26 September 2013
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.
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9 September 2013
Re A (a child)  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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