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 Guardian, Financial Times and BBC News all reported Competition and Markets Authority findings last week of a dysfunctional children’s social care market place featuring excess profits, unmet children’s needs, and local authorities over a barrel. Proposals stop short of ending or capping profiting from care for children. Purchaser consortiums and more in-house foster care to strengthen the hand of councils, and tackling risk from high-debt model providers are among the suggestions. Blog to follow we hope. The government press release is here. See too responses from the ADCS; Community Care; Josh McAllister; Article 39; and Martin Barrow here and here. Plus reports in the lead-up including a Guardian Editorial on deregulation failures and the direction of travel; reports of the Achieve care home closed down by Ofsted; and reports on Care Tech here and here:
Channel 4 News and the Press Association – Channel 4 News reported a crisis in social work, based on BASW‘s first annual survey of social workers. BASW collaborated with the Press Association Data Team to highlight pinch points across country where social work vacancies are high. See Dozens of Bolton’s children’s social workers left their jobs last year, figures show at Manchester World – reporting the annual children’s social work work-force statistics that show vacancies up 16% to a new 5 year high, and BASW’s call for a strategy. The report by a ‘Data Reporter’ at Radar AI (who specialise in reporting at scale based on Artificial Intelligence) was run (tweaked for local data and an individual headline), at Yorkshire Live, Warwickshire World, Cumbria Crack, Doncaster Free Press, NorthWest Mail, Milton Keynes Citizen, Derbyshire Times, Kidderminster Shuffle, Oldham Times, Watford Observer, Bedford Today, Scarborough News, Harrogate Advertiser, Buxton Advertiser, Wirral Globe; Wigan Today.
The Independent – Reported a mother’s successful appeal, GK v PR  EWFC 106, against unsafe court findings on multiple grounds, including the failure to consider special measures to support her giving evidence as an alleged victim of abuse. The report also highlighted how giving evidence against a former abuser can re-traumatise and cause further harm. There was, sadly, no link for online readers to the detailed learning from Peel J’s free explanatory judgment on the public record on what should have happened and did happen.
See too Legal blogging: an appeal from a fact-finding hearing by Julie Doughty who attended another parent’s appeal to a circuit judge from a district judge’s fact-finding decision, where it was also argued that relevant rules and practice directions weren’t followed in a domestic abuse fact-finding leading to a child arrangements order. There hadn’t been a ground rules hearing or consideration of special measures in response to vulnerability by alleged abuse, and allegations of coercive and controlling behaviour were gathered through a Scott Schedule rather than narrative statement. We’ll update on publication of the anonymised judgment. Hand-down is due on 31 March 2022.
The Metro and Independent – The Metro reported a decision that an abducted child must be returned to a Russian parent with an ‘as tanks rolled in’ spin and no link to the sole source – the free published family court judgment. The Independent also reported a judgment without linking to it (GK v PR above):
The Times, Yorkshire Post and others – reported the latest from the Commission for Young Lives inquiry on halting grooming and criminal exploitation of teenagers. A New Partnership with Families: Supporting families to keep teenagers safe from gangs, exploitation and abuse makes proposals for early, long term, intervention through family hubs, the supported families programme, and measures to support and work in partnership with families. It follows Out of Harm’s Way on children on the edge of care/in care. A report on education is promised ahead of an ‘actionable’ final plan.
Most outlets – reported Kemar Brown’s conviction for murder of his former partner’s child, Kyrell Matthews. Kyrell’s mother had already admitted allowing his death. Kyrell died aged 2 ,with 41 rib fractures, after weeks of abuse. Croydon’s Local Safeguarding Children Partnership practice review shows missed opportunities to prevent his death.
NEWLY PUBLISHED CASES
B, R & G (a Child)  EWHC 320 (Fam) (28 January 2022) – Julie Doughty explained Mrs Justice Judd’s decision against a reporting restrictions order, in Protecting the identity of a child whose sibling has been killed by their parents:
L (Fact-Finding Hearing: Fairness)  EWCA Civ 169 (17 February 2022) – Iain Large explained the Court of Appeal decision to dismiss a father’s appeal from Re L. See Going off piste: how far beyond the local authority’s ‘threshold’ allegations can the court go in the findings it makes against parents?:
ND v LD (financial remedy: needs)  EWFC B15 (10 March 2022) – A relatively rare published judgment from a deputy district judge’s financial remedy decision.
Re D (Leave to Apply to Revoke Placement Orders)  EWCA Civ 299 (10 March 2022) and A & B (Children) (Contested Adoption)  EWFC 17 (04 March 2022) – Court of Appeal decision to allow the appeal of a mother who had been abstinent from alcohol for a year and permit her application to revoke a placement order for children aged 4 and 6. Secondly, a family court decision in favour of an adoption order and letter box contact opposed by parents. Blog post to follow.
