 21 Aug 2015 0

The silly season may be in full swing, but there were still four family law stories that caught my eye this week:

Firstly, it has been reported that there has been a steep rise in the number of grandparents going to court to acquire parental responsibility for their grandchildren by applying for Special Guardianship Orders (SGOs). Apparently, grandparents are also increasingly taking action to secure contact with their grandchildren in the event of a divorce, and often have to step in due to parental illness or premature death. The number of SGOs has risen by 47 per cent over the last four years, from 1,313 in 2011 to 1,931 in 2014. A notable statistic – it would be interesting to see a breakdown of the types of circumstances in which the SGOs were made.

Secondly, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has been criticised by a judge for its unhelpful cooperation in determining who should bear the cost of translating documents during court proceedings. Her Honour Judge Lynn Roberts invited the agency to clarify its position, and the legal basis for it, in care proceedings brought by a local authority in which the Polish parents, who were entitled to legal aid, were unable to read documents unless they were translated. In her judgment she highlighted the ‘fruitless’ attempts to get the agency to ’provide a clear view’ of their position ’and equally importantly, the basis for their position’. The agency was invited to intervene in the case ‘in order that a decision could be reached by the court which could be relied on in this case and in others with the benefit of the LAA’s considered position’. Judge Roberts said she was surprised to receive an email from the agency, in which it declined the invitation and suggested that the costs be split equally between the parties involved. She said that the agency, in its ‘disappointing’ email, not only misunderstood the position of the local authority, but also failed to set out any basis for the decision or clarify whether this is in fact a decision or merely “a suggestion”. Alas, this sort of behaviour seems to be par for the course for the LAA these days.

Thirdly, a judge has ruled that the passport of a schoolgirl thought to be at risk of travelling to join ISIS must be held by a high court official for her own safety. The passports of the 16-year-old’s two sisters must also be held by an officer of the court, and only returned for approved trips abroad. High Court judge Mr Justice Hayden made the ruling after hearing that the girl was a pupil at the Bethnal Green academy in east London, where four pupils said to be close friends have already travelled to Syria. He heard evidence that the girl may have been intimately involved in certain steps taken by the first pupil to travel. All very well, but what we really need to do is address the problem of the indoctrination of these children in the first place.

Lastly, a father has failed in his attempt to have a solicitor acting for his former partner sent to prison. In H v Dent & Others the father, who was unrepresented, was seeking contact with his daughter. Using recordings that he had secretly made of the mother’s solicitor talking to the Cafcass officer, the father sought to have both the solicitor and the Cafcass officer committed to prison for allegedly breaching court orders. Mrs Justice Roberts found that there was no merit whatsoever in the applications, which were procedurally defective and which she considered to be an abuse of the court process. The applications were therefore struck out. Unfortunately, in these post-legal aid days, such actions by misguided litigants in person are likely to become more common.

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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