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
BBC Radio 4 PM and BBC News (Stories) – Andrew Bomford’s series and BBC news report elicited a range of responses. From appreciation of their in depth nature, to concerns about the ‘can she can’t she keep this baby’ promotion style and Frontline focus. Unusual levels of journalistic access were made available by Hertfordshire Council to the BBC to follow Frontline student social worker James and the family of new born baby Harry (pseudonym) who is subject to a Child Protection Plan following removal of 9 half siblings. All 10 short episodes are available on catch up alongside the subsequent BBC News (stories) report:
The Guardian – Louise Tickle (Journalist and Transparency Project member) flagged challenging findings about Cafcass in the Spotlight/Harm Report on how the family court’s deal with domestic abuse. See Twisted priorities mean Cafcass has failed to protect children from abusive parents (opinion) and the The safety of children is our paramount concern at Cafcass (letter in reply by Jackie Tiotto CEO Cafcass). See also Julie Doughty’s post, The Spotlight Review on domestic abuse – where does it fit in with other court reforms? which is the fourth in a series of posts so far at the Transparency Project in response to Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases. The others are here, here, and here. More in the pipeline we hope:
The Independent – We questioned some assumptions behind an Independent report of a bizarre Fathers4Justice ‘Ditch The Witch’ campaign outside the Johnny Depp court case. See Ditch the Witch but Which Witch?:
The Telegraph – Jo Edwards flagged some of the backlogs already afflicting divorce process times in the family courts before Covid hit, in response to this Telegraph story (sorry paywall) . See Family court stat spike due to covid? Not remotely so. See also ‘Divorce boom’ forecast as lockdown sees advice queries rise at BBC News this week:
The Nottingham Post, the Times (and others) – The Post (among others) usefully reported the Court of Appeal’s decision about a mother’s contact with her children in care, but without linking online readers to the fuller source (the free published judgment):
BBC News (Nottingham, East Midlands) – Transparently made sure online readers were given the link to the published judgment from the same Court of Appeal decision being reported:
The Guardian – Reported the Supreme Court’s decision on a point of law arising from a financial settlement on divorce. With links for online readers to material the Supreme Court routinely publishes to aid transparency and understanding. Including a press summary alongside the published judgment and videos of the hearing itself:
NEWLY PUBLISHED CASES
Newman v Southampton City Council & Ors  EWHC 2103 (Fam) (05 August 2020) and Newman v Southampton City Council & Ors (COSTS and PTA)  EWHC 2148 (Fam) (05 August 2020) – Melanie Newman (freelance journalist) discussed the process of applying for court documents to investigate how a placement order was made with the Court of Appeal later overturning it as made on the flimsiest of evidence. See The Family Courts must show their workings. Mrs Justice Roberts has published her judgments from the application itself (with a summary of developments in the tension between transparency and confidentiality) and her refusal of permission to appeal / costs. See also reports at Panoptican (11 KBW) Local Government Lawyer, the Gazette, and Hold the Front Page. As well as later reports of Southampton City council apologising for child protection failings, and Louise Tickle’s twitter thread reporting the council’s special scrutiny panel meeting in response to whistleblowing at the council:
D-S (Contact With Children In Care: Covid-19)  EWCA Civ 1031 (04 August 2020) – Julie Doughty highlighted an important Court of Appeal decision on contact between children in care and families during the coronavirus epidemic. See Corona contact and children in care – Re D-S in the Court of Appeal. See also ‘Judge wrong to ban mum seeing children, Court of Appeal rules’ at BBC News, and ‘Judge wrong to decide mother could not spend time with children during lockdown‘ (with a more accurate headline) from the Nottingham Post:
C (A Child)  EWCA Civ 987 (24 July 2020) – Paul Magrath explained a Court of Appeal decision to reverse a judicial decision not to recuse herself, and drew parallels to an earlier non-family case. See Another recusal refusal – but this time the Court of Appeal steps in:
R v P (Children: Similar Fact Evidence)  EWCA Civ 1088 – Child Protection Resource explained an important Court of Appeal decision summarising the principles to be applied when deciding whether to admit similar fact evidence in family proceedings (here in the context of a father’s propensity to behave in a coercive and controlling manner).
An NHS Foundation Trust v AB – Katie Gollop explained a High Court decision that a patient suffering from such severe anorexia that she has now tragically died ahead of her appeal hearing, lacked capacity to make treatment decisions about her own nutrition, albeit it wasn’t in her best interests to be further tube fed. See Mental capacity and medical treatment—anorexia nervosa and forced feeding at UK Medical Decision Law Blog.
Re T (A Child: Refusal of Adoption Order)  (EWCA Civ 797) – Jessica Smith (Transparency Project volunteer) explained a Court of Appeal decision to allow the appeal of grandparent carers against an initial decision that a Special Guardianship Order rather than an Adoption Order was required for their grandchild,
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
Transparency through legal blogging (from the court of protection and the family courts)
Lucy Reed asked why progress being made by the Open Court of Protection Project isn’t being replicated in the family courts through the legal blogging project and what we might do about this. See Messing about on the river (or CoP-Celia, you’re breaking my heart…).
She also reported from two family court hearings in the magistrates court under the legal blogging pilot in Legal Blogging the Lay Justices. See also twitter threads here and here on continuing barriers to access:
Paul Magrath reviewed the oral evidence to the Constitution Committee’s inquiry into the constitutional implications of Covid19 for the courts. Including the impact of virtual proceedings on access to justice, participation, transparency and media reporting. See Has the revolution happened? Can we ever go back?. We’ll publish our submission when we can:
Lucy Reed explained what a written agreement with social services is and isn’t, with some practical tips, in What IS A contract of expectations or a written agreement? Should you sign one?:
Friday 18 September 2020 – Responses by this date to the ADCS on the review of the template that is meant to ensure all social workers present consistent, relevant evidence to courts, with a new focus on the quality of evidence behind urgent applications to remove children. See Community Care here.
30 September 2020 – Deadline for views and experiences sought for a Nuffield Family Justice Observatory follow up survey after their initial rapid review consultation on remote hearings.
Last call also for responses to the Transparency Project survey on remote family court hearings from the perspective of family members (which we’ll analyse ourselves and feed in to the Nuffield follow up):
12 October 2020 – Deadline for submissions to the Justice Committee inquiry on addressing delays to court hearings caused by the pandemic, documented in the Coronavirus impact on courts report.
19 October 2020 – Deadline for sumbissions to the Justice Committee inquiry on the future of legal aid in light of concerns raised during the Covid-19 pandemic about pressures on the system. Including on the role of the Legal Aid Agency, recruitment and retention, the court reform programme and increasing use of technology, etc.
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