A week in family law: FGM guidance, domestic abuse, adoption and more

Family Law|Industry News | 20 May 2016 0

My pick of this week’s family law stories:

An updated female genital mutilation (‘FGM’) resource pack containing guidance, case studies and support materials for local authorities, professional services and specialist voluntary organisations has been issued by the Home Office and Karen Bradley MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Minister for Preventing Abuse, Exploitation and Crime). As the Home Office website states: “FGM is illegal in the UK. Anyone who commits FGM faces up to 14 years in prison, a fine, or both. Anyone found guilty of failing to protect a girl from risk of FGM faces up to 7 years in prison, a fine, or both.” The resource pack features information on legislation, case studies where FGM has been experienced by girls and women in the UK, information on what local authorities can do to raise awareness of FGM in their local area and safeguard children, and links to support organisations, clinics and helplines that can help people who think they might be at risk.

Personal information that a “very vulnerable” 15-year-old boy involved in care proceedings shared with a social worker should be withheld from his parents in line with his wishes and to avoid damaging his relationship with professionals, Mrs Justice Roberts has ruled. The boy’s father argued that disclosure was needed to meet his right to a fair trial, as he wished to use the information in the care proceedings, but the boy’s social worker and guardian argued that the child’s relationships with professionals may be damaged by disclosure of information he wished to keep private. The local authority asked the court to decide the matter. Mrs Justice Roberts found that there was a “compelling” case for non-disclosure of the information, and said it was “entirely necessary” that the boy’s “confidence and privacy in this information is maintained”. She also found that the information the boy wished to be kept private had “very little, if any” relevance to the forthcoming care proceedings, and therefore did not affect the father’s right to a fair trial.

Home Secretary Theresa May has ordered a major inquiry into the police treatment of domestic abuse cases and vulnerable victims. She told the Police Federation’s annual conference that there was still evidence of too many victims being let down and “shameful attitudes” on the part of some police officers, who even exploited their position to develop inappropriate relationships with domestic abuse victims. She also said that new powers to tackle domestic abuse, including controlling or coercive behaviour, were effective but were “not being used anywhere near as systematically as they could be”. The inquiry will be carried out by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary. It all sounds very concerning, although the scale of the problem of police officers exploiting victims is not clear.

A High Court judge has ordered a county council to pay £17,500 in damages to a 14-year-old girl in care for breaches of her human rights. Mrs Justice Theis made a final care order in respect of the girl, but also found that Kent County Council had breached her rights to family life and a fair trial, in particular by failing to issue proceedings in a timely manner from March 2012 to November 2015, and as a consequence depriving her of the protection afforded to children under the Children Act 1989, access to the court and the procedural protection of a Guardian. Now, I don’t like to criticise local authorities, who have a very difficult job dealing with care cases, but this case did seem to take up a very large part of a child’s life. Hopefully, the award will encourage local authorities to deal with such cases more promptly.

As anticipated, the Queen’s Speech included the government’s plans for adoption reform, aimed at moving more children more quickly from the care system to family life. The government says that the Children and Social Work Bill will “tip the balance in favour of permanent adoption, where that is the right thing for the child… and drive improvements in the social work profession by introducing more demanding professional standards and setting-up a specialist regulator for the profession”. I’m not qualified to comment upon the latter point, but as I said here, the idea of tipping the delicate balancing exercise in favour of one type of outcome for children does concern me.

And finally, this week’s prize for the fastest marriage breakdown goes to the Saudi man who divorced his wife within hours of their marriage, after she spent their wedding night texting her friends. A story to warm the heart of every divorce lawyer.

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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