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
The Independent – Reported a new judgment with significance for the family court’s ability to recognise and respond to domestic abuse. Cobb J had re-heard a mother’s allegations of abuse after the Court of Appeal in Re H-N overturned earlier findings. He found the mother had been subjected to coercive and controlling behaviours, including ‘gaslighting’ by her former partner (a mental health nurse), and defined the ‘gaslighting’ here as ‘conduct [that] represented a form of insidious abuse designed to cause the mother to question her own mental well-being, indeed her sanity’ (para 60).
Julie Doughty discussed Cobb J’s detailed explanation of ‘gaslighting’ and looked at previous references to it in published family court judgments and the lack of explanation of it in current abuse guidance. See What is ‘gaslighting’ and what does it mean in family court cases?:
LBC Talk Radio – Made this news headline claim: Exclusive: Scale of neglected children revealed as half of social workers fears dismissed. Based on 824 responses from 16,000 Social Workers Union members to a survey commissioned by LBC Radio between 10-17 January 2022 via Campaign Collective. Community Care said the sample ‘was likely to represent most respondents working in children’s services’. The survey findings are plainly important indicators on a key issue of public interest, but don’t sustain the headline claim. Unison also seem to have an open survey for social workers here:
The Guardian x 2, then Daily Mail and Times – Reported last year’s anonymised findings that in 2012 a doctor killed his child’s maternal grandfather by thallium poisoning and attempted to kill her grandmother, leaving her and the child’s mother suffering severe poisoning. He then successfully appealed initial findings before trying to withdraw his application for contact ahead of the remitted trial for re-findings. He was finally suspended from medical practice in January 2022. See Guardian reports here and here. Plus the Mail and Times. See also the published judgments from the appeal and the re hearing that reconfirmed the findings.
The Guardian – Reported the immediate closure of an Achieve Homes Ltd children’s home in Bolton, following an Ofsted visit – with a link for online readers to the Ofsted report itself. In particular the shocking circumstances of one vulnerable boy in care who ‘had not bathed, changed his clothes or been provided with a home-cooked meal since he arrived in September 2021’. (Subscribe to Martin Barrow’s Week In Care for similar news stories with a focus on care standards (and failures) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org):
The Independent – Featured an explanation of gaslighting following their news piece on Cobb J’s new judgment (above), with a link for readers to the 2015 legislation making coercive controlling behaviour a criminal offence. ‘Gaslighting’ is not itself a specific criminal offence, but might form part of a pattern of behaviours that form the wider offence of controlling and coercive behaviour. See What Is Gaslighting?, bringing information about a prevalent tool of control and manipulation in the context of domestic abuse to a wide mainstream readership.
BBC News (Leeds and West Yorkshire) – Various local and national media outlets reported news of responsibility for Bradford Children’s Services transferring to a council-owned trust led by an independent board. BBC News supplied a direct link for readers to the report of the commissioner appointed by the Secretary of State a year after the death of Star Hobson to make recommendations. See BBC News reports here and here, including on the conditions social workers are working within, and the link to the commissioner’s report.
Article 39 – Published the skeleton argument (written legal summary) of their legal challenge to the government decision to limit new statutory rights to regulated care placements to children in care aged 15 years or below. In the last Roundup we featured the Tortoise decision to host publication of all the skeleton arguments from Griffiths v Tickle following a successful application on behalf of Tickle to enable this. (See also Ben Twomey, NYAS policy director’s live tweets and the Independent here):
BBC– Split up In Care: Life Without Siblings, from journalist Ashley John-Baptiste, who is himself care-experienced, reached large audiences. Catch up on BBC iPlayer here. (See also Lifelong Links at the Family Rights Group).
Tortoise – Made this Think-In (on how social work can best go forward in the wake of continuing child deaths alongside rising numbers of child protection investigations) open access. And provided an open access recording here too. See too Polly Curtis’ new book Behind Closed Doors: Why we break up families and how to mend them, published by Virago Press, and reviewed here for the Transparency Project by Alice Twaite. See also this i-News report. The Care Review Watch Alliance site say they have published responses to the Care Review Consultation from those permitting them here. Ray Jones offered this view in Social Work Today last year in response to the review’s interim report:
The Guardian, BBC News, Sky News and others – Reported a pioneering Welsh government decision to pilot support to children leaving care through a basic income scheme. It will be interesting to find out more about the evaluation. (See also the new Welsh Inclusive Journalism Network here).
NEWLY PUBLISHED CASES
R-E (Contact: Support from local authorities in Wales)  EWFC B95 – It’s unusual to see a published judgment from the Welsh family court let alone from a Recorder. Julie Doughty explained Recorder Neil Owen-Casey’s application of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Act 2014 to local authority duties to support a disabled child’s supervised contact with her father, here: Local authority support services in Wales and private law contact disputes: Re R-E:
L (Fact-Finding Hearing: Fairness)  EWCA Civ 169 – Judgment from the Court of Appeal rejecting a father’s claim of unfairness. The Recorder had been entitled to conclude a father coercively controlled the mother, even though the local authority had removed this allegation from their threshold document. The findings were within the known parameters of the case with coercive control featuring heavily in the evidence and the father’s cross examination.
