The family courts: looking after the best interests of the young & old

Family Law|May 3rd 2017

The other day I was scanning through the latest published judgments of the family courts, including the Court of Protection, and it occurred to me just what an incredible and vital job the courts do for the benefit of all of us, whether young or old. Quite what we would do without them I dread to think – the idea of those who need the help of the courts having to fend for themselves really doesn’t bear thinking about.

To give an indication of this I will look at just two of those recent cases, going back just a week and a half.

The first case I want to mention actually involved three judgments, under the heading Newcastle-Upon-Tyne City Council v TP. This was a Court of Protection case concerning the best interests of a 62 year old woman (‘TP’), who was born with cerebral palsy (I briefly mentioned the case here last week, in this post). Now let’s just think about that for a moment. We have a woman who (as the court found) lacked capacity in respect of decisions as to where she should reside, as to her care and as to her contact with others. So, a vulnerable person needed to have vital decisions made on her behalf. Clearly, those decisions had to be made by an independent authority, after full consideration of all of the evidence, including the opinions of relevant experts. That job was done by Her Honour Judge Moir, over the course of three carefully and compassionately reasoned judgments. And she did not do the job alone. She was assisted by other professionals within the family justice system, including a social worker in the case, Rebecca Horsfall. I think the final paragraph of Judge Moir’s third judgment is well worth repeating:

“Rebecca Horsfall said in evidence that, “What I feel certain of is we are in this position because we feel strongly we are trying to do our best.” I endorse that view. As I have said, this has not been an easy case for anyone involved within it and the social workers in particular have not had an easy task but have at each juncture within their resources, I am satisfied, tried to do their best as they saw it for TP in circumstances which were very demanding of them. The outcome which all involved in the case have hoped to achieve is that TP’s rights and freedoms will be protected so that she is enabled to live her life to her full potential. Time will tell whether such outcome has been achieved.”

I feel that that is quite a good summary of the work of the family courts: everyone is trying to do their best, often in very difficult circumstances, seeking the best outcomes for those affected by the decisions the courts are asked to make.

As to the other case I want to look at, there are a number I could have chosen to illustrate the great work of the family courts. For example, there was Buckinghamshire County Council v Andrew & Others, which concerned an application by a local authority for permission to withdraw an application for a care order, following a finding that a baby removed from her parents after suspicions of abuse in fact suffers from a rare illness, which could have accounted for her injuries. And then there was the sad case An NHS Trust v SK, a judgment concerning the treatment of an 11-year-old boy suffering from a terminal medical condition.

But in the end I have chosen the short judgment of the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, in Re Y (A Child) (No 2). This case is something of a small success story for the family courts, and the family justice system generally. It concerned care proceedings relating to a 16 year old boy, ‘Y’. Y’s parents were unable to satisfactorily care for him, as a result of which he suffered neglect and was beyond parental control, demonstrating various behaviours which required him to be placed in secure accommodation. Happily, Y has done well in secure accommodation, and he now ‘wants to get his life sorted out’. The local authority set out plans for Y, which the President said reflected the local authority’s “hard work and careful thought”. He therefore made a care order, approving those plans. In doing so he made one thing clear:

“The court expressed the importance of it being explained to [Y] that a care order is not in place in order to place restrictions upon him, but rather to assist him and provide him with practical support during his transition into adulthood.”

I’m sure all of us wish the best for Y’s future.

We owe a huge debt to the family courts, and the dedicated professionals who work in them, every day looking after the best interests of the young and the old alike. I’m sure the readers of this blog will join me in showing their appreciation for the great and vital work they do.

Read the ruling here.

Image by Kurtis Garbutt via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence

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  1. Vanda says:

    I found that your article is rather interesting lack of one thing , the truth. In your case example that referred to her honour judgement . None of the judge will deliver the judgement without making it sound absolutely one hundred percent believable. I knew that because I was actually there once.
    The system that failed miserably and took the children away for their mother for no solid evidences and places in the hand of the abuser who the judge favoured because of the colour and his position
    If you were there and saw what actually had happened. You would understand why the family court was a twighlight zone . They had their own rules to govern their own planet and make everything up to cover the dirt. One of the court in the country that needs to modernised and change their approach.
    The children voice were not count and in many years ahead. They will grow up to tell the truth of what the court did to their life.

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