A week in family law: Reviewing child protection, child abduction and a new Cafcass Chief Executive

Family Law|May 24th 2019

My top three stories from the last week in family law.

Perhaps the biggest story of the week came from the Ministry of Justice (‘MoJ’), which announced in a press release that a panel of experts will review how the family courts protect children and parents in cases of domestic abuse and other serious offences. We were told that: “The three-month project aims to ensure that the family court works first and foremost in the explicit interests of the child, such as their safety, health and well-being.” Now, I know that things can always be improved, but I think the MoJ could have chosen their words better here, as the welfare of the child is already of course paramount. The release goes on to tell us that:  “The MoJ-chaired panel will consist of a range of experts including senior members of the judiciary, leading academics and charities. A public call for evidence will also be launched imminently and will look to those with direct involvement to share their experiences.” The move follows responses received through the government’s domestic abuse consultation, in which concerns were raised about the family courts’ response to potential harm to children and victims. In addition to calls for better protections for children, some claim that domestic abusers are using the court system to re-traumatise their victims. Justice Minister Paul Maynard commented: “Some of the most vulnerable in our society come before the family courts, and I am absolutely determined that we offer them every protection. This review will help us better understand victims’ experiences of the system, and make sure the family court is never used to coerce or re-traumatise those who have been abused. Its findings will be used to inform next steps so we can build on the raft of measures we have already introduced to protect victims of domestic abuse.” Hmm.

As I reported here, Mr Justice MacDonald has ruled that a mother’s actions in bringing her three year old daughter Ruby to England from Australia without the father’s consent “represented a blatant and premeditated act of child abduction.” The mother brought Ruby to this country in September last year. She then purchased a camper van and proceeded to tour the country with Ruby, eventually ending up in the Outer Hebrides, where she lived for two months during October and November 2018. The father applied to the court for an order that Ruby be returned to Australia. However, Ruby’s whereabouts were not known, so the court made an order permitting details of the case to be reported in the media, in an effort to locate her. Ruby was subsequently found, following extensive media coverage. Hearing the case in the High Court Mr Justice MacDonald said that he was satisfied that the mother sought to go to ground in the Outer Hebrides in an effort to avoid detection. He held that the mother had no defence to the father’s application, and therefore ordered that Ruby be returned to Australia. As I said in my post, hopefully, this case will act as a warning against parents seeking to avoid the law in the way that the mother did here.

And finally, Cafcass has announced that Jacky Tiotto will be replacing Anthony Douglas as its Chief Executive, when Mr Douglas retires in the autumn. Ms Tiotto is currently Director of Children’s Services at the London Borough of Bexley. Commenting on her new role, she said: “Being offered the opportunity to lead Cafcass as their new Chief Executive is a complete privilege. I will take great care to do it well so that the lives and futures of children, young people, families and carers continue to be the greatest priority for all of us working to support them. The protection of children, the needs and experiences of families and the responsibilities of the State in this regard are issues of huge importance to our society and for me personally. Cafcass negotiates these issues on behalf of children within the family courts on a daily basis. The demand and complexity of the work cannot be underestimated and I am delighted to be able to lead the organisation and to learn from its work as we continue to give a loud and authentic voice to the children who need and deserve our help.” I wish her well.

Have a good weekend and Spring bank holiday.

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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