Welcome to this month’s Roundup, where we correct, clarify and comment on media reports of family court cases, explain and comment on published family court judgments and highlight other transparency news
MEDIA COVERAGE OF FAMILY COURT MATTERS
Byline Times and the Daily Mail – in September Lucy Reed explained why reports in both publications, on the way the English courts treated Afsana Lachaux, were misleading by omission. See The things left unsaid… and Of a piece. The Daily Mail has made a limited correction in response to our complaint. We are still engaging in constructive communication with Byline Times following our complaint to them. We’ll update the posts when we can:
The Times (and others) – Emily Dugan (now at the Times) reported HHJ Wildblood asking parents and lawyers, via a supplementary published ‘judgment‘, to stop clogging up the family court with unnecessary private law applications, and warning of dramatically rising numbers of cases. His unusual ‘judgment‘ triggered discussion about the proper limits of published judgments as well as about the real causes of high numbers of private law cases in the family courts and the right path for reform. See Re B: Judgment or Press Release? from an unnamed lawyer. See the podcast and transcript from the last Family Justice Council debate for key context on different views on the true nature of the private law disputes filling the courts and the right reform path for families. We are told that publication of the final report on reforming private law is due shortly. It’s not yet clear how the findings of the Harm Report on how family courts cope with domestic abuse (more below in Transparency News) will have impacted on reform plans already set out at an interim stage. See also this post about judicial work-loads and impact.
Care Appointments – Continue to consistently link readers with the published family court judgments reports are based on, in contrast to most reports in mainstream news (eg. the Times report above). Brian Farmer (author of this Care Appointments piece bringing important judicial comments from the court of protection about social care staff and coercive control to the public), is often the source of media stories about the family courts in the mainstream press via the Press Association, as well as those at Care Appointments. Emily Dugan regularly linked readers to judgments etc when writing for previous publications such as BuzzFeed:
BBC Eastenders – Yanoulla Kakoulli flagged options for those experiencing coercive control in response to a recent Eastenders story line:
NEWLY PUBLISHED CASES
FS v RS and JS – Barbara Rich discussed the former President’s decision not to grant a dependent adult’s claim for financial relief against his parents under either the Matrimonial Causes Act or the Children Act. See The Prodigal Son in Modern Life. Jess Smith explained the complex law applying too, in FS v RS and JS – A Most Unusual Case about the bank of mum and dad…: (We understand an application for permission to appeal to the Court of Appeal is pending):
P v Griffith – Alex Ruck Keene highlighted a Court of Protection decision to imprison a woman for 12 months for forging a court order to obtain her relative’s medical records. See Contempt, court orders and P’s confidentiality.
Y (Leave to Oppose Adoption) and JL (Leave to Apply to Revoke Placement Order) – Blog to follow we hope on these two recent Court of Appeal decisions about applications for permission to oppose an adoption order and to revoke a placement order. See also Julie Doughty (Transparency Project trustee) on children’s rights and adoption, in the latest from the Cambridge Family Law Centre initiative to bring important family law topics accessibly to the public from an academic perspective.
Judicial Review of the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust – Like others, we’re keeping an eye out for the judgment from these proceedings which raises significant questions about the proper limits of children’s informed consent to treatment. (See also this thread on the outcome of BBC Newsnight’s appeal to the Information Commissioner following a freedom of information request for the 2005 Taylor review report; the BBC news report and broadcast; and the terms of reference for the recently announced NHS independent review of GIDS):
R (Delve and Glynn) v. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions – Barbara Rich explained and commented on the judgment from a Court of Appeal decision to refuse appeal against refusal of the judicial review of the government’s decision to raise the pension age for 50’s born women. We understand this is now subject to appeal to the Supreme Court:
E (A Child : Care proceedings : Costs) – Eventual publication of the judgment from a 2017 family court decision involving serious Hillingdon council procedural /fairness of evidence failures where managers apparently substantially re wrote social work statements, unsigned statements and more. Blog to follow if we can.
Amine v Amine – Judgment including an unusual decision by Mr Justice Francis to name children and parents in the published judgment – in part in hope of deterring a fourth abduction:
ND (Court of Protection: Costs and Declarations) – Judgment that includes Mr Justice Keehan’s decision to name a vulnerable 18 year old and his parents when making declarations on council failings alongside Staffordshire council and individual social workers.
A decision to exclude reporters – The Press Gazette reported HHJ Williams’ decision to exclude journalists from a private law family court hearing on the basis of psychological evidence on behalf of a father. We have seen no published judgment from this decision at this stage:
CTD (A Child: Rehearing) – The Court of Appeal clarified the law on applying to re-open findings of fact in family cases. This appeal is an opportunity to draw together and in one respect to simplify the approach to be taken said Jackson LJ. Fuller report at Family Law Week:
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
That Harm Report – We hosted more views on the MOJ published report on how the family courts are coping with domestic abuse, in the form of 3 blogs that first appeared at Pink Tape. See That Harms Report by Lucy Reed (who is also the Chair of The Transparency Project). We’ve published a number of other posts about the Harm report which you can read here, here and here.
Cafcass have announced the membership and plans for their first Learning and Review Board that will oversee their learning from the findings of the Harm Report. A learning review which includes an audit of 200 cases is underway and a Learning and Improvement Plan should be in place by January 2021 with real changes in how families and children experience their service expected to follow:
Remote Hearings – We submitted the results of our survey so far within the Nuffield inquiry and asked whether there is a danger of professional complacency about parents’ access to justice as lawyers and judges become increasingly accustomed to remote hearings. See Surveying where we are:
Transparency in a pandemic – Lucy Reed and Celia Kitzinger discussed transparency in the family courts and court of protection at a Law Works hosted panel event. The recording is here, with commentary on transparency in the court of protection (41:45 and 1:12) and the family court (58:40 and 1:16) and throughout:
Digital Justice – The government belatedly formally accepted most of the recommendations from the Byrom report on 9 October but see Justice depends on Data by Natalie Byrom in the Law Gazette flagging the total absence of any firm funding commitments or timeframes for implementation and that if data collection is not built in now (as digital systems are being designed and tested) it will simply never happen. See also Why justice depends on data by Joshua Rozenberg:
New contempt rules – Paul Magrath explained and commented on new rules in effect from 1 October 2020 for civil and family courts. See Contempt of Court – new rules:
21 October 2020 – Deadline for submissions in response to the Press Recognition Panel call for evidence on how press regulation (under the recognition system) is working and whether it’s providing effective redress:
No apparent closure date yet – Participants sought for survey on the impact of Covid on child protection conferences. Get involved here:
4 November 2020 – Research in Practice hosted webinar on the impact of Covid ’19 on social work and child protection featuring Professor Harry Ferguson (University of Birmingham), Professor Sarah Pink (Monash University) and Dr Laura Kelly (University of Birmingham). Sign up for Learning from Lockdown here:
4 November 2020 (1-2pm) – HMCTS online update on the family public law digital service. Aimed at local authorities, legal professionals, professional court users and the third sector. Register here.
5 November 2020 – The third day of the HMCTS 4th annual public user update on the digital reform programme, features family law all day. Registration and details here:
Assessing the Risk of Harm to Children and Parents in Private Law Cases
Monday, 14 December 2020 (5:30 PM to 7:30 PM) – The date has been announced for the annual Family Justice Council debate. This year’s (online) ‘forum’ as opposed to debate is on assessing the risk of harm to children and parents in private law cases (in response to the Harm Report). Information on attendance to follow.
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