Correcting, clarifying or commenting on media reports of family court cases
Explaining or commenting on published judgments of family court cases
Highlighting other transparency news
MEDIA (MIS)REPORTS OF FAMILY COURT CASES
The Mirror, Guardian, Mail etc (initially via the Press Association) – Several news outlets reported the published judgment (now temporarily taken down) from MFS (Appeal: Transfer of Primary Care) . With stirring headlines about a child moving to his father’s home because of his mum’s ‘hateful feelings’ for the father, but without the explanatory detail from the judgment or a link to it. See the Mirror, Guardian & Daily Mail.
Commentators flagged the impact, in the comments section at the Guardian Facebook page, for example, which was quickly filled with misunderstanding, suspicion and assumption (much following gender lines). (Mostly) women expressed concern that this was just another unwarranted, or ‘abuse-perpetuating’, change to a child’s residence, while (mostly) men cited it as an exception to the usual family court side-lining of ‘parental alienation’. We know of no research as yet that really gets beyond such anecdotal claims, to inform either (or neither) view of what does ‘typically happen in the family courts’ on this. (We’ve enquired about the ‘taken-down’ judgment, not least in case of new reporting restrictions, before publishing our explanatory post. Our other recent posts about ‘parental alienation’ are here).
(What’s also clear from the Guardian Facebook comments is that readers believe there simply is no further information available to them in the public domain. The sad reality of course, is that the media simply don’t want them to see the free published judgments intended for them):
The Express and others – Reported the impact of a father’s applications in the family court, having retained ongoing legal decision making rights about his children despite his conviction for sexually abusing them. (The source was a fresh interview at Wales Online with the mother about the impact). We hope to provide some additional legal context, including on the possible legal aid scenario here (government policy has been to end legal aid in most cases except for victims of abuse who qualify financially). The Express also launched a crusade to stop such sickening injustices happening again. (No reference to the existing campaign via MP Louise Haigh to remove legal decision making rights about children (parental responsibility or PR) from those convicted of rape etc. The Parental Rights (Rapists) and Family Courts Bill had its first reading earlier this month and calls for a public inquiry into the way the family courts treat domestic abuse and violence to women; for parental responsibility to be terminated on conviction for rape; and for measures to reverse the presumptions on notice of proceedings):
The Telegraph – Reported (sorry paywalled) a press release from the judicial conduct office. We’ve enquired about an apparent discrepancy between the judicial conduct office statement (a judge banged her hand on the desk in frustration in a case involving a litigant in person and the Telegraph report that it was her head).
The Daily Mail (then others) – Reported the conviction and sentence of Sharon Lippett for shocking abuse of a former foster child she adopted aged 2. Gloucestershire Live report Gloucestershire council saying they’ve already put into place ‘lessons learned’. Public interest in how it could have happened is high with many keen to see the serious case review report. It would seem a surprising omission for transparency and accountability if one isn’t published here, given the responsibility for assessing and approving suitability to foster / adopt but sentencing of Lippett has only just taken place with two other defendants to be sentenced on 16th May. We’ve enquired in the meantime:
Derbyshire Live and the Nottingham Post – Blog to follow, in response to Mums in Derbyshire whose children keep getting taken into care making ‘active choice’ (local democracy reporter), and Drastic new plan to prevent mums with kids in care having more children. Both reporting Derbyshire Council’s Cabinet decision to invest in the Pause programme (Cabinet minutes not yet available). (Pause is one of few options for parents in need of intensive support, often survivors of abuse / care leavers and at risk of repeat removals of children at significant cost to the public purse).
Care Appointments – Reported HHJ Atkinson’s (8th April 2019) decision (on application of the Daily Mail and Press Association), to permit publication of the judgment from her (8th April 2018) findings that both parents had been involved in the female genital mutilation of a child. (A jury later decided that only the mother was guilty of the criminal offence on the basis of the higher standard of proof, beyond all reasonable doubt. See Child Protection Resource on the different aims and applicable standards of proof across the family and criminal court / some of the challenges).
