A week in family law: Nagalro, two Bills lost, and the life of a child

Family Law|September 13th 2019

Summary of the week in family law

Nagalro, the professional association for children’s guardians, family court advisers and independent social workers, has raised concern that Cafcass is undermining the role of Children’s Guardians. Specifically, Nagalro is concerned that Cafcass has disseminated inaccurate information on its website, which appears to dilute the role of the Children’s Guardian and minimise their legal obligations. They say that a number of recent judgments have reinforced their view that children’s interests are being compromised. In June 2019 Nagalro became aware of what it considers inaccurate details on the Cafcass website, and wrote to Julie Brown, interim Chief Executive of Cafcass, explaining its concerns, particularly that the information does not accurately reflect the legal powers and duties of the guardian and that it may impede guardians in carrying out a thorough investigation on behalf of the children whose rights and interests they represent. Nagalro says that they are disappointed that they have received a reply from Cafcass declining to change their website content. Nagalro urges Cafcass to review their policies in the light of the evidence of the service failings revealed by recent court judgments and to provide accurate information to the public and practitioners. An unedifying disagreement between two important institutions. Let us hope it will be resolved shortly.

It has been confirmed that the Domestic Abuse Bill has been lost as a result of the prorogation of parliament, which means that it will have to be started from scratch if it is brought back in the next parliament. Amongst the provisions contained in the Bill are placing a new legal duty on councils to provide secure homes for those fleeing violence and their children, introducing the first legal Government definition of domestic abuse, which would include economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour, and preventing cross-examination of domestic abuse victims by alleged perpetrators. Hopefully, the Bill has only been delayed (the Government has promised to include it in the next Queen’s Speech), but one wonders how many victims of abuse will suffer unnecessarily as a result of the delay.

Ex-Chancellor confirms Divorce Bill lost

Similarly, David Gauke, the former Lord Chancellor under the previous administration, has tweeted to confirm that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which aimed to bring in a system of no-fault divorce, has also been dropped. A huge shame, but again hopefully only a delay.

Another one of those awful cases concerning the treatment of a seriously ill child is being heard in the High Court this week. The parents of five-year-old Tafida Raqeeb, who is suffering from a brain injury, want to take her to Italy for treatment. However, doctors at the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel say there is no hope she will recover from the injury, and that it is in her best interests to be allowed to die. Despite this, clinicians at a hospital in Genoa have offered her treatment. A week-long hearing is being held before Mr Justice MacDonald, to establish if Tafida can go to Italy. Prior to the hearing, Barts NHS trust, which runs the Royal London Hospital, applied for one of Tafida’s female relatives to be removed as her “litigation friend”, after Tafida’s mother obtained a fatwa from the Islamic Council of Europe, which concluded that it would be a “great sin” and “absolutely impermissible” for the parents or anyone else to consent to the removal of life support. The trust argued that in light of the fatwa, no member of the family was suitable to act as litigation friend, as it was not possible for the family to be open-minded about the fact that the decision made by the High Court is in Tafida’s best interests. However, Mr Justice MacDonald rejected the trust’s application.

One hundred and four new family judges

And finally, the Queen has appointed 159 Recorders, on the advice of the Lord Chancellor, The Right Honourable Robert Buckland QC MP, and the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, The Right Honourable The Lord Burnett of Maldon. The appointments will take effect from the 16th of September 2019. 104 of the new Recorders have been assigned to the family jurisdiction. Let us hope that their appointment goes some way towards alleviating the pressure of business on the family courts.

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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