An annual report, a transgender child, and more

Family Law|September 15th 2017

A week in family law

In his final annual report before retirement, the Lord Chief Justice reviewed developments in family justice over the year. Of the sustained increase in public law cases, coming at a time of static judicial resources, he says:

“The President of the Family Division has described the situation as a crisis, a view with which the Lord Chief Justice concurs.”

He also mentioned the review of the effectiveness of Practice Direction 12J, dealing with the court’s approach to child contact in those cases where there are allegations of domestic violence (see below), and the number of cases involving radicalisation dealt with by the Family Court. All of this was not new to me, but there was one matter that I don’t recall coming across previously: a protocol is currently being developed to promote closer co-operation between the judges of the Family Courts of England and Wales and their colleagues in Scotland. He said that the protocol will cover a number of issues of mutual interest including how to approach care cases with a cross-jurisdictional element, and that it is hoped that, in time, the provisions of the protocol will be further developed and extended to support co-operation on care cases across the whole of the UK. Interesting.

One of the biggest stories of the week, albeit perhaps not entirely a family law matter, was the one about the parents who removed their child from school over a transgender classmate. As I’m sure the reader already knows, the parents claim that their son came home from school confused and upset when one of the children in his class, who they considered to be a boy, was allowed to wear a dress. The parents are apparently planning to launch a legal challenge, in which they will argue that their right to raise a child in line with their religious beliefs has not been respected. I am no expert in this area, but I suspect that they may have some difficulty with that argument, as the school’s decision to allow the child to wear a dress surely does not directly affect their child?

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse. The statement sets out plans to give prosecutors more information, to help them better understand the experiences of male victims and the barriers to them reporting offences, a commitment to work with third sector organisations and campaign groups to challenge gender stereotypes and improve reporting, and proposals to involve more national men’s groups, as well as groups working with boys and girls, in the scrutiny of CPS policies.

The CPS said:

“Many male victims of these crimes never come forward to report them to the police. This can be for a variety of reasons, including fear that their masculinity may appear to be diminished if they report domestic abuse or that homophobic assumptions will be made around their sexuality if they are raped by a man. The CPS has always been committed to securing justice for all victims, both male and female, and applies policies fairly and equally. It has worked with groups which represent the interests of male victims to explore the issues they face in relation to these offences.”

All of which is good, although it is remarkable that the CPS has only just publicly recognised the issue – I know I have for many years been going on about men being victims of domestic violence.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has made a new Practice Direction 12J, setting out what the court is required to do in children cases in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic abuse perpetrated by another party or that there is a risk of such abuse. The new PD12J follows the review of the direction by Mr Justice Cobb, and contains numerous amendments, including a new and much expanded definition of what is now referred to as ‘domestic abuse’, rather than, as before, ‘domestic violence’. The Practice Direction will come into force on 2 October 2017. It may require further amendment if and when the proposed legislation restricting cross-examination of alleged victims by alleged perpetrators is enacted.

And finally, there seems to be a new family-related research study published every week, providing us with some new and profound piece of information. This week was no exception, with news of a study by researchers from Ohio State University which found that lack of sleep can harm relationships, as couples are more likely to argue in a hostile manner if they get less sleep. Wow. Who would have guessed?

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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