A week in family law
It’s not been that quiet for news, but I’m only going to concentrate on three stories this week.
Local authorities should “think long and hard before embarking upon care proceedings against otherwise unimpeachable parents”, the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has said. The comment was made in a case relating to a four-year-old boy who is profoundly neurologically disabled with a life-limiting condition. The local authority issued care proceedings in relation to him in February 2017, over concerns that his parents had been “uncooperative, rude and aggressive and intimidating of medical and nursing staff”, and that due to the lack of co-operation from the parents, and repeated allegations about the carers, it had been impossible to implement a care package of support for the boy. As a result, the authority alleged, the boy would suffer significant harm. A care order was made in April 2017, but the local authority subsequently applied to the court for it to be discharged, after it found that the care being given to the boy by his parents, with the supporting care package, was meeting his needs. The President granted the application.
I liked the postscript to his judgment:
“When I sent this judgment to the parties in draft, I asked for up-to-date news of [the boy]. His parents’ response, which obviously delighted me, was that he “remains stable and largely comfortable at home” and “Whilst he continues to have dystonic episodes they are not as frequent or as severe as in the past.” They also sent me, for which I am grateful, a heart-warming photograph of the family by the Christmas tree.”
A happy ending, or at least as happy as one could hope for.
“Domestic abusers told to say sorry to partner by police”.
So went a headline in The Telegraph this week, which continued:
“Police are dealing with domestic abuse cases by simply making the abuser say sorry to their partner on the doorstep”.
This actually relates to a review into sex discrimination law published by the Fawcett Society, the charity that campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights. I’ve had a quick look at the review (you can find it here), and whilst I can’t see any reference in it to doorsteps, there is a serious point here, although domestic abuse is only a small part of what the review covers. The point is that the review found that the police aren’t always doing the job you hope they would do when it comes to domestic abuse. Firstly, it found that the police are more likely to close domestic abuse cases due to evidential difficulties, compared with other violent offences. Secondly, the Review Panel received evidence that a worrying number of domestic violence incidents are resolved using “street level” restorative justice, which can often be little more than an apology. The review recommended that guidance be strengthened to make clear that “street level” restorative justice should not be used in cases of domestic abuse or sexual violence, and data should be collected to ensure that forces are held accountable. Agreed.
And finally, I began with the President, and I will end with him. This week he treated us to the latest exciting instalment of his View from the President’s Chambers, which have kept us informed about the on-going process of reform of the family justice system, since Sir James became President five years ago. Edition 18 is all about the new specialist Financial Remedies Courts, which were announced back in December (OK, I lied about it being exciting), including where the courts are likely to be piloted. The View also includes a new Form A, which is to be used for all types of financial remedy application. Now, as someone who recalls how simple the old application form used to be back in the day, the new form comes as a bit of a shock. Whilst I am quite used to legal forms expanding exponentially (I think, for example, of the way legal aid applications increased from 3 sides of A4, to something that would give War and Peace a run for its money), it does worry me that a large proportion of these forms are going to have to be completed by litigants who don’t have the benefit of legal assistance – I only hope that their complexity will not put people off from proceeding with legitimate claims, at the first hurdle.
Have a good weekend.