A week in family law: Divorce centres, radicalisation and more

Family Law|Industry News|October 9th 2015

A pretty diverse spread of news stories this week:

Research conducted for the Family Justice Council has concluded that judges handling child care cases would benefit from more feedback on their work. The research identified several types of feedback that could be helpful for judges, including feedback from observation of their practice by other judges and court users, as well as a look at the effects of court orders on children and families. The judges who took part in the study were generally positive about the idea of receiving feedback, although they acknowledged that feedback about what happened in an individual case could not be allowed to impact upon their decisions in future cases. All of which sounds eminently sensible to me.

A progress report upon the work of the Bury St Edmunds centralised Divorce Centre has been provided by HM Courts and Tribunals Service. The centre, the largest in the country, now handles all divorces for London and the South East, comprising 40 per cent of all work in England and Wales. The report says that the Centre is receiving between 1,250 and 1,300 petitions for issue per week, although a number of these have to be returned due to errors. Taking everything into account the Centre expects to issue upwards of 40,000 petitions per annum, with the Centre on average issuing broadly 800 petitions per week. All very impressive, but this does give me the impression that divorce has become an impersonal production line process.

A new legal advice clinic to advise people involved in family proceedings who can’t afford to pay for legal representation has been launched at Cardiff County Court. The Cardiff Court Family Free Advice Clinic is a collaboration bringing together local law firms, 22 barristers, a pro bono mediation service, 2 local universities, HM Courts and Tribunal Services, LawWorks Cymru and the Personal Support Service. The Clinic will provide initial legal advice, information and advocacy and will run between 9.30am and 1.30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which are the family hearing days. An excellent initiative although, and with the greatest respect, it surely can’t be the same as those litigants having proper legal representation, as they did before legal aid was abolished.

In an extremely worrying case, a couple accused of abuse are unlikely to ever see their child again despite being cleared, according to their lawyer. Three years ago, Karrissa Cox and Richard Carter took their then six-week-old child to hospital after noticing bleeding in the baby’s mouth following a feed. Bruises and what were thought to be fractures were noticed by hospital staff and a few days later the couple were charged with child cruelty. The baby was taken into care and subsequently adopted. However, the criminal case against the couple collapsed at after new medical evidence showed there were no signs of abuse. The couple now plan to try to win custody of their child back, but their lawyers believe it is unlikely the adoption will be overturned, as such rulings are usually final. If so, then this is truly a catastrophic miscarriage of justice, as Marilyn Stowe has said.

And finally, in another sign of the times, the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has issued guidance for judges and advocates involved in radicalisation cases in the family courts. These are defined as cases “where there are allegations or suspicions: that children, with their parents or on their own, are planning or attempting or being groomed with a view to travel to parts of Syria controlled by the so-called Islamic State; that children have been or are at risk of being radicalised; or that children have been or at are at risk of being involved in terrorist activities either in this country or abroad.” The President has decided that, given their complexity, all such cases should be heard by High Court Judges of the Family Division. He also emphasised that there should be cooperation between the courts, police and other safeguarding agencies.

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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  1. Alistair Nunn says:

    Judges, magistrates, social services and CAFCASS makes decisions in families and children’s lives which cannot only affect that generation but generations to come but how are they ever to know? If they were to be put under the same kind of scrutiny that teachers have to face nowadays through OFSTED by constantly having everything they do di-sected and scrutinised, it is my guess they would be leaving the profession in their droves.

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