A week in family law: Cafcass figures, three cases, and more

Industry News|February 15th 2019

It’s been a fairly quiet week for family law news, following the excitements of last week. Here are the highlights:

I’ll start with the latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for January 2019, which have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’). In that month the service received a total of 1,051 new care applications. This figure is 10.2% (120 applications) lower than January 2018. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,636 new cases during January 2019. This is 3.6% (127 cases) higher than January 2018, and third highest January on record. So once again we have better news on the public law front, but worse news in relation to private law.

Next there were three cases that made the headlines this week:

Firstly, a public law case that carries a message to anyone involved in any family proceedings, especially if they are not represented. A judge has been criticised by the Court of Appeal for ‘bullying’ a mother into agreeing to interim care orders for her two young children, against her wishes. Lord Justice Peter Jackson agreed with the mother that her consent or non-opposition to the interim care orders “was not freely given, but was secured by oppressive behaviour on the part of the judge in the form of inappropriate warnings and inducements.” He went on: “Regardless of the fact that the mother was legally represented, she did not get a fair hearing.” Accordingly, the mother’s appeal against the orders was allowed. You can read the full report of the appeal here.

Secondly, a case that I wrote about here on Tuesday. A High Court judge has praised lawyers who act ‘pro bono’ (i.e. without charge), saying that: “So far removed from the stereotyped ‘fat-cat,’ the legal profession in cases such as this are more akin to Boxer in George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ always telling themselves “I will work harder.” “Without such public-spirited lawyers”, asked Mr Justice Williams, “how would those such as the father and mother in this case navigate the process and present their cases?” He went on: “How judges manage to deliver justice to the parties and an appropriate judgment for the child without such assistance in cases like this begs the question. It is a blight on the current legal aid system that cases such as this do not attract public funding.” It is indeed a blight and, as I pointed out in my post, one that it seems the government is going to do little about, if its recent review of the effects of the legal aid cuts is anything to go by.

Thirdly, another public law case, this time with an unusual outcome. A court has ruled that a young girl whose parents cannot care for her should be brought up by a stranger, rather than her grandparents. District Judge Graham Keating decided that the girl, who was born in 2017, would be better placed in the care of a friend of the girl’s mother, rather than her father’s parents, despite the fact that the friend had never met the girl. Making a special guardianship order in favour of the woman, he said that although the strength of the blood relationship was “very powerful” it was “not definitive”. You can read the full judgment here.

And finally, it has been reported that a group of private backers has agreed to fund the problem-solving Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (‘FDACs’). For those who don’t know, FDACs are specialist courts that help parents deal with drug or alcohol addiction, so their children are not taken into care. FDACs have been extremely successful, with research indicating that families receiving FDAC are significantly more likely than families in standard care proceedings to be reunited with their children, and for the parents to have ceased misusing substances. Unfortunately, the national unit set up to support the courts shut down last year, due to lack of government funding. It has now been reported that a group of private backers and philanthropists has pledged £280,000 to fund a new national partnership to support and extend the model, and seek long term government funding. This is extremely welcome news, although it is an utterly remarkable (though sadly unsurprising) sign of the times that such a successful and highly regarded service should have to rely upon private funding for its existence. What next, judges with sponsorship on their gowns?

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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