Category: Family


Court of Appeal laments systemic failures in family justice

9 September 2013 by Rosalind English

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

29 June 2013 by Matthew Flinn

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

6 June 2013 by Adam Wagner

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

24 May 2013 by Guest Contributor

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

20 May 2013 by Adam Wagner

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.


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

19 April 2013 by Guest Contributor

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

16 April 2013 by Clare Ciborowska

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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Damages for death and human rights

18 March 2013 by David Hart QC


1362401166_wreathSwift v. Secretary of State for Justice, Court of Appeal, 18 February 2013 – read judgment – on appeal from Eady J, read judgment and my previous post

Ms Swift lost her live-in partner in an accident at work caused by negligence. She was pregnant with her partner’s child, but had only been living with him for 6 months. Had she been with him for 2 years, she could have claimed damages for his death under section 1(3) of the Fatal Accidents Act – set out at [1] of the CA judgment. She would then have been a “dependant” as defined under the FAA. So she argued that her rights under Articles 8 (family) and 14 (discrimination) of the ECHR were not properly respected by the law governing damages for the death of a relative – there was no justification for this stark cut-off – 1 year 11 months no claim, 2 years a claim. The judge refused to grant a declaration of incompatibility between the ECHR and the Fatal Accidents Act, and the Court of Appeal has just upheld his decision.

A lot of money turned on the point:  Had she qualified as a dependant, she would have had a claim for about £400,000.

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Grand Chamber find Austrian same sex adoption discrimination

27 February 2013 by Martin Downs

gay-rights-rally-in-Los-A-001X AND OTHERS v. AUSTRIA – 19010/07 – HEJUD [2013] ECHR 148 (19 February 2013) – Read judgment

The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (by 10 votes to 7) has found that Austrian law discriminated against a same sex couple as it prevented them from adopting jointly the biological child of one of them (what we would call a second-parent adoption). The Court found a violation of Article 14 (anti-discrimination) in conjunction with Article 8 (respect for private and family life) protection because this was less favourable treatment than if they were an unmarried different sex couple who would have been permitted to adopt together.

The narrowness of the majority might have had something to do with the fact that the father of the Child had been a party to the case in the domestic courts and opposed the adoption (although the fact that the child of the lesbian couple in Gas and Dubois v France had been conceived through anonymous donor insemination had not helped that case). In the event, the Grand Chamber decision was based on the fact that the Austrian Supreme Court had referred to the “legal impossibility” of the proposed same sex adoption in this case.

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Prospective adoptive child will not be taken from blind woman, for now

18 February 2013 by Richard Mumford

Child-care-007RCW v A Local Authority [2013] EWHC 235 (Fam) (12 February 2013) – Read judgment

This case, described by Cobb J as an “unusual and troubling” case, concerns a 1 year old girl “SB” and a woman “RCW”. SB was born prematurely, at 27 weeks, weighing just 1 kg; almost immediately she was abandoned by her natural mother.

She spent many months in the Special Care Baby Unit. In October 2012 SB was matched with RCW, a single woman who worked as a project manager for the NHS. In January 2013 things took an “unexpected and wretched turn” in the form of RCW’s diagnosis with a brain tumour. Hurriedly, RCW made arrangements with a cohort of friends to care for SB while RCW underwent surgery to remove the tumour which was situated near the optic nerve. The operation, whilst successful in removing the tumour, left RCW without sight; it is not known whether the lack of sight is temporary or will be permanent.

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Court opens way to divorces by Sharia? Hold on a minute… – James Wilson

1 February 2013 by Guest Contributor

Sharia divorceAI v MT [2013] EWHC 100 (Fam) – Read judgment

The Times (amongst others) today deserves a spell on the legal naughty step. Its headline announces that a judge’s decision “opens way to divorces by Sharia“. One might expect therefore to find that the judgment giving rise to the headline – the decision of Baker J in the Family Court in AI v MT – was about Sharia law, or otherwise had something to do with it. In fact the judgment concerned a Jewish divorce under the auspices of the Beth Din, and had nothing to do with Sharia at all.

The judge approved a final order in matrimonial proceedings by consent. That consent order had arisen from the Beth Din. It did not elevate the Beth Din to the status of the High Court. To the contrary, the judge stated that the following legal principles applied (paras [27]-[30]):

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Equal marriage on the way as Bill published

25 January 2013 by Adam Wagner

gaycouple“Marriage of same sex couples is lawful”, begins the Government’s new Equal Marriage Bill, which will, amongst other things, make it legal for gay couples to marry in both civil and religious ceremonies.