We attended these family court proceedings at an earlier stage under the legal blogging pilot but were, (appropriately) restricted from reporting anything of substance, to avoid any risk of prejudicing the criminal trial that ultimately resulted in the first UK FGM conviction. Reporting restrictions continue to prevent identification of the adults or children. We’ve yet to see the published judgment:
BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour – Followed recent investigations of rises in care numbers, repeat removals of babies, and dangerous advice to frightened parents, in highlighting special guardianship orders. (Interviews with a special guardian, and Professor Judith Harwin on research showing a four fold rise in use of SGOs with inadequate support for guardians compared to adopters & foster carers of equally vulnerable children):
NEWLY PUBLISHED JUDGMENTS FOR EXPLANATION OR COMMENT
Re L  – We commented on a particularly sensitive, accessible judgment from Her Honour Judge Lynch in the family court and why such judgments matter so much for families. See “Love her how I love her”:
RJ v Tigipko  – Judgment from Mostyn J’s 1st March 2019 High Court decision to permit publication of this and the judgment from his earlier decision (to allow identification of a mother, grandfather and children in the hope of securing their return after abduction to Ukraine). We explained the abduction context, the reporting decision, and our difficulties trying to attend to give effect to new attendance rights under the legal blogging pilot. See When children are abducted by a parent – a scourge, an unspeakable cruelty and a matter of public interest:
H-L Children)  – Published judgment from the Court of Appeal allowing an appeal against an unprecedented decision to dismiss an application for a care order at an interim stage opposed by the Guardian and local authority. Suesspicious Minds explained in “…such obviously fallacious legal arguments”:
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
The launch of Tortoise (wiser, slower news) – We highlighted the launch of another alternative media model. See What has Tortoise taught us about slow news and ‘wising up’? (See also ‘Separated’ from Polly Curtis recently, on rising care numbers and the problem of dangerous advice to fearful parents):
New guidance for health professionals on reducing conflict with parents of children living with complex and/or life limiting conditions – The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) published new guidance for paediatricians & other health professionals on prevention, recognition & management of conflict in paediatric practice’. The ‘Achieving Consensus’ Guidance is here. See also RCPCH news, the Guardian, Disagreements in the care of critically ill children (a new briefing paper from the Nuffield Bio-Ethics Foundation), and the free talk at Gresham College (Diary Dates below):
Holding the media to account in reporting domestic homicide – Level Up asked for volunteers for their newly created media watch group monitoring compliance with their newly published (and press regulator, IPSO endorsed) guidelines for journalists on reporting domestic homicide safely. The guidelines are firmly outwith the Editors Code but reports (including headlines) that breach them to the extent of significant inaccuracy, distortion or misleading should (in theory at least) be addressed by IPSO as a breach of the Editors Code (1.1 & 2):
Wednesday 1st May 2019: Tortoise ‘Think In’ – Slower, wiser news provider Tortoise’s first piece on the relationship between state and family (Separated, from Polly Curtis) offers an invitation to ThinkIns in their newsroom on May 1st at 6.30pm, and on the road in Sunderland at 11am on 22nd May. Get in touch at email@example.com if interested:
2nd May 2019: The Child and Medical Treatment – Professor Jo Delahunty QC and Dr Imogen Good will talk about what happens when doctors and parents can’t agree about experimental medical treatment for a child and why there should be any question mark over a parent’s right to decide if medical treatment for their child continues. Free Gresham College lecture (also online).
15th May 2019 (Bristol): Journalists and legal bloggers attending family courts: A workshop for lawyers – Lucy Reed (Chair of the Transparency Project) is delivering this workshop on behalf of the project in light of the Legal Blogging Pilot implemented through PD36J. The aim is to assist advocates to be ready to best serve the interests of their clients whether parent, child or local authority, should a legal blogger (or journalist) attend a hearing they are instructed in. Information and booking for this free (donation only) event here:
Feature pic: Courtesy of Flickr Lauri Heikkinen via CreativeCommons licence – with thanks