The purpose of this update is to correct, clarify and comment on media reports of family court cases, to explain and comment on published Judgments of family cases and to highlight other transparency news.
Media Reports of Family Courts Case and Family Justice Issues
- The Guardian reported that Hogg J may be asked to give evidence at a renewed inquest or public enquiry into the death of Ellie Butler. Blog to follow.
- ‘England’s Stolen Children? Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose’ Family Court Reporting Watch drew attention to misreports of the UK child protection process in the French media and commented on the inaccuracies in a full blog here
- Various media outlets reported the outcome of a further review by the CPS of a criminal prosecution of the father of Poppy Worthington: They included the Telegraph, the Guardian and BBC Online. Once again the CPS concluded there was insufficient evidence to successfully prosecute Poppy’s father for her death despite a family court finding that he probably caused that death. (Poppy’s mother had triggered the further review under the Victims right to review scheme. The fresh inquest that was halted while the review took place is now anticipated. (The Telegraph piece somehow manages to both explain that the judgment of Peter Jackson J was withheld from publication for a period to avoid prejudicing any criminal proceedings and still claim that “the girl’s death was shrouded in secrecy” in the same report).
- Media reports of family court cases that seemed particularly accurate, helpful or beyond common stereotypes of the family courts this week:
- The Guardian helpfully linked their online article (parents fear transgender children will be taken away after court ruling) to the court judgment itself, following our blog post which we have updated. This is unusual and welcome for families and family justice. We hope it will encourage other journalists and publications to do so wherever appropriate. The Transparency Project hopes to explore this and other topics further with members of the media in an event in the new year looking at practical ways to facilitate more and better reporting of the family courts.
- The Times reported with sensitivity and accuracy on the judgment from the child arrangements order dispute between separated parents from the Orthodox Jewish community, that we reported on in round up last week.
- The Daily Mail reported the death of a baby subject to a child protection plan, without resorting to typical ‘blame and shame’ narratives about social workers and councils, that have historically done nothing to further the interests or safety of children. The report accurately explains that the child who had been referred to ‘social services’ by concerned hospital staff was subject to a child protection plan from birth due to risk factors but had not been thought by the local authority to be in immediate danger.
- Similarly the Independent reported the appeal against conviction of the mother of Ayeeshia Smith with the focus on the parent not social service failures. The death of Ayeeshia who was stamped to death by her mother was widely reported upon her conviction last year and the Independent rightly point out that Ayeeshia had been known to ‘social services’ since her birth and had even been briefly in care before being returned home.
Newly Published Cases for Explanation or Comment
- The correct role and practice of local authorities when involved in allegations of abuse by one parent against another: Re V (A Child)  EWFC 58 is a private law case decision, published by a Manchester Family Court Recorder on the basis it raised issues of public interest importance. It explores how local authorities should investigate allegations of abuse by one parent against another and the care and objectivity required to fulfill their statutory duties when investigating. Blog to follow
- “Adoption: “Nothing else will do” and the impact of decisions much earlier in the child protection process about mental health assessments and provision of therapy”: Our full blog is here.
And in other Transparency News
- A report commissioned by the government on outsourcing options for Children’s Services has just been published, with a government response to it. The Report: ‘The potential for developing the capacity and diversity of children’s social care services in England, Independent research report’ by ‘Laing Buisson – COBIC & CICADA’ which is dated ‘December 2016’ was published by the DfE in December 2016 alongside a Government Response.. Children and Young People Now have sought publication of this report for some time, including through a freedom of information request. Their report is here.
- Live tweeting from the Court of Protection. The permission granted to academics attending court to live tweet from the hearing caused quite a stir on twitter last week. Unusually, the identity of the man at the centre of the case, Paul Briggs, and his family, has been made public. Mr Briggs is in a minimally conscious state and his family has requested that his life-sustaining treatment be withdrawn. Court of Protection hearings are outside the remit of Family Court Reporting Watch but the Transparency Project will be blogging on the important issues raised.
- The Lord Chief Justice expressed concern at the withdrawal of legal aid for private law family disputes during his annual press conference. The full conference is available in video or transcript form at the Judiciary website here. The remarks about litigants in person generally; and about withdrawal of legal aid for private family law disputes in particular, are here:
- [The rise in numbers of litigants in person is] “a problem across the entire system”;
- “In the Court of Appeal, the cases take up much longer”;
- “Where the real problems lie, I think, are in the family courts”:
- “One of the things that is concerning us, and I think the concern has arisen recently, is the withdrawal of legal aid and legal assistance from private law family disputes. If you have a dispute about the children, it is obviously desirable that this is settled as soon as possible. There was a move to do more mediation but the difficulty with mediation is that unless you have someone who says, “Yes, the judge won’t say anything different to the mediator,” if someone has lost, they feel, “Well, why shouldn’t we press on?” or they try and solve the thing themselves and what is beginning to emerge, and we need to study this in much more detail, is: is the withdrawal of legal aid causing a problem in resolving dispute between father and mother about the children. There is some evidence to indicate that attempts to settle these issues between the father and the mother exacerbate the problem in some cases and a dispute that is exacerbated takes more time to solve in the end. Whether the answer is legal aid or what they do in California, which is to provide a service where there is a lawyer at the court who can speak to both parties, I do not know, but every[one?] thought that the numbers had dropped, everything was well. The numbers of cases are now rising again and we need seriously… this is a real problem and it is a problem for society which needs detailed examination”;
- “I think McKenzie friends, unpaid McKenzie friends, no one can have any possible objection to, provided that their role is defined. I think paid McKenzie friends introduces a prospect of having yet another part of a professional who is coming in to help litigants;”
- “One has to bear in mind, and I have seen this both in crime and in immigration……I have seen them, who give legal advice that is simply wrong and you are preying on vulnerable people and that is why I am very, very cautious about payment to non- lawyers who try and assist vulnerable people. There is a real risk of exploitation or of giving advice the person wants to hear, not advice that they do not want to hear”.