Welcome to the 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 Daily Mail – The Mail reported a mother’s shocking story about Colin English, who was charged with murder in 1991 but apparently acquitted after 18 months in custody. He had later moved next door to her family and carried out a campaign of theft, manipulation and false allegations to mislead social services and a family court into an emergency without notice order moving her two year old son to Mr English in 2016. It then took several months for the boy to be returned home after family court findings and a costs order against English, with a judgment critical of East Sussex Social Services forwarded to the Director. No criminal charges were ever brought by Sussex Police. We’ve asked the Mail for the links to the 2016 judgment, and the 2022 judgment of their application to report:
BBC News – Broadcast Laura Corkill’s untold story. Cumbria removed Leiland-James from Laura 2 days after his birth and later placed him with potential adopter, Laura Castle, who abused and then murdered him. Catch up with My baby was taken into care – then murdered at BBC News: The Big Cases, or read at BBC News. Responses to this powerful piece included frustration at a lack of information on exactly why Cumbria Council and the Court said Laura couldn’t care for Leiland-James despite her being free from abuse, passing initial pre-birth assessments, having the support of domestic abuse workers, and bonding well with him. Or why no mother and baby placement was used. Magistrates reasons are not published and few family court decisions by judges are published. Parents can’t share court evidence with journalists and journalist can’t publish/broadcast from them without court permission. Applying is often unrealistic for parents and journalists. As yet unimplemented recommendations from the Transparency Review will test relaxing some of these rules. See too Cumbria’s Practice Review findings saying key information wasn’t shared to inform the adopter assessment, and the response to Castle’s admission she hadn’t bonded with Leiland-James was inadequate. And NFJO draft best practice guidelines for when the state intervenes at birth that some councils are trialling:
BBC News and other media outlets have also reported Serious Case Review findings from Hakeem Hussain’s death in Birmingham in horrendous circumstances following multiple agency failings and lack of joined up thinking despite a nurse warning he“could die at the weekend”
BBC Eastenders – Featured a social worker removing Linda’s baby, first for a child protection medical and then on into foster care without even a mention of consent or other lawful authority such as police powers. Linda is visibly not consenting, in fact chasing the social worker’s car. Rather than seeing Annie back within 72 hours, or Linda’s consent obtained (assuming this was intended to portray a brief emergency use of police powers that just wasn’t mentioned by the social worker to Linda) we instead saw Annie moved on to relatives while the investigation continues. If the aim was to show an example of poor practice, it’s hard not to wonder why viewers aren’t also told what should have happened, given public trust in social workers and the potential impact on risk to children. View on BBCiplayer here (at the end) and here (at the beginning). The Metro explain the plot here. (See here too for a suggestion that formal complaints have been made to the BBC):
The Observer and Guardian – Julie Doughty highlighted a series of recent media reports on ‘parental alienation’ that linked readers to judgments, guidance and other sources. See ‘Parental alienation experts’. The media reports covered recent guidance on unregulated psychological experts and conflicts of interest; renewed calls for an inquiry; the Court of Appeal overturning a family court order limiting police interviews of children on new allegations against a parent a family court had already exonerated; and a family court decision about re opening findings in light of the role of an unregulated expert and naming them. See too ‘Choosing the course which is less stressful to the child’ by Julie Doughty on the judgment from a relatively unusual decision from Mrs Justice Lieven (below) and this book review, ‘Challenging Parental Alienation’ at Pink Tape by Transparency Project Chair, Lucy Reed.
[Removed while investigating reporting restrictions further AT 090922]
ITV News, BBC News – Many media outlets reported the conclusion of legal proceedings about the withdrawal of life sustaining treatment for Archie Battersbee with the ECHR’s decision not to intervene, as well as his funeral arrangements, and his family’s calls (supported by their MP) for better ways to resolve disagreements like this between hospitals and parents. ITN News provided detailed, solutions focused reporting on practical changes including early access to adequate legal representation for parents and independent mediation. BBC News reported that the government are commissioning a review into the causes of disagreement in the care of critically ill children as set out in the Health and Care Act 2022. See also thoughts of an ethicist on mediation, early free legal advice for parents and ethics committee reviews in the BMJ.
