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 Mail on Sunday – Reported a mother’s claim, My autistic child was kidnaped by social workers, without apparently looking beyond her perspective. See the facts as established by Baker J in judgments here and here from the (now open) Court of Protection. We’ll invite the Mail to amend what we consider to be a significantly misleading / unbalanced story:
The Times – We explained why this headline at the Times didn’t accurately represent Cobb J’s decisions in the Court of Protection. See Capacity to use the internet, guest post from Keri Tayler, court of protection specialist at 2 Beford Row:
The Times and others – New research from Exeter University and NatCen on the ‘common law marriage’ myth received media attention earlier this year. Professor Anne Barlow followed up for the Transparency Project with a guest blog clarifying what legal reform is underway and the stages reached. See also this twitter thread:
Byline Times – We hope to respond to this piece at Byline Times – The Justice Trap: How Medical Orthodoxy can be Judge, Jury and Executioner. We wrote a little about this case previously in Baby removed from parents over ‘abuse’ is found to have rare bruising condition (link to published judgment within). See also the Guardian 2017 long read:
The Times – Reported a new government funded study from Birmingham University said to be published in Qualitative Social Work (nothing so far), showing social workers at risk of breaking the law by using Facebook to ‘spy on’ families. Transparency Project Chair, Lucy Reed responded at Pink Tape in Social work spies? (Yes, you over there I’m talking to you…). See also Researching Reform, Community Care 2018 (on their freedom of information request and mixed messages for social workers), and Suesspicious Minds 2017:
BBC News, Metro and Essex Live News (among others) – Updated on missing Olly Sheridan (including the families’ petition to the Home Secretary and announcement they were heading home, and apparent closure of the police investigation). A short press release was issued by the Judicial Office confirming their whereabouts were now known and a further hearing open to the press would take place. We weren’t able to attend but it seems likely that reporting has been appropriately restricted (for now) so Olly’s well-being and future care arrangements can be truly prioritised by all involved, without distraction.
The Mail – This Mail report of Ant McPartlin and Lisa Armstrong’s divorce proceedings also attracted legal twitter ‘feedback’:
The BBC – Announced (as reported by the Guardian) a new charitable Local Democracy Scheme (funded by the BBC and internet companies) to radically increase local public interest reporting. (Twitter followers asked how they’ll achieve charitable status and the Press Gazette reported Will Gore’s move to head up ‘a Facebook community news project ‘ at existing charity NCTJ.)
See also recent local public interest reports we’ve seen, reporting Leeds council halving child protection plans in 5 years; an FDAC for Walsall; Newcastle’s struggle with over-spend / rising numbers of looked after children; and Ofsted concerns at Stoke-On-Trent.
As well as two important reports on the context of individual council performances: Care Proceedings in England: the Case for Clear Blue Water – newly published at the judiciary site from the Chief Social Worker as the Third Bridget Lindley Memorial Lecture; and Transforming children’s services from the Public Accounts Committee (Care Appointments summarised- flagging painfully slow progress by the government for vulnerable children / lack of sustainable improvement plans / calls for the DfE to develop a cross-departmental strategy):
Linker of the Week
The Guardian – Linked online readers from this report of the government withdrawing their ‘myth-busting guide’ to councils, to the full information at Article 39who lead the successful campaign against it, and the (now empty) DfE website page where the ‘guide’ formerly sat:
NEWLY PUBLISHED JUDGMENTS FOR EXPLANATION OR COMMENT
Re B (post adoption contact) – We explained the first Court of Appeal decision on post adoption contact under s.51A Adoption and Children Act 2002 (as amended) in Court of Appeal decision about orders for post-adoption contact. See also this twitter thread:
CS v SBH & Ors (Appeal FPR 16.5: Sufficiency of Child’s Understanding) – We attended under the legal blogging pilot and wrote up this High Court decision from which judgment is now published. See Legal Blogging Pilot – some comparisons with the Court of Protection transparency pilot. See also Not a vacuum but a low pressure vessel at Suesspicious Minds:
A and B (Children: Care Order) – HHJ Middleton-Roy provided ‘transparency workings’, applying the president’s anonymisation guidance, and balancing the public interest in transparent justice against risks of identification, to conclude the public interest in identifying the applicant Local Authority is so important that it outweighs any risk of identification of the children. Also interesting on sibling relationships and adoption versus long term fostering.