Local Authority v D & E  EWFC 114 (06 July 2021) – A family court decision that features competent ABE interviews and the value of foster care, among other things..
T (No.2) (Care Proceedings: Fact-Finding: Genital Injuries: Supplemental Judgment for Publication)  EWFC 101 (08 December 2021) – A published judgment where arguably the graphic medical information about abusive genital injuries was justified.
H (A Child)  EWFC 14 (04 March 2022) – Published judgment behind the desperately sad decision to discontinue a baby boy’s medical treatment following an earlier tragedy (as featured above).
Manchester University NHS Foundation Trust v WV  EWCOP 9 (08 March 2022) – Court of Protection decision that it was in William Verden’s best interests to receive a kidney transplant. Reported by most media outlets and George Julian here alongside an appeal for organ donations.
A,B and C (Fact Find: Allegations of Coercive and Controlling Behaviour) (Rev1) – Findings from a District Judge of coercive and controlling behaviour and its impact on children, based in part on evidence by recordings of telephone conversations.
(And on the subject of recordings used in evidence, the most recent Family Justice Council minutes reveal a plan to circulate long promised draft guidance internally by January).
A City Council v A Mother and Father – Mrs Justice Lieven on balancing human rights including a mother’s Article 2 and 3 rights and ordering a local authority must not consult or inform an extremely dangerous father about a 13 year old beyond her mother’s control made subject to a care order:
Dorset Council v M & Ors (Inflicted Injuries)  EWFC 9 (03 March 2022) – Interesting comments from HHJ Dancey in deciding grandparents had not failed to protect grandchildren.
And one to watch – The Public Law Project report permission to challenge a Legal Aid Agency legal aid refusal with implications for exceptional funding for more looked-after children with disabilities in Special Educational Need Tribunals. (See also twitter comment here in response to a new research report commissioned by the National Audit Report):
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
Transparency from family justice system agencies
Cafcass Open Board Meetings – We attended the last one and wrote up what we gleaned – on allocating guardians, and improved practice in cases involving domestic abuse since the Harm Report conclusions:
The family courts – The pilots began of a more investigatory model that better fits the needs of families including when domestic abuse is involved. Rules changes modified guidance and introduced new PD 36Z for S.8 and enforcement applications in parts of Dorset and North Wales. See the MOJ/HMCTS press release and President’s View. Blog to follow with our best attempts to understand the detail of the pilots on the ground and how they fit with other work strands. See too this (rejected) request via parliamentary questions for a review of use of experts in the family courts. In February we wrote about experts in our regular column for Family Law journal, to be published in April. Lots of interest too from the October and December minutes of the Rule committee and the family justice council but for the fact they are so out-of-date by the time of publication. Both held separate open meetings which we didn’t manage to attend this time round:
Open justice data developments
Paul Magrath explained the concerns of OJ watchers in response to diluted open justice commitments in the latest government published plan, just when transparency is more critical than ever. See A not quite so Open Government Plan. See too ‘Observing remote hearings‘ in our regular column in Family Law on justice data developments, including the HMCTS evaluation of user experiences of remote hearings during the pandemic. Paul also flagged National Archives surveys asking both legal professionals & advisors, and members of the public, how they find and use judgments, to inform their new service:
NFJO guidelines on removing newborns and research priorities – The independent Nuffield Family Justice Observatory issued new draft guidelines aimed at better practice when the state intervenes at birth, following long standing research in the area. They also transparently published their research priorities for the next five years. These are: babies in care proceedings; young people in care proceedings; and filling the gap in understanding what is going on in private law cases. All the work is underpinned by a focus on problem solving approaches, early intervention, partnership with families, exposing socio-economic inequalities, and collaborative, systemic working:
Poverty and early help spending are predictors of Ofsted outcomes – Children’s Services Ofsted Judgements, Funding, and Poverty: a level playing field? is a blog by the lead researcher summarising a recent research paper from Webb, Bennett and Bywaters showing that both levels of deprivation and levels of expenditure on early help and family support services are significant predictors of a positive (‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’) Ofsted judgement, contrary to some earlier statements. The links to the open access version of the full paper are within.
17 March – The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) has convened an online panel event on the use of “parental alienation” in custody cases. Register here.
14 March 2022, 11-1pm – Sign up for Parents, Families & Allies Network seminar, The Way Forward for Children’s Social Care here.
31 March 2022 at 6pm – Sign up here for ‘the Great Transparency Debate’ hosted by Winckworth Sherwood Solicitors and featuring Transparency Project Chair, Lucy Reed.
6 April 2022 – HOLD THE DATE – 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 a focal point. Registration details in post:
28 July 2022 – HOLD THE DATE – The Family Justice Young People’s Board annual Voice of the Child Conference is now fixed for 28 July 2022. Details will follow.
Ongoing – Complete Family Rights Group’s survey of UK kinship carers here with a view to feeding into the APPG legal aid inquiry.
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