Northamptonshire County Council v AS, KS and DS  EWFC 7 - read judgment
A Family Division judge has awarded damages under the Human Rights Act against a local authority in what he described as an “unfortunate and woeful case” involving a baby taken into foster care. Mr Justice Keehan cited a “catalogue of errors, omissions, delays and serial breaches of court orders” by Northamptonshire County Council. Unusually, the judge decided to give the judgment in this sensitive case in public in order to set out “the lamentable conduct of this litigation by the local authority.”
On 30 January 2013, the local authority placed the child (known as ‘DS’) with foster carers. He was just fifteen days old. In the weeks prior to DS’s birth, his mother’s GP had made a referral to the local authority due to her lack of antenatal care and because she claimed to be sleeping on the street. The mother then told a midwife that she had a new partner. He was a heroin addict.
After the birth DS’s mother avoided seeing her midwife. She frequently moved addresses and conditions at home were exceedingly poor. Three days before DS was taken into care, his mother told social workers that her new partner was being aggressive and threatening to her. She reported that he was leaving used needles around the house. Continue reading
Following David Hart’s highly popular review of Alan Paterson’s book on the Supreme Court, here’s an account of the recent public speeches of Lord Sumption, Lord Justice Laws, and Lady Hale. I apologise in advance for the length of this post, but to do justice to all three lectures it has proved necessary to quote extensively from each. There are links to the full text of the lectures, if you want to digest them over Christmas. But whether or not that prospect appeals, here is a challenge for the festive season. Lord Sumption divides judges into three categories: the “parson”, the “pragmatic realist” and the”analyst” (quoted by Professor Paterson in Final Judgment: The Last Law Lords and the Supreme Court). Which of these labels fit the respective speakers? Continue reading
MF (Nigeria) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 1192 – read judgment
In what circumstances can a foreign criminal resist deportation on the basis of his right to family life under Article 8 of the Convention? Until 2012 this question was governed entirely by judge-made case law. Then rules 398, 399 and 399A were introduced into the Immigration Rules HC 395. I have posted previously on the interpretation of these rules here and here.
The rules introduced for the first time a set of criteria by reference to which the impact of Article 8 in criminal deportation cases was to be assessed. The intention of the legislature in introducing these rules was to state how the balance should be struck between the public interest and the individual right to family life:
M (Children)  EWCA Civ 1147, 20 September 2013 – read judgement
The Court of Appeal has taken the unusual step of reversing a denial of contact order, by reviewing the question of the proportionality of the order in relation to the children’s right to family life under Article 8.
The appellant father appealed against the refusal of his application for contact with his three young sons. He had a history of violence and previous criminal convictions all but one of which, though distant in time, related to violent behaviour, including causing grievous bodily harm with intent. Following repeated episodes of abuse, which was often witnessed by the boys, the mother had left the family home with the children and had taken up accommodation in a women’s refuge. She voiced fears of their abduction out of the jurisdiction and her own personal safety to the extent of “honour based” violence and death at the hands or instigation of the father. When he applied for contact Cushing J found that the father had minimised his behaviour and blamed the mother as the victim of his violence. She concluded that he had failed to show any lasting benefit from therapy and his behaviour was likely to destabilise the children’s home and security, which was provided by the mother. Continue reading
SS (Malaysia) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  EWCA Civ 888 – read judgment
This case concerns a hitherto little-explored aspect of the right to a private and family life: a parent’s opportunity to teach their offspring about their own religious faith.
This is also a subset of the right under Article 9 to practise one’s own religion. This question was raised in EM(Lebanon) (FC) v Secretary of State for the Home Department  UKHL 64 but was only tangential to the main issue, which was the relationship between the appellant mother and her son as opposed to the father whose entitlement to custody would have been secured under Islamic law. Continue reading
In the matter of B (a child) (FC)  UKSC 33 – read judgment
This appeal concerned whether a child of two years of age should be permanently removed from her parents and placed for adoption; and, in that regard, whether the child was likely to suffer “significant harm: within the meaning of s.31(2)(a) of the Children Act 1989; and a consideration of whether her permanent removal might interfere with the exercise of the right to respect for family life under Article 8 of the ECHR, and, if so, whether the order should be proportionate to its legitimate aim of protecting the child.
The following summary is based on the Supreme Court press report. References in square brackets are to paragraphs of the judgment.
The child concerned had been removed from her parents at birth under an interim care order. The mother was for many years in an abusive relationship with her step-father. She also had criminal convictions for dishonesty and a history of making false allegations. She had been diagnosed with somatisation disorder, a condition which involves making multiple complaints to medical professionals of symptoms for which no adequate physical explanation can be found. Continue reading
Y and Z (Children), 25 April 2013  EWHC 953 (Fam) – read judgment
Having children is a lottery. No judge or court in the land would sanction the regulation of childbearing, however feckless the parents, unsuitable the conditions for childrearing, or unpromising the genetic inheritance.
Adoption on the other hand is stringently regulated, set about with obstacles for prospective parents, and strictly scrutinised by an army of authorities backed up by specialist family courts and a battery of laws, statutory instruments and guidance papers. Usually the filtering is in one direction only: the suitability of the parents to the child or children up for adoption. But sometimes it goes the other way, and this case raises the fascinating and somewhat futuristic question of whether children’s chance of finding a suitable home might be increased by genetic testing.
The circumstances were somewhat exceptional here, since the local authority had ascertained from the biological father of the two young boys in question that they might have a chance of inheriting a rare genetic disorder of the central nervous system. Huntington’s Chorea is caused by a single gene mutation on chromosome IV and causes damage of the nerve cells and areas of the brain which in due course leads to severe physical, mental and emotional deterioration. Anyone whose parent has the disease is born with a fifty per cent chance of inheriting the gene. Anyone who inherits the gene will, at some stage, develop the disease. Continue reading