Among the legal commentators, Emma Nottingham explained the different legal stages contemporaneously for the Transparency Project. Matthew Scott at Barrister Blog and Obiter J also explained the law. Joshua Rozenberg commented on the legal decisions made on Archie’s parents’ behalf with links to all the judgments. Alex Ruck Keene explained the relevance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities:
Kent Online, Manchester Evening News, and others – The local Democracy Reporter scheme continues to deliver scrutiny of local council and private provider performance for children in or on the edge of care. Reports of council budget deficits at Kent Online and children going missing from care homes at Manchester Evening News via local democracy reporters are but two examples of many. See Week In Care from Martin Barrow for more, alongside scrutiny of Ofsted reports of children’s care providers – Email firstname.lastname@example.org to subscribe.
The Guardian – Reported an unsuccessful application by Sir Frederick Barclay’s nephews, owners of the Telegraph Media Group, to have his enforcement proceedings (following a case about finance on divorce) heard in private notwithstanding the requirement that contempt hearings are in public. The Guardian report is here. Mr Justice Cohen’s judgment is here though doesn’t reference the privacy application. We’ve not seen a judgment from the further decision on 11th August to adjourn sentence on admitted breaches to allow time to pay. We have seen news, via the latest minutes of the Civil Procedure Rule Committee, that CPR 81.8(8) is to be amended so that only judgments from custodial sentences in committal hearings must now be published. There’s concern from some about a lack of consultation:
NEWLY PUBLISHED JUDGMENTS FROM FAMILY LAW CASES
Warwickshire County Council v The Mother & Ors  EWHC 2146 (Fam) – Julie Doughty highlighted Mrs Justice Lieven’s decision to end an ICO and return a Gillick competent child home to the mother previously found to have ‘alienated’ her from her father, after an unsuccessful attempt to move her to the father against her wishes. Lieven J found this to be in her interests in preference to continuing isolation and deteriorating mental health in foster care, separated from her mother and sister, some 5 months on. See Choosing the course which is less stressful to the child’. The judgment explaining the original findings is not published, though Mrs Justice Lieven cites the findings:
X v Y  EWFC 77 – Georgia Fineberg explained Theis J’s judgment that balanced a woman’s Article 8 rights to know who her father was with his rights not to engage, and considered how far the court can go in inferring parentage where there is no opposition to a declaration of parentage but no positive consent for DNA tests either. See Who’s the Daddy? When the right to know who your parent is, is a human right:
S (Vulnerable Party: Fairness Of Proceedings)  EWCA Civ 8 – Judgment from a Court of Appeal decision to permit amendment to grounds of appeal on the basis of (late surfacing) cognitive difficulties with permission to appeal on that basis, against findings that a woman had caused an injury to her child.
HXA v Surrey County Council  EWCA Civ 1196 – Successful appeal against strike out of child negligence claims without full hearing on whether the local authority could be said to have assumed responsibility for children’s welfare such that they owed them a duty of care at common law. Both children suffered severe abuse and neglect in the care of their families despite social services involvement. The Gazette explain.
Osborne v Arnold  EWHC 1983 (Fam) – Judgment from a decision to declare parentage and revoke an adoption order via the inherent jurisdiction to correct an error by a registrar in respect of a parent in a same sex relationship. As reported by BBC News in Woman who had to adopt own child made legal parent before the judgment was published.
A Borough Council v N & Ors  EWFC 91 – A rare published judgment from a District Judge. DJ (now HHJ) Hesford writes directly to the children’s mother in accessible language in this judgment making care and placement (for adoption) orders:
Re EM  EWCOP 31 – Alex Ruck Keen responded to Mostyn J’s judgment that suggested standard transparency orders in the Court of Protection may not comply with law that requires a Re S balancing exercise and press notice in advance of the making of a reporting restriction order:
Hertfordshire County Council v M & Ors  EWFC 99 – Judgment from High Court findings that a serving police officer inflicted significant injuries on his 26 day old child and called her names like an attention seeking whore. Her mother (the victim of his coercive control and abuse) is found to have failed to prioritise her child’s safety over her adult relationship, and the wider family members (and parents) to have consistently lied.
