There have been some significant family law news stories this week:
In an important judgment the parents of eight children who were wrongly kept in foster care have been awarded £20,000 in damages from the local authority. The children were removed from their parents’ care by the London Borough of Hackney eight years ago, after one of them was arrested on suspicion of shoplifting and was said to have told the police that a bruise on his face was caused when his father beat him with a belt. A quick consideration of the welfare issues concluded that if some simple improvements were made to their home, the children could return there, but it was some two months before they were returned to their parents, after experiencing a variety of foster placements. Deputy High Court judge Sir Robert Francis said that if ever there was a case illustrating the challenges that faced children, parents, public authorities and the courts when concerns were raised about the safety and welfare of children, it was this one.
The charity Action for Children has said that vulnerable children are too often shuttled between foster homes, causing them further harm. Data obtained by the charity suggests that last year nearly one in four foster children in the UK moved at least once, and some six or more times. In the year to March 2015, there were 64,372 children in foster care in the 143 councils that responded to freedom of information requests from the charity. Most children stayed in the same placement for the year but 14,583 had two or more placements, and of these 168 had seven or more placements. Foster parents do a wonderful job, but these are quite worrying figures.
Police officers in England and Wales are to receive new guidance on how to spot patterns of domestic abuse. The new authorised professional practice on domestic abuse, which consolidates and updates previous guidance, is designed to help officers prosecute without relying on victims’ evidence. It also advises senior officers about the need for specialist staff to deal with cases of abuse and ensure victims receive the best possible support. Diana Barran, from the charity SafeLives, said the new guidance was “a huge step forward in helping police to understand the complex nature of domestic abuse and – in particular – coercive control”. I have had a little look at the guidance myself, as described in this post.
Still on the subject of domestic abuse, the ‘Black Dot’ campaign, whereby victims of abuse mark their hands with a small black dot which acts as a silent call for help so that friends and family will know they can talk to them about abuse, has gained popularity. Whilst I am all for helping victims of abuse, I agree with those who fear the campaign could do more harm than good. If the dot is obvious enough to be spotted by friends and family, it is obvious enough to be spotted by the perpetrator, thereby putting the victim at risk of further, possibly more serious, abuse.
And finally, Lord Falconer, Labour’s Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Justice Secretary, has announced that Labour has appointed Lord (Willy) Bach to carry out an immediate review into legal aid. A Labour Party press release said: “The Coalition’s reforms to legal aid have had a disastrous impact on access to justice, leaving many without access to legal help or representation. Lord Bach’s review will look at the wider consequences of the reforms and put forward policy proposals for reforming legal aid for the 21st century. The review process will start immediately.” Whatever your politics, if you are interested in equal access to justice, any such review must be good news. Hopefully, it will add impetus to the calls for the legal aid cuts to be reconsidered.
Have a good weekend.