A week in family and divorce law

Family Law|Industry News|August 31st 2018

As August draws to a close, so does the ‘quiet season’ for family law news.

As I reported here yesterday, it has been revealed that the government and judiciary are to allow certain ‘legal bloggers’ to attend family court hearings, with a view to reporting upon the proceedings. As I explained, this does not mean that everyone who writes or contributes towards a legal blog will be able to take advantage of the new rules, which are to be piloted between the 1st of October and the 30th of June next year. The rules only apply to lawyers who are practising, or who work in legal education, or on behalf of an educational charity. As I said in my post, I am generally in favour of this scheme, despite a few reservations, although whether it will actually achieve anything significant in terms of educating the public as to what the family courts do and why I have my doubts.

Last Friday we had the premiere of the film The Children Act, an adaptation of the book of that name by novelist Ian McEwan. The story explores the case of a young man who needs a blood transfusion but his parents object, as they are Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a familiar scenario that we have seen a number of times before – see, for example, this post back in 2014. In the film, the judge, played by Dame Emma Thompson, has to decide whether the transfusion should go ahead. The film has prompted a call from the children’s charity Coram for the mandatory provision of independent advocates for children. Kamena Dorling, group head of policy and public affairs at Coram, said:

“Key decisions about a child’s future can be made without their views being put forward, or all the relevant information being considered. Coram believes that in all important decisions concerning children (which are made by public bodies or a judicial processes), children should have an appropriate opportunity to participate in the decision-making process.”

On a not dissimilar topic, a court has ruled that a five-year-old girl should receive vaccinations for the combined diphtheria/tetanus/whooping cough/polio immunisation, the combined measles/mumps/rubella immunisation (‘MMR’), and the influenza vaccine, despite the objections of her father. The ruling was given by His Honour Judge Clifford Bellamy, who pointed out that on each of the previous five occasions when it had had to determine whether a child should be vaccinated in circumstances where a birth parent objected, the court concluded that the child concerned should receive the recommended vaccine. In view of this, he said, it was difficult to see how a challenge based on the efficacy or safety of these vaccines would be likely to succeed, in the absence of new peer-reviewed research evidence indicating significant concern for the efficacy and/or safety of one of the vaccines. Could we have seen the last such challenge to vaccination?

And finally, in a case that could have huge implications, the Supreme Court has held that an unmarried mother in Northern Ireland should be entitled to widowed parent’s allowance, following the death of her partner. Mother of four Siobhan McLaughlin was originally denied the allowance, on the basis that she had not been married to John Adams, her partner of 23 years, who died in January 2014. She successfully challenged the decision in the High Court in Belfast, but a subsequent government challenge to that ruling was upheld in the Court of Appeal. She appealed to the Supreme Court, which allowed the appeal and made a declaration that the current rule that the widowed parent can only claim the allowance if he or she was married to or the civil partner of the deceased is incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights. The rule applies to Northern Ireland, and it will be up to the legislature there to decide whether or not the law should be changed. However, it is expected in some quarters that people across the UK will be entitled to the allowance. Hopefully, this will be the case – a further small improvement to the rights of unmarried couples, recognising that a substantial proportion of society chooses not to get married.

Have a good weekend.

Author: John Bolch

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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