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A week in family law: the ruler of Dubai, abuse by police and biased courts

My choices for the top family law news stories of the week:

President makes damning findings against the ruler of Dubai

The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has made damning findings against the ruler of Dubai, in the course of ongoing proceedings relating to the welfare of two of his children. In a fact-finding ruling in December, Sir Andrew found that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum had arranged the abductions of two of his children, one from the streets of Cambridge, and had subjected his youngest wife, Princess Haya, to a campaign of intimidation. The Sheikh and the Princess married in 2004, and have two children, now aged 12 and 7. In April 2019 the Princess and the children came to England, and in May the Sheikh commenced proceedings in the High Court, seeking orders for the children to be returned to the Emirate of Dubai. The fact-finding hearing took place within those proceedings, and the abduction findings related to two of the Sheikh’s older children. The Sheikh had sought to stop the judgment being publicised, but his appeal against a ruling allowing publication was refused by the Court of Appeal at the end of February, hence the judgment has now been published. The President said that his ruling “may well involve findings … of behaviour which is contrary to the criminal law of England and Wales, international law, international maritime law, and internationally accepted human rights norms”. As I said, damning stuff.

Domestic abuse allegations against police officers

A ‘super-complaint’ has been submitted to the Police Inspectorate by the charity Centre for Women’s Justice (‘CJW’), highlighting systemic failures women are experiencing when reporting domestic abuse perpetrated by police officers and others employed by the police. Data gathered from 30 out of the 43 police forces in England and Wales shows a total of 666 reports of domestic abuse-related incidents and offences perpetrated by officers, police community support officers and other staff during a three-year period.CWJ says it has been contacted by 46 women who have felt severely let down by the police service after they reported domestic abuse and sexual offences committed by police officers and staff. Cases such as these are currently investigated by the same police force that employs the accused officer. CWJ says that “evidence gathered suggests that there is a systemic problem around such cases with inadequate investigations, inadequate charging and misconduct decisions, and in some cases accused officers and their colleagues abusing their powers, harassing, punishing and victimising women.”Nogah Ofer, solicitor at CWJ commented: “We are concerned about a “locker-room culture” that trivialises violence against women, where loyalty towards fellow officers and concern about the impact on their careers may be getting in the way of justice for women who report abuse” CWJ is seeking a ‘super-complaint’ investigation into this pattern of failings and has proposed some system changes, such as having all investigations carried out by a neighbouring police force and greater involvement by the Independent Office of Police Conduct. Seems to make sense.

Biased courts?

Lastly, and this is not exactly news, I wanted to mention a discussion that has been going on in the letters section of The Guardian newspaper. It began with an opinion piece that appeared on the 5th of March, in which Sonia Sodha, a deputy opinion writer at the paper, suggested that “the disproportionately male judiciary is more likely to rule against abused women and children”. One of her particular concerns related to what she called “the junk science of “parental alienation syndrome”, which she suggests is being too readily accepted by courts as a fact when raised by fathers in response to abuse allegations by mothers. The article has been responded to in the letters section by several eminent people, including the well-respected retired circuit judge His Honour Glenn Brasse. Now, I’m all for a robust discussion of the workings of the family justice system (after all, I’ve often engaged in it myself), but I am a little concerned when a national newspaper openly suggests bias in this way. Yes, there may be bias in certain cases – judges are only human, and they get things wrong sometimes – but to suggest ‘institutional’ bias without the most thorough investigation surely undermines the public confidence in the system, thereby creating a problem where there might not have been one in the first place. I may return to this issue in the coming days.

Have a good weekend.

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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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