P (Notice of care proceedings to father without parental responsibility) – Published judgment from His Honour Judge Bellamy (also the new patron of the Transparency Project – see below), permitting a council not to give notice of care proceedings to a ‘father’ serving a prison sentence for grooming and sexually exploiting teenage girls including the child’s teenage mother. Suesspicious Minds explained in Should a Local Authority serve notice of proceedings on a father suspected of abusing the mother? (We’ll consider updating our post with guidance for councils as soon as we can)
E (Care and Placement Orders) and L (SGO) – Published judgments from two recent decisions (here and here) by HHJ Vincent in the family court, that stood out in prioritising short, strengths-focused, accessible judgments for parents with learning disabilities alongside fuller versions.
NHS Cumbria CCG v Rushton – Sensitive published judgment from a sad court of protection situation where a patient’s clear Advance Decision document wasn’t implemented. Hayden J reminds of the statutory provisions and Codes of Practice; the importance of compliance with them when preparing an Advance Decision (as essential safeguards to documents of the utmost importance); and reminds the medical profession of the need to give Advance Decisions the utmost care, attention and scrutiny (including GP’s ensuring wherever possible that they are made available to hospital clinicians):
M v P – Published judgment from the former President’s decision finding that a divorce granted in error by the courts based on a defective petition (later declared void by the Queen’s proctor after the parties had re married), was not void after all. The former President was critical of a civil legal aid eligibility scheme that lead to a party being refused (even) exception legal aid, to prevent a breach of human rights, in a case of exceptional legal complexity, on the basis she earnt too much. (Despite having a disposable monthly income of only £625.87, net of rent, and negligible savings). Legal aid is not available for divorce proceedings. The former President also invited the current President to reconsider the interim guidance on Defective Divorce Petitions and emphasised both the pressing need to get the online divorce project fully operation as soon as possible, and the value of introducing modern digital technology under the court modernisation process to speed and improve administration of justice. See also Catherine Baksi at Legal Cheek.
Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust v AB & Ors – Short published judgment from an initial decision of the court of protection prohibiting publication of a video of a patient /any identifying story about her, including in the Mail Online, as intended via her son who was concerned about her care conditions. (We believe further hearings have taken place subsequently so other published judgments may follow).
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
Our new patron – In March we were delighted to announce Clifford Bellamy, recently retired family circuit judge (and transparency pioneer) as our new patron. See Clifford Bellamy takes up role as patron of The Transparency Project and watch out for his column on the project’s behalf in Family Law soon:
Transparency Project Guides – We’ve made minor updates to some of our guidance notes which are free to download or share here. A limited number of hard copies are also available thanks to sponsorship from the Legal Education Foundation and Bloomsbury Professional Family Law. Please email if you would like some. The guides cover the common law marriage myth and cohabitants rights’; section 20; publication of family court judgments; media guide to attending & reporting family court cases; use of experts in family court cases involving children; how family courts deal with cases about children where there might be domestic abuse; councils applying for permission not to notify a father about a court case concerning his child (shortly to be updated); and parents recording social work meetings (to be updated once the FJC publish their pending guidance on this).
Journalists and legal bloggers attending family courts – A Bristol based workshop for lawyers run by The Transparency Project at St John’s Chambers on 15th May 2019. Information and booking details for this free (donation only) event are here:
HMCTS digital reform update event – Re-scheduled online event 1-2pm, Tuesday 2nd April. Book here:
Bristol based care proceedings debate – Booking is required for this Monday 15th April debate at Bristol CFJC. The debate motion is ‘We make unnecessary use of care proceedings’. Details here.
Caring for critically ill children in the glare of the media? – A workshop from Emma Nottingham (Transparency Project member) at the Winchester University Conference (Trust, Risk, Information and the Law) on Wednesday 1st May. Information here:
The Bloomsbury Family Law Conference – Featuring Sir James Munby, former president of the Family Division (and Transparency Project trustee Dr Julie Doughty) among others. Booking here for this 25th June London based conference aimed at legal professionals.
Feature pic: Courtesy of Flickr Lauri Heikkinen via CreativeCommons licence – with thanks