A peek at the work of a family court judge

Family Law|September 14th 2015

As I said here the other day, I try to catalogue all published family law judgments (well, not quite all, but we won’t go into that). That task entails in particular monitoring the excellent Bailii website for new cases of interest.

Now, judgments don’t always appear on Bailii immediately they are handed down. Sometimes, for example, a particular judge will clear their inbox of judgments pending publication by sending a whole batch to Bailii.

So it was on Friday of last week when no fewer than thirteen judgments of Her Honour Judge Moir appeared on Bailii simultaneously. Together they give an interesting insight into the work of a family court judge.

Save for one from June last year, the judgments cover the period from January to July this year. Obviously, they do not comprise all of the cases dealt with by HHJ Moir during that period, but they do provide a snapshot of what she was dealing with.

Inevitably, the majority of the judgments related to child care cases – no fewer than ten out of the thirteen. The other three were private law children cases. There were no financial remedies cases, perhaps indicating that most of those that are not settled by agreement are dealt with at district judge level. Or maybe that was just a coincidence. Whatever, it is surely true that the vast majority of judicial time is spent dealing with cases involving children.

Let us take a look at some of the cases in a little more detail:

M (A Child): A fact-finding hearing in care proceedings concerning a little boy who was then one year and two months old. He had suffered various injuries, comprising bruising and a fractured rib. HHJ Moir was asked by the local authority to make findings regarding not just the cause of those injuries but also regarding the failure of the parents to be open and honest with the professionals dealing with the case.

C (A Child): Care proceedings concerning a four month old child who very sadly has a number of complex medical issues, as a result of which her life expectancy is significantly reduced.

Re A: Despite the title, this was a care case concerning five children. The case involved HHJ Moir making “findings in respect of the high level of and continuing domestic violence, unstable home life and inconsistent parenting over a significant period of time”.

Re R (A Child): An application by a father for contact with his seven year old daughter. The complication in this case was that the father had previously been convicted of a serious sexual offence against a 15-year-old girl, and had also been found to have a large number of images of child sexual abuse on his computer. (HHJ Moir found that the father did still present a risk to the child and therefore dismissed his application.)

Lastly, K (Children): Which concerned three children aged 9, 7 and 5. The father was seeking a child arrangements order whereby the children reside with him. Additionally, the paternal grandparents were involved, seeking contact with the children. The case was complicated by allegations on both sides and the fact that the mother had suffered mental health problems for a number of years, which affected her ability to deal with problems in her everyday life. HHJ Moir found that the mother was not capable of providing satisfactory care and could not meet the children’s emotional needs. She therefore ordered that the children should reside with their father.

This brief peek at the work of one family court judge confirms once again the difficult decisions with which our family court judges are faced on a regular basis. The stress of being faced with such cases continually and having to make those decisions can only be imagined by the rest of us.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I don’t envy the job of the family court judge, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do the work, even if I were capable of doing it. We must, however, be grateful that there are those who are not just able to do it, but also willing to do it. Quite where we would be but for them doesn’t bear thinking about.

Author: John Bolch

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.

Comment(1)

  1. Graham Swannell says:

    The family courts operate using one of the most morally bankrupt processes that cares little for children.
    Solicitors use delaying tactics in a process that pusses the costs up so one party is financially broken.
    The solicitor also write letters in a manner that inflames the situation and creates conflict.
    As a grandparent who is blocked out of the court system my tale on this is that certain practices should lead solicitors into a charge of bring the court into disrepute and if children are involved the charge of child abuse. Someone needs to be auditing the actions of family lawyers to protect children,

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