Returning to East London Family Court after my first experience of legal blogging under the Reporting Pilot (recently extended to this court), I was able to see another judge at work and to witness yet another happy resolution to what had evidently been a long and difficult case.

This time the hearing was a hybrid one, with some participants in the court room and others joining remotely. It was heard by HHJ Cove in two parts. On the first day, the judge and her clerk were in the courtroom, while the rest of the participants were on a screen. I joined in person, as I was in the building, and sat to the side rather than at the back of the court as usual, so that I could be seen by the remote participants via the camera mounted on top of the big screen. The second day I joined remotely, as did counsel for the Cafcass guardian (prevented from travelling by last minute rail disruption), while the judge and the other participants were in person.

Part 1: a well judged rethink

The case involved a soon to be 16-year-old boy with a history of behavioural problems who the local authority (Redbridge LBC) sought to separate from his parents and place in foster care. He has autism, learning disabilities and ADHD and had been living with a foster carer for some time before returning to his parents’ care in the late summer last year.

Judge Cove had spent the morning reading the papers and had also met the boy in person. She began by saying the local authority would struggle to convince her that the separation and care order they sought was reasonable or justified in the circumstances, and invited them to consider their position very carefully before the case commenced.

There was then a short adjournment while counsel for the authority took instructions. The judge left the room, and I spent the next half hour chatting to the clerk about the local amenities near the court and in Canary Wharf generally.

When we all came back, counsel said the local authority had agreed to amend its care plan to a 12-month supervision order, on the guardian’s advice, allowing the boy to remain with his parents. There would still need to be a further hearing to finalise the details of the support to be provided under the updated care plan, following further discussion between the parties.

The judge thanked the local authority for reconsidering the matter and taking a sensible approach and urged the parents to work constructively with the authority for the boy’s sake. The case was then adjourned from Tuesday afternoon until Friday morning. The boy could be told immediately the critical (and joyous) fact that he would not be separated from his parents, and could learn details of the final order when he got home from school on Friday.

Part 2: a happy resolution

On Friday morning in my study at home I received the joining link by email and logged on, only to spend the next 40 minutes listening to what was apparently bird song. I struggled to picture the leafy groves from which these creatures might be tweeting, in the windswept concrete environs of the court – perhaps they were the canaries of the wharf? – until, in answer to my email, the clerk explained that it was a digital “lobby” to relax the parties pre-hearing. (Apparently the parties’ discussions had gone into extra time so we were still waiting to begin.)

Once everyone was assembled in court, and I was fully connected, we learned that the parties were now all in agreement on the terms of what would now be a supervision support plan. It had been a long-running case, where the risks had been finely balanced, but it was accepted that the parents had done all they could for their son.

“What a day for the parents!” said the mother’s counsel, who welcomed the happy resolution of the case, but went on to say how deeply hurt the mother was that it had taken the matter to come to the very door of the court for the local authority to change its position.

Although the father had initially been only willing to accept a six-month supervision order, he was now prepared – after what his counsel described as “some cajoling” – to accept a 12-month order. He was present in court and insisted on speaking his mind, in person, at the end of the judgment, saying he and the mother had been “put through merry hell for the last three years” and that he would like to make a complaint about it – which the judge said he was entitled to do if he wished. But she urged him nonetheless for his son’s sake to work with the new social work team.

Judge Cove said she was pleased to be able now to make a final order but that was “tinged with concerns over how the case has been managed”. She gave the parents credit for “standing by” their son, despite his earlier behavioural problems, and said (having met him earlier in the week) he was now “a delightful boy”. She was critical of the local authority for their failure to “think outside the box” and grateful to the guardian for  suggesting a different view. It was to the authority’s credit that they had now worked to accept the changes, but she would let them decide whether they ought to apologise for leaving it right up to Day One of the hearing to change their mind, and to acknowledge the stress that had caused to the boy and his family.

The 12-month supervision order was necessary and proportionate in the circumstances, it being agreed that the threshold criteria (risk of significant harm) had been met. The boy could continue to receive support after turning 17, with a hopefully seamless transfer to the adult disabilities team of social services.


What a day for the parents, and indeed for the boy himself. Here was another happy ending to go with the two earlier ones I’d witnessed on my previous visit to the court. I was beginning to wonder if I might be a bringer of good omens – or perhaps it was just a coincidence that all the cases I was seeing under the pilot had turned out well.

That said, I was impressed by the judge’s gentle but firmly persuasive approach to case management, giving a clear indication of which way the wind was blowing, but allowing the local authority to trim their sails accordingly – even if the sudden change of tack left some of those on board feeling rather sick.

Returning to the wharf (under pilotage), it was also interesting for me as my first remote legal blogging. I’ve watched plenty of streamed open court hearings, as an observer, but never participated remotely in the way one does as a legal blogger, in the technical sense of being a “duly authorised lawyer” under FPR r 27.11(2)(ff), permitted to attend what would otherwise be a private hearing in a family court. A legal blogger is more involved because the participants need to be aware of them; they may even object (with reasons) to the blogger’s presence; and there needs to be a Transparency Order (which I received by email soon after the conclusion of the hearing) before you can report anything at all, and only what the Transparency Order permits, suitably anonymised. But subject to these conditions, it enables you to open a window of transparency into the otherwise closed chamber of a family court private hearing, to see the court at work, and to tell the world what happened. 

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Our legal bloggers take time out at their own expense to attend courts and to write up hearings.

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Thanks for reading!

Featured image: Photo by Paul M