- 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
Christopher Booker commented again in the Telegraph about the imprisonment and release on appeal of Theresa Kirk
The Transparency Project discussed his earlier reports here in light of the published judgment from the Court of Appeal. We await publication of judgments from Baker J’s initial decision and the forthcoming appeal against limited aspects of it before commenting further. In the meantime the Court of Appeal decision has also been reported by Local Government Lawyer here.
The Guardian on Adoption Targets
The Guardian published an opinion piece by journalist Louise Tickle (also a Transparency Project member) in response to the Transparency Projects freedom of information findings on use of targets by councils for numbers of children to be adopted from care. The piece provoked considerable debate in the comments section at the Guardian and four letters to the editor including one from Ofsted. Community Care pieces by Surviving Safeguarding and a practising social worker in response to the original report of the Transparency Projects findings here have also inspired lots of comment.
The Transparency Project commented on the Guardian report that Hogg J might be called to give evidence at a re opened inquest into Ellie Butlers death
See full blog here.
More on the Court of Appeal decision to strike findings of misconduct by a social worker and police officer from the record and name no one in the published judgment
This case understandably attracted media and legal interest. We commented briefly in last weeks Round Up. We now also highlight an interesting blog about it that we hadn’t previously seen by Caoilfhionn Gallagher at Doughty Street. It was re-published last week by Inforrm and highlights both the highly unusual step taken by the Court of Appeal in respect of transparency and its exceptional set of facts.
Media reports we found notably balanced, accurate or otherwise helpful to transparency this week
In another highly unusual (and welcome) move, the Guardian linked their readers to the published family court judgments in the case they wrote about as “British couple suspected of trying to join ISIS allowed to keep children.”
BBC News Online also linked their readers to the source of their report this week on “How warring divorcees could face travel bans”. The report was based on some of the law commissions more creative suggestions for enforcing maintenance orders. The BBC helpfully linked their readers directly to the full law commission report and recommendations to government. (The Times also reported here but without linking to the report).
NEWLY PUBLISHED CASES FOR EXPLANATION OR COMMENT
Recording social work meetings
We noted the newly published judgment of Gloucestershire County Council v A & Ors  EWFC B94 (12 December 2016) with interest in that Gloucestershire County Council applied to stop contact between a father and child in the context of care proceedings because [amongst other reasons] the father “recorded a care review meeting” [or looked after child Review].
The permission to stop contact wasn’t granted but we found the application surprising because the Transparency Project had found Gloucestershire to be one of only a few councils operating a clear and lawful policy about families recording social work meetings, during a project undertaken about this last year.
A discussion of the project (based on a freedom of information enquiry to councils about their policies on recording of social work meetings); discussion of Gloucestershire’s policy; and the practice guidance the Transparency Project produced about recording are here.
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
The Public Accounts Committee reported on Child Protection Services and the DfE mishandling of the conflict of interest in relation to the appointment of the Chief of Social Work
The report of the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee was published on the 16 December. It criticised the Department for Education (DfE) for ‘worrying complacency’ on improving child protection services quickly enough and mishandling the conflict of interest surrounding the appointment of the Chief Social Worker.
Key findings with recommendation included that the DfE:
- Mishandled a clear conflict of interest after appointing the Chief Social Worker and should report to the Commission by the end of March 2017 on changed procedures; new agreed constraints on the Chief Social Worker’s dealings with Morning Lane Associates; management of future conflicts; and plans for clear guidelines for officials on conflicts of interest “as the Government moves ahead with plans to outsource children’s social services to private and voluntary sector partners”. The DfE & Cabinet Office should require much clearer declarations of interest in future with “close and personal relationship” defined. The taxpayer and Parliament are entitled to be clear about potential conflicts of interest given the millions of taxpayers’ money spent annually on contracts with the private sector. The Cabinet Office should also report by March 2017 with outline plans to standardise and clarify such declarations;
- Children are being left at risk of harm through inconsistency in the quality and consistency of help and protection services. The DfE should report by March 2017 on ensuring minimum standards so all children have equal access to high-quality services and practice standards; and whether children with disabilities need a different pathway of support where there isn’t clear evidence that child protection is an issue;
- Lack a credible plan for improving the system by 2020 and should develop plans with detail on timetable & resources for transforming services by 2020;
- Ofsted inspections do not provide sufficient and up-to-date information on service quality and the DfE should report by March 2017 on how they will get more timely assurance on the quality of children’s services from Ofsted;
- Allows problems with services to go too far before it intervenes and must speed up use of leading indicators to intervene in councils before Ofsted assesses them as having failed and report on this by March 2017;
- Six years after the Munro review the DfE still has no evidence on ‘what works’ and must set out its plans for evaluation, dissemination and embedding good practice to the committee;
- Not done enough to attract sufficient people to the social work profession and must set out how it will attract more high calibre people to social work and ensure their training and assessment is relevant to their work.
The future of press regulation and associated matters
The Transparency Project previously explained the government consultation on next steps for press regulation and offered a view on some of the ‘lobbying’ through press reports that has ensued. Two further such press reports we’ve seen in the lead up to the consultation close date of 10 January 2017 are:
“A free press must not be bullied by the state” (The Times)
And on associated matters:
“Pressure grows to refer Rupert Murdoch’s sky bid to Ofcom” (The Guardian) and “Labour says Murdoch’s bid for Sky must be referred to Ofcom” (The Guardian)
“Newspapers struggling to challenge politicians lies” (IPSO) and ‘Struggle with “IPSO Hypocrisy Tees Off” (Zelo Street Blogspot) critiquing that IPSO claim.
“Impress tells Parliament we are here for the long term” (IMPRESS) linking to IMPRESS sessions with the House of Commons Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport on 6 December and the House of Lords Communications Committee on 13th December 16 on Parliament TV here and here.
The Fourth Annual Leveson Lecture (delivered by Vince Cable at Westminster University).
Silence over Gove’s legal aid advisory council
The law society gazette reported “silence over Gove’s legal aid advisory council” and their request for an update on the status of the panel and its work that has received no reply.
Law Society Practice Note for family practitioners intending to set up or provide advice at a court duty scheme for private law family cases.
The law society have published a practice note aiming to provide information for practitioners on managing the professional risks involved in providing advice through a court duty scheme. They say it should be read in conjunction with the Family law protocol and Resolution’s Code of Practice.
Vulnerable witnesses and children’s participation in family proceedings
Family law report a progress update by the Family Procedure Rule Committee (FPRC), since the open meeting held on 5 December, on key family law issues including:
- vulnerable witnesses including child witnesses; and
- participation of children in proceedings including speaking directly to judges
We’ve not found the primary source they refer to so as to link to it here. The published minutes of last meeting at the gov.uk site linked to are last dated 12 September 2016.
Family Law report that a final version of FPR 2010, PD 3AA has now received ministerial clearance with a detailed timetable for FPR 2010, PD 3AA to be confirmed in early 2017 and the second strand dealing with the participation of children in proceedings scheduled for the next FPRC meeting in February 2017.
Transparency and access to documents in court proceedings
David Burrows followed up his November 2016 blog at ICLR “Family law no island (2): Release of family courts hearing documents” with “Miller: hearing documents and understanding a case in the Supreme Court”.
Image courtesy of Lauri Heikkinen at Flickr. With thanks