Aylward-Davies v Chesterman & Anor  EWFC 4 – Judgment of Mostyn J, involving a declaration of parentage for an adult adopted child in respect of her deceased biological father in preference to her adoptive, formerly abusive, step father. As featured at Researching Reform.
AB (A Child : human rights)  EWFC B100 – Published judgment from an East London Family Court decision that a vulnerable child had been unlawfully deprived of his liberty. ‘AB’ had fallen through cracks in the regulatory framework. He and other children were moved upon closure of a care home following Ofsted intervention (no not the Bolton one above). The anonymisation decision making is transparently set out at para 17.
F v M  EWFC B101 – One of a couple of new reported judgments featuring parental alienation we’ve seen. This one involves an order for a transfer of residence, from a mother to a father, by HHJ Lindsay Davies in the Peterborough Family Court. Litigation has been ongoing since 2014; the children are now aged 12 and 9. There are several professional and independent expert witnesses, all of whom are anonymised. We hope to write a post on this case shortly, as we think it raises some troubling questions. See too, the new ACP-UK announcement about expert evidence in transparency news below.
A and B (Child Arrangements: Parental Alienation)  EWFC B11 – Proceedings are ongoing. The judge (Recorder Moys) concluded that the father of 7 and 10 year old children had alienated then from their mother and abducted them to Australia. He has ordered their return to the UK. The judgment is heavily anonymised, including the court, the local authority and the clinical psychologist expert witness, although this is not explained. We will keep an eye out for developments.
Kent County Council v P & Anor  EWCOP 3 – Mrs Justice Lieven deciding Court of Protection proceedings should remain in public with reporter permitted to report subject to appropriate reporting restrictions notwithstanding police and council arguments otherwise. The risk of harm alleged was notional and the public interest in reporting the length of delays in prosecuting high. Brian Farmer reports for PA at Care Appointments.
E (A Child) Step-parent Adoption)  EWFC B3 – Published judgment from HHJ Dancey’s decision to permit a young person’s application to be adopted by her step-mother, against her birth mother’s wishes. It attracted twitter comment mainly for it’s unusually child focused approach (but also on the possibility of an unseen coercive controlling back-drop). Certainly the act of publication means the decision making sees the light of day, enables public discussion, and also gives an insight into the level of anxious scrutiny going into judicial decisions:
DA v Wolverhampton City Council & Ors  EWHC 3615 (Fam) (16 December 2021): Published High Court judgment from an application by children of 14 and 16 to discharge their care order [This judgment seems to have since been removed].
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
Lucy Reed explained confusion sometimes surrounding judicial powers to relax reporting restrictions (as opposed to make reporting restrictions) at every level of the family court and summarised those restrictions to do so. See Which Judges can relax reporting restrictions?:
Judicial Conduct – Jack Harrison lead and submitted the response of the Transparency Project to the consultation on reforming the judicial conduct system and we published that here:
The Financial Remedies Court Transparency Group – The President announced a fifth sub-group of the Transparency Implementation Group to look beyond the consultation to date. Membership and remit to follow.
Transparency through research – The NFJO have reviewed current evidence on children and young people deprived of their liberty across welfare, youth justice and mental health settings in England and Wales. See What do we know about children and young people deprived of their liberty in England and Wales? An evidence review for an accessible summary and the full report.
Transparency and Expert Evidence – We spotted this new announcement from ACP-UK on protecting the public in respect of expert evidence in the family courts. We’ve written about this (and recent judgments anonymising experts giving evidence on ‘alienation’) for our most forthcoming column in Family Law and hope to cross-post upon publication at the Transparency Project site. See tweets from Louise Tickle (Transparency Project member) summarising in the meantime:
Transparency through effective court listing – HMCTS announced changes to make the way hearings are listed more accessible for the public, press and lawyers alike. See Making hearing lists more accessible to court and tribunal users. New systems have already been developed and are still being tested with a view to a phased roll out from Spring 2022:
Monday 21st February 2022 – Start of a 2 week course in understanding the Supreme Court. Still time (just) to register here.
28th February 2022 – Deadline to respond to the consultation on revision of family court standard orders. Progress to date is explained here.
6 April 2022 – The Family Justice Council Annual Conference – ‘Private Law – a proportionate and safe approach’ will be hosted by Sir Andrew McFarlane, President of the Family Division and Chair of the Family Justice Council in Bristol. The annual Bridget Lindley Memorial Lecture, delivered by Helen Adam, chair of the Family Solutions working group will be it’s focal point. Registration details to follow.
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