A trio of judgments from abduction decisions involving domestic abuse allegations:
B (Children) (Abduction: Consent: Oral Evidence) (Article 13(B))  EWCA Civ 1171 – Successful appeal against summary return to Spain of children aged 4, nearly 3 and 19 months on the basis of a flawed approach to determining consent and risk to the children if returned. The children had been subject to former care proceedings in Spain and were currently subject to a child protection plan in England. ST v QR  EWHC 2133 (Fam)– Unsuccessful application to set aside an order for summary return of a six year old boy to South Africa on the basis that an incident of self harm following the summary return order wasn’t indicative of suicidal ideation. An absence of allegations of risk of harm from domestic abuse since separation and limiting future contact to handovers had previously been found to sufficiently minimise future risk of abuse. This case features a rare judicial note on the purpose of publication – not to pry into most painful private corners of the lives of the people involved, but so that the public can see how our system of justice approaches such emotionally fraught and difficult questions. It has the right to know. A & B, Re (Children: Return Order: UAE)  EWHC 2120 (Fam) – Order for summary return of children aged 8 and 10 to UAE. Allegations of domestic abuse including coercive control, violence and abuse of the children (direct and indirect) were considered insufficiently grave or current to prevent a return order even if proven.
Re A (Finding of Fact Hearing)  EWFC 94 –Judgment from findings on cross allegations by unrepresented parents – of domestic abuse, and fabrication/exaggeration to limit a child’s relationship with a father. Careful, detailed findings of abuse and harassment amounting to coercive and controlling behaviour were made, with implications for the child’s arrangements to be considered at a later date. Contains a useful reminder and application of the vulnerable witness requirements of FPR Part 3A & PD 3AA (para 11 onwards).
Re J (A Minor) (Change of Interim Residence)  EWFC 92 – Judgment from an interim transfer of residence decision with detailed implementation directions following evidence from a psychologist, social worker and children’s Guardian. The mother didn’t accept a court’s decision that domestic abuse and sexual harm to the child hadn’t happened; she hadn’t complied with contact or testing orders; hadn’t got treatment for alcohol misuse; hadn’t separated from a current abusive partner; and was found to have been manipulative.
Re G (Inherent Jurisdiction Return: Disclosure of Asylum Documents)  EWHC 2134 (Fam) – Judgment from a successful application for limited, redacted disclosure of a mother’s asylum documents ahead of a fact-finding hearing on cross allegations of abuse, coercive control, and sexual assault of a child – and abduction, deception and fabrication to prevent a relationship with a child. Summarised at Family Law Week.
Re S (Children) (Withholding Evidence)  EWFC 76 – Judgment from a successful application, broadly supported by the local authority and children’s Guardian, for an order limiting disclosure of documents from care proceedings to a father who had not seen his children since 2014 after findings of manipulation and control, using contact with the children to destabilise the mother and the family, and that the mother wouldn’t cope with him staying involved.
R (Pollock) v CYSUR: Mid and West Wales Safeguarding Children Board  EWHC 1899 (Admin)– Judgment from a High Court decision to permit full challenge to the decision by Pembrokeshire Council or the Mid and West Wales Safeguarding Children Board (who each argue the other is responsible), not to provide a copy of the overview report of the Practice Review into a child’s death by suicide. Local Government Lawyer report here.
IN OTHER TRANSPARENCY NEWS
Transparency from Family Justice System agencies
President’s View – A short new View from the President’s Office flagged and endorsed new sections 65 and 67 of the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 coming into force, ahead of promised further guidance and basic training material to be available to the Family Judiciary. The President also urged advocates to step forward to be registered on the list of qualified legal representatives for the new scheme on cross examination to work.
Cafcass – The minutes of the April 2022 Open Board Meeting were published in July and include information on Domestic Abuse Perpetrator Programmes (DAPP’s) (blog to follow), and what now seems to be a [singular] ‘Reform Pathfinder Pilot’ sitting within a ‘Private Law Transformation Programme’ involving a new child impact assessment report and strengthening multi agency assessment of domestic abuse .
Transparency through public access research – The NFJO published accessible research from the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice on the profile and experiences of children being placed in Scottish secure care centres by English and Welsh local authorities, with quick-glance key findings and references bullet pointed alongside a fuller summary and detailed report to download. (Also reported in the Times – paywall).
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