Court of Appeal laments systemic failures in family justice

CH08-P209-ARe A (a child) [2013] EWCA Civ 1104 – read judgment

Appellate judges are obliged to review systemic failings in the family justice system as a whole, not just the merits of the trial judge’s determination, particularly where the process has deprived the parties of their rights to procedural fairness under Articles 6 and 8.  Whilst this particular appeal was  not “a fitting vehicle to enable a root and branch appraisal of the procedural history of this protracted case”,  McFarlane LJ has taken the opportunity to give full voice to the “profound feeling of failure” felt by Court on the part of the Family Justice system.

The law does its best in the triangulation of estranged parents and their children . But sometimes it does nothing more than concentrate an already toxic mixture of manipulation, mistrust and deception that seeps over the fragile construct of family life that has fallen apart at the start.  As anyone involved with the family justice system would readily agree, the conduct of human relationships, particularly following the breakdown in the relationship between the parents of a child, are not readily conducive to organisation and dictat by court order; nor are they the responsibility of the courts or the judges.  Nevertheless, as the Court of Appeal points out,  “substantive” resources have been made available to courts and judges to discharge their responsibility in matters relating to children in a manner which affords paramount consideration to the welfare of those children “and to do so in a manner, within the limits of the court’s powers, which is likely to be effective as opposed to ineffective.”   Continue reading

US Supreme Court opens door to marriage equality, UK coming next

Kris Perry kisses Sandy StierHollingsworth v Perry – No. 12–144 – Read judgment

United States v Windsor – No. 12–307 – Read judgment

In rulings that have the potential to influence the jurisprudence of courts around the world, the Supreme Court of the United States has handed down two landmark decisions pertaining to the issue of same-sex marriage.

The right of gay and lesbian couples to wed remains one of the most controversial and debated civil rights issues of our time. However, the ground has been shifting with increasing rapidity in recent years and months. The direction of change is clear. There are now fifteen countries which permit or will permit same-sex marriages, including most recently Uruguay, New Zealand and France. With bills steadily progressing through the Parliamentary process, there is a strong possibility that England, Wales and Scotland may soon be added to the list.

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145 specially appointed Government barristers demand rethink on Legal Aid plans

lawyer-barrister-wig-007145 barristers on the Attorney General’s Panel of Counsel have signed a letter seeking that the Government to rethink its plans for reform of Legal Aid. I was one of the signatories. The letter is reproduced on the Legal Aid Changes blog.  

The letter relates specifically to Judicial Review, which is an area in which Panel counsel practise regularly. Here is a taster:

We consider that the proposals in the Consultation Paper will undermine the accountability of public bodies to the detriment of society as a whole and the vulnerable in particular. Those who are reliant on legal aid are most likely to be at the sharp end of the exercise of government power and are least likely to be able to fund judicial review for themselves, or effectively act in person.

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Can you decide who is to be your unpaid advocate? Eleanor Battie

mckenzie-friend11RE F (CHILDREN) 14 May 2013, Court of Appeal – extempore so currently only available as a Lawtel summary (£)

A topical case, this, given legal aid cutbacks. It concerns the ability of unrepresented litigants to choose those to help them out as advocates in court. Not an unconstrained right, as this case demonstrates. The High Court ruled that a judge had been entitled to refuse an application for a particular person to act as a McKenzie friend despite that individual not being present in court at the time of the application. The Court of Appeal upheld that decision. 

This application for permission to appeal resulted from the refusal by a family judge to permit a person to act as a McKenzie friend within care proceedings.

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Myths and Realities about Equal Marriage

gay_marriage_cake_300The Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill is back before Parliament today for the “Report Stage”. The latest version of the Bill is here, updated explanatory notes here, and the full list of proposed amendments here. Predictably, the amendments are the focus of much controversy.

I have written a new article for the New Statesman on some of the myths and realities surrounding the debate - you can read it here. It’s all a bit complicated, as you might expect.

Our previous coverage is linked to below. Hopefully, party politics won’t end up derailing this important bill. As the New Yorker recently predicted:

One day, not long from now, it will be hard to remember what worried people so much about gay and lesbian couples committing themselves to marriage.

Local authority ordered to pay substantial costs in family human rights case – Adam Smith

A & S v. Lancashire County Council [2013] EWHC 851 (Famread judgment

This was a costs application arising from an extremely important decision by Peter Jackson J in June 2012 (see Alasdair Henderson’s post here and read judgment)

In that original judgment, Lancashire County Council were found to be in breach of Articles 8 (private life), 6 (fair trial) and Article 3 (inhuman treatment) of ECHR. Two brothers had come into local authority care as infants and were freed for adoption.

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Local authorities and the duty to consult with parents

126415R (on the application of H) v Kingston Upon Hull City Council & KS, AS, SS, TS and FS (Interested Parties) [2013] EWHC 388 (Admin) read judgment

This was a successful claim for judicial review brought by a mother in care proceedings in respect of her two children who were removed from the care of the paternal grandparents. To that extent, it is a first. It concerns the duty on the Local Authority to consult with parents when an Interim Care Order is in place.

The claim raised two points. The first concerned whether it was permissible to bring a claim for JR when there were ongoing care proceedings and secondly the extent of the Local Authority’s duty to consult with parents when an ICO is in force. As to the latter point, there were two decisions that were challenged by the mother. The first was a decision taken on 31st January 2013 and the second concerned a decision taken on 1st February 2013 both concerning the placement of her children under the ICO.
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