Religious communities will not be forced to conduct ceremonies, but will be able to ‘opt-in’ to the new system. However, Church of England communities will not be permitted to opt in even if they want to. The progress Bill can be tracked here – the next reading is in the House of Commons on 5 February. The Bill is summarised as follows:

A Bill to make provision for the marriage of same sex couples in England and Wales, about gender change by married persons and civil partners, about consular functions in relation to marriage, for the marriage of armed forces personnel overseas, and for connected purposes.

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Identity of social workers may be published following fostering bungle

13 January 2013 by Rosalind English

question-mark-face Bristol City Council v C and others [2012] EWHC 3748 (Fam) – read judgment

This was an application for a reporting restriction order arising out of care proceedings conducted before the Bristol Family Proceedings Court. The proceedings themselves were relatively straightforward but, in the course of the hearing, information came to light which gave rise to concerns of an “unusual nature”, which alerted the interest of the press.

Background

After family court proceedings decided that child A was at risk of violence from her father, an interim care order was implemented and A was moved to foster carers. However some time afterwards the local authority received information from the police suggesting that someone living at the address of A’s foster carers had had access to child pornography. A also told social workers that another member of the foster household (also respondent to this action) had grabbed her around the throat. As a consequence police and social services visited the foster carers, informed them of the concerns about pornography, removed all computers from the house and moved A to another foster home. On the following day the male foster carer was found dead, having apparently committed suicide.
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Allowing religious gay marriages will avoid human rights challenges

7 December 2012 by Adam Wagner

gay_marriage_cake_300The Prime Minister has announced his support for gay marriage in religious institutions. Having already said, memorably, that “I don’t support gay marriage in spite of being a conservative. I support gay marriage because I am a conservative”, he has now gone a step further and argued that gay couples should be able to marry on religious premises. But, he also made clear, “if there is any church or any synagogue or any mosque that doesn’t want to have a gay marriage it will not, absolutely must not, be forced to hold it“.

The announcement is important in the context of a legal debate which has been taking place since the Government signalled that marriage law reform was on its agenda: namely, whether religious institutions would be forced, as a result of equalities and human rights legislation, to carry out gay marriage ceremonies whether or not they wanted to. In June, when the Government was consulting over the “equal civil marriage” plans, Church of England sounded the alarm that “it must be very doubtful whether limiting same-sex couples to non-religious forms and ceremonies could withstand a challenge under the European Convention on Human Rights

What is really interesting about the Prime Minister’s announcement is that the Government is now going beyond  its original proposals as set out in the June consultation. At that point, the Government was careful to state that the proposals related only to civil (that is, non-religious) marriage and, indeed said:

Upper Tribunal confirms the legitimacy of the new immigration rules – but questions their completeness

8 November 2012 by Rosalind English

MF (Article 8 – new rules) Nigeria [2012] UKUT 00393(IAC) – read judgment

This tribunal decision is the first to tackle the so-called “codification” of Article 8 considerations in immigration law (see  Adam’s post  on the Home Office’s proposals earlier this year).

Before the new immigration rules were introduced in July,  cases involving Article 8 ECHR ordinarily required a two-stage assessment: (1) first to assess whether the decision appealed against was in accordance with the immigration rules; (2) second to assess whether the decision was contrary to the appellant’s Article 8 rights. In immigration decisions, there was no doubt that human rights were rooted in primary legislation: s.84(1)(c) and (g) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act  2002, the “2002 Act”) allows an appeal to be brought against a decision which unlawful under section 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 (c. 42) (public authority not to act contrary to Human Rights Convention) as being incompatible with the appellant’s Convention rights. In addition to this, there is s.33(2) of the UK Borders Act 2007 which provides, as one of the statutory exceptions  to the automatic deportation regime,  “…where removal of the foreign criminal in pursuance of a deportation order would breach (a) a person’s Convention rights”.

But then there was a move to set out an extensive, codified definition of the Article 8 balancing factors, in order to

unify consideration under the rules and Article 8, by defining the basis on which a person can enter or remain in the UK on the basis of their family or private life. 
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