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
A press release was agreed with judicial approval in the case of Olly Sheridan, who is missing with his mother, following family court proceedings. TP member Alice Twaite attended the hearing under the legal bloggers pilot and we hope to be able to write more on this soon. We haven’t this week seen the sort of uninformed speculation about the case that we wrote about earlier.
The Metro and other papers published stories about a mother who ‘lost custody’ of her three children after coaching them to say negative things about their father. None of the reports we saw linked to the BAILII judgment here. Nor do they refer to the judge’s comments at the outset:
‘I would like to express my thanks and appreciation to all the lawyers, and indeed all the professionals in this case for their very considerable assistance to the court.’
Surprisingly, the finding that the judge made that the mother had falsely alleged that the father had tried to poison the children was also omitted from the media coverage.
In a judgment of 150 paragraphs, HHJ Charles Atkins sets out a detailed analysis of emotional abuse by the mother, and his reasons for ordering a transfer of residence to the father.
Community Care, as it usually does, linked to BAILII when it reported on 22 January that Herefordshire council’s independent reviewing officer (IRO) service is being externally assessed in the wake of ‘two blistering judgments published in late 2018’, which described the council as “utterly failing” to safeguard children’s best interests. We wrote about Louse Tickle’s reports on this meeting in our Roundup on 21 January.
Similarly, Community Care also reported , this time about Greenwich Council: ‘Judge blasts council’s failure to include family member in care planning: Court told Greenwich council neglected to explore placing children with aunt, and compounded errors by breaching adopters’ confidentiality’. This is the case of The Royal Borough of Greenwich v A & Ors (Adoption: Special Guardianship) , where Mrs Justice Theis lists a catalogue of mistakes made by the local authority, and a failure on the part of its IROs. Worryingly, the judge commented:
“One of the tragedies in this case is that had C. [the children’s aunt] been assessed prior to the children being placed with prospective adopters, there is every likelihood the children would have been with her.”
In the Law Gazette, Monidipar Fouzda reported on a ‘Lackadaisical approach to case’ have in been ‘attacked by family judge’ in case called K & C (Children: Finding of Fact), Re  EWFC B85. The mistake and delays criticised by HHJ Moradifar in this fact-finding hearing as to who had deliberately burnt a seven-week-old baby appear to stem from the fact that the lawyers acting for the mother were immigration specialists who did not understand evidence in family proceedings. This led to the other professionals involved having to go to an inordinate amount of extra effort, according to the judge.
We wrote an update on our complaints about the various news outlets that had minimised an awful case of domestic abuse. Only the Independent responded to us in a meaningful and constructive way. Meanwhile the serious problem of domestic abuse was in the news largely based only on a press release from Women’s Aid about the new draft Domestic Abuse Bill. This mentions that one of the aims of the Bill is to stop victims of abuse being cross-examined by the perpetrator in family court proceedings. We didn’t find an extensive explanation of the Bill in the mainstream media at all, but it is analysed in a guest blog post written for us by researcher Jess Mant.
On 5 January, we flagged up a linkless story in the Sun headlined ‘Britain’s worst dad?’ This was C v D and another  EWHC 3312 (Fam) Family Law Online has now featured the case, where an order was made to remove a father’s parental responsibility in the unusual circumstances where no less drastic an order would fully protect the child from the father’s intimidating, controlling and harmful behaviour.
NEWLY PUBLISHED CASES FOR EXPLANATION OR COMMENT
In A (Children)  EWCA Civ 74, the Court of Appeal heard a really interesting appeal by a mother about ‘stranding’.
In the family court rules and directions about domestic abuse, Practice Direction 12J explains that:
“abandonment” refers to the practice whereby a husband, in England and Wales, deliberately abandons or “strands” his foreign national wife abroad, usually without financial resources, in order to prevent her from asserting matrimonial and/or residence rights in England and Wales. It may involve children who are either abandoned with, or separated from, their mother”.
Re G-P (A Child)  EWCA Civ 56 is a tragic case where a two-year-old child has been found to have been physically abused in two homes, not just by her parents but also by a childminder. HHJ Hallam sitting in the Family Court at Middlesbrough had made findings of fact after a hearing lasting 21 days, during which she heard evidence from 31 witnesses. The parents and the childminder blamed each other for the injuries. The mother, father and the childminder gave evidence for seven days, two days and five days respectively. The Court of Appeal judges agreed with her – ‘The judge did not believe any of them and in a notably thorough judgment she made serious findings against them all’.
An unusual decision was made by Mr Justce Cohen in Re C 2019 EWHC 131 Fam that the father of a baby who was to be adopted should not be notified of the baby’s birth. This was a concealed pregnancy where 14-year-old schoolgirl had relinquished her baby for adoption. The judge decided that she had genuine fears as to the consequences of the baby’s father (also under age) being informed, and that the father and his family were not in a position to offer the baby a safe and secure home. However, details would be included in the history made available (known as life story work), should they seek out the father when older.
Mr Justice Holman is notable for holding most of his hearings in public. In Dagur v Bangur  EWFC 91, a financial dispute between a divorced couple, he said:
“I heard the case throughout in public, without objection being taken by or on behalf of either party. When the wife’s father attended voluntarily to give oral evidence on the second day, as I will later describe, he did ask to be permitted to do so in private. But I made clear that I would not permit the slightest inquiry into his own financial or business affairs; and, in a case in which all else was being heard openly and with transparency, it did not seem to me justifiable to make an exception for him.”
Holman J comments that it is tragic that between them, the couple has spent more than £1m on legal costs.
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
The Association of Lawyers for Children published a report by Dr Julia Brophy on settlement conferences. This is an idea piloted by the courts about holding more informal meetings in a care case in front of a judge. It never really took off, as the ALC report indicates. There’s a succinct but clear analysis by Suesspicious Minds here .
In Court of Protection news, the HL Committee called for evidence on the controversial Mental Capacity (Amendment) Act, currently going through parliament. This proposes bringing 16 and 17 year olds into a new administrative system for authorisation of deprivation of liberty.
For anyone interested in the ongoing debates about adoption and contact, we recommend this fascinating talk by Dr Mandi Macdonald about open adoption in Northern Ireland. Unlike England and Wales, judges in NI expect adopters to facilitate face-to-face contact between the child and their birth family. The case studies that quote adopted people are especially thought provoking.
Professor Anne Barlow’s research @ProfAnneBarlow with NatCen on the ‘common law marriage’ myth received attention with new survey data showing that 46% of people questioned still think there is such a thing. The Transparency Project has published a guide to the law for unmarried partners, available here.
A report by Justice called for clearer language to be used in courts
and Lucy Reed discussed legal jargon with Michael Rosen on BBC Radio 4 ‘Word of Mouth’ programme.
And finally, the President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, issued his first ‘View’ (his predecessor issued rather a lot of these) focusing on the unsustainable workload of the family courts. He encourages local dialogue between lawyers and each head family judges in their area to set some new some parameters on what is sensible and acceptable in terms of working practices.