Poppi Worthington, a rude judge and more: a week in family law

Family Law|Industry News|December 4th 2015

I would not say that it has been a big week for family law news, but there has certainly been a real mix of stories:

Mr Justice Peter Jackson has criticised the ‘minimal investigation’ into the death of 13 month-old Poppi Worthington. Poppi died after being found with a serious injury at her home in Barrow, Cumbria, in 2012. In his fact-finding judgment, which was handed down in connection with care proceedings in relation to the other children in the family, Mr Justice Jackson suggested Poppi’s death “did not receive the professional response to which she and her family were entitled”. He said that “extreme” and unusual delay in the production of the post-mortem caused police to carry out only “minimal investigation” in the intervening nine months. In his view, following Poppi’s death her surviving siblings should have immediately been medically examined. Mr Justice Jackson also criticised Cumbria County Council for allowing the siblings to return home afterwards “without any effective child protection measures being taken”, saying that they should have taken legal advice straight away. “Fortunately there is no evidence of them suffering harm in the ten month period before they were removed from the parents’ care”, he added. All in all, a very worrying case.

The government is still failing domestic violence victims, according to an evaluation of the past ten years of government action on the issue by a coalition of campaigning groups. A report by the End Violence Against Women coalition claims that, despite a focus on reducing domestic violence and increased awareness of child sexual abuse, male violence “still goes unchecked”. End Violence Against Women also found that services for abuse victims are struggling to remain open, and it criticises the government’s refusal to make sex and relationship education compulsory in schools. Unfortunately, the report just seems to confirm what we have already heard about women’s refuges having to close due to funding cuts. How many women are having to return to their abusers because of this?

Liverpool judge Robert Stephen Dodds, who was branded “rude”, “unprincipled” and “unfair” has been officially reprimanded for serious misconduct, following an investigation by the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO). Judge Dodds, who sits at the family court in Liverpool, was investigated after he was rebuked twice by Court of Appeal judges and told that he should be embarrassed by his conduct. The JCIO confirmed that he had been reprimanded over his conduct and management of three court cases, which they said amounted to serious misconduct. As I said here, judges have bad days too, just like the rest of us.

A woman who ‘lost her sparkle’ won the right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment following a suicide attempt. On 7 September the woman, ‘C’, attempted suicide by taking sixty paracetamol tablets with champagne. The attempt caused serious damage to her liver and kidneys. The condition of her liver improved, but an improvement in her kidney function had not yet occurred. Accordingly, she was put on dialysis. The prognosis was that her kidneys should recover in due course, but she may have required dialysis for the rest of her life. She then refused to undertake further dialysis. Concerned as to whether she had the capacity to decide whether or not to consent to the treatment, the NHS Trust sought a decision from the Court of Protection as to whether she did indeed have that capacity. Mr Justice MacDonald found that she did, and accordingly she had the right to refuse treatment. As he said, “As a capacitous individual C is, in respect of her own body and mind, sovereign.” Sadly, she passed away last Saturday.

And finally, the biggest story of the week must surely be the news that women with significantly taller husbands enjoy happier marriages, according to research. Quite what implications this gem of useful information will have for married couples, or indeed for divorce lawyers, one can only speculate.

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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