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Alfie Evans, court statistics, Cafcass and more

A short week in family law

The parents of Alfie Evans, the 23 month-old boy who has been on ventilation in hospital after becoming seriously ill with a catastrophic and untreatable neurodegenerative condition, have had their application to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) declared inadmissible. Alfie’s parents were seeking to overturn a decision that the NHS Trust may withdraw life-support from Alfie. On the 20th March they were refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court, after a panel of Supreme Court justices headed by the President Lady Hale found that the proposed appeal was unarguable. The ECHR found “that there was no appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.” The decision is final and so that, it would seem, is the end of the legal proceedings regarding Alfie. For what little it is worth, I would echo the profound sympathy expressed by the Supreme Court justices for Alfie’s parents.

The latest Family Court statistics quarterly bulletin, for October to December 2017, has been published by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ). To be honest the main points revealed by the bulletin were not particularly exciting. They included that there was very little change in the overall number of new cases started in family courts in 2017 compared to 2016, the number of Public law cases starting in 2017 was up slightly (1%) compared to 2016, and the number of Private law cases started increased by 5% in 2017 compared to 2016. However, as I have just discovered, the MoJ includes with the bulletin a ‘data visualisation tool’ that enables those interested to delve a little deeper into the statistics, looking for significant trends. The tool is especially useful if you are interested in what is happening in a particular region of the country, or in relation to a particular case type.

In a rare piece of good news for beleaguered court welfare officers, the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) has been rated ‘outstanding’ by the government inspectorate Ofsted. Ofsted inspectors found effective leadership, highly skilled staff and investment in technology and tools that help promote a child-centred approach to practice. It praised practice focussed on “listening to children, understanding their world and acting on their views”. The ‘outstanding’ rating is a step up from the ‘good’ rating Cafcass received when it was last inspected in 2014, and a considerable improvement from the ‘inadequate’ rating it received back in 2009. And all of this has been achieved during a period when there have been huge increases in the number of cases, both public law and private law, that Cafcass has had to deal with.

In an unusual case the Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal by a mother against a provision in an order requiring her two children to be returned to the USA without her, if she failed to obtain a visa to re-enter the USA herself. The Court of Appeal found that the judge who made the order had failed to properly consider the effect upon the children of being separated from their mother, who was their primary carer, and with whom they had lived since December 2016. Accordingly, that part of the order was discharged, but the mother will still be required to return to the USA with the children if she does obtain a visa. In an interesting twist, the father’s own status in the USA is in doubt, as he is a Pakistani national – quite what will happen if he is unable to remain in the USA is unclear.

And finally, for those of you who are interested, a new “fast-track” procedure for certain financial remedies applications (mostly relating to maintenance) will come into effect on the 4th June. Details of the procedure are contained in The Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2018, which I discussed in this post.

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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