Family


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

29 June 2013 by

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

24 May 2013 by

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

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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LAA must give reasons about funding expert assessments in care proceedings – Eleanor Battie

2 May 2013 by

justice24-300x199R (on the application of T) v Legal Aid Agency (formerly Legal Services Commission) [2013] EWHC 960 (Admin) Collins J, 26 April 2013 read judgment This successful challenge to a decision by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) arose from an expert assessor in family proceedings – not unnaturally – refusing to begin work unless funding was in place. If the LAA are asked to fund an assessment on behalf of a party with legal aid, then it is common for lawyers to obtain prior authority from the LAA to ensure that the expert will be paid for their work. If not, then the lawyers themselves can be liable for an expert’s costs. In this case, prior authority to pay for the expert assessment had been refused by the LAA thus resulting in further court hearings and delay in the resolution of the case for the children.

The application for judicial review of the LAA came before Collins J. He concluded that:

For the reasons given the decision of the defendant was wrong in law. Reasons have not been given. This might not have led to any relief beyond a declaration if I were persuaded that the only result could be that the decision was confirmed. Not only am I not so persuaded but I find it difficult to see that it would be reasonable, at least without engaging with the judge whether in writing or orally, to fail to comply with what she has decided is necessary.
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Genetic testing of children up for adoption

27 April 2013 by

12280487228O6zG0Y and Z (Children), 25 April 2013 [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. 
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Enforcement of custody in the face of children’s dissent: should law prevail?

4 April 2013 by

Father-and-child-holding--006Raw and others v France – read judgment (only available in French)

This complicated inter-jurisdictional battle between estranged parents is a stark illustration of how difficult it can be in these sorts of cases to apply the law in the fog of family warfare.

Even though the mother’s case was upheld in the Strasbourg Court, one can tell from the modesty of the damages awarded and the strength of the minority opinions that the judges were extremely reluctant to apply hard letter law to the complicated case before them. Indeed in one partially concurring judgment, Judge Nussberger found it distinctly odd that the mother was able to join the children as parties, in the light of their opposition to her wish that they leave their father to join her.
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Prospective adoptive child will not be taken from blind woman, for now

18 February 2013 by

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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Identity of social workers may be published following fostering bungle

13 January 2013 by

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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Upper Tribunal confirms illegality of Catholic Charity’s ban on same-sex couple adoption

3 November 2012 by

Catholic Care (Diocese of Leeds) v Charity Commission (on appeal to the Upper Tribunal) CA/2010/0007  – read judgment

A private adoption agency could not justify its exclusion of same-sex prospective parents by arguing that this policy would keep open a source of funding that would otherwise dry up and reduce the number of adoption placements.

This was an appeal by the Catholic adoption services agency against the First Tribunal’s confirmation of the decision by the Charity Commission that it was not permitted to amend its constitution so as to permit it to continue its previous practice to refuse to offer its adoption services to same sex couples. Here is our post on the FTT’s ruling, which sets out the facts and arguments in the case. To recap briefly, the charity argued that the adoption of its proposed objects was justified under the general prohibition on discrimination under Article 14 ECHR (and its statutory analogy, Section 193 of the Equality Act).  The legitimate aim it pursued was that of providing suitable adoptive parents for a significant number of children who would otherwise go unprovided for. The Charity maintained that unless it were permitted to discriminate as proposed, it would no longer be able to raise the voluntary income from its supporters on which it relied to run the adoption service, and it would therefore have to close its adoption service permanently on financial grounds. The FTT rejected this submission, holding that though the charity’s aim of increasing adoption placements was a legitimate one, the evidence before it did not show that the increased funding of the agency’s adoption work under the auspices of the Roman Catholic church would “inevitably” lead to the prospect of an increased number of adoptions.
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Sex abuse allegations against parent should be disclosed in contact proceedings

28 September 2012 by

Re J (A Child: Disclosure) [2012] EWCA Civ 1204 – read judgment

The Court of Appeal has ordered the the disclosure of serious allegations made against a parent by an anonymous third party in contact proceedings. In doing so, it has demonstrated the correct approach to balancing the many different human rights considerations involved. 

Every day, family courts across the UK are required to determine the difficult question of how much contact there should be between a child and his or her parents. It is the norm for these cases to be factually complicated and emotionally draining. However, this case was exceptional. It was an appeal relating contact proceedings in respect of a ten year old girl (A). The court had made various orders for contact over a number of years, with a final order being made in 2009 that the she was to stay with her father for two weeks each February and four weeks each summer.

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Judge decides that Jewish girl could be baptised

4 August 2012 by


A Mother v. A Father HHJ Platt, Romford County Court, 11 May 2012, read judgment

I recently dared to enter religious territory in a post about religious no-go zones declared by the courts – they should not pronounce on the intricacies of Sikh succession because it raised doctrinal issues which the courts should not decide. Compare and contrast this family law case.

Judges have to get involved in disputes on divorce, of which the current case is an exquisitely difficult example. Its facts are very simple. C was 10. Her parents and grandparents are Jewish. Her father is a Christian convert, and C wanted to be baptised. Her mother did not want this. She said father had brainwashed C, and it was premature. Mother went to court to stop any baptism proceeding until C was 16. The Court could not simply wash its hands of the case; that would encourage  self-help taken by one or other parent, to the lasting resentment of the other.

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Man can be deported despite living in UK since age of three

15 April 2012 by

Balogun v UK [2012] ECHR 614 – Read judgment

It has been a week of victories for the UK government in deportation cases in the European Court of Human Rights. On the same day as the ECtHR found that Abu Hamza and four others could be extradited to the US on terrorism charges, it also rejected a case of a man facing deportation despite having lived in the UK since the age of three.

The applicant, born in 1986, had a number of criminal convictions. The Court accepted that he had been in the UK since the age of three, although he had only acquired indefinite leave to remain in December 2003. In 2007 he pleaded guilty to possession of Class A drugs with intent to supply. He was jailed for three years and later in 2007, he was given notice that the Secretary of State intended to have him deported to Nigeria, as he is a Nigerian national.

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From County Court Strike Out to Strasbourg Success

30 March 2012 by

Reynolds v United Kingdom [2012] ECHR 437 – read judgment

What – if anything – can a claimant do when she suspects that the domestic law is not only out of kilter with Strasbourg jurisprudence but is also denying her even an opportunity to bring a claim? Taking arms against a whole legal system may be an heroic ideal, but the mundane reality is a strike out under CPR rule 3.4 by a district judge in the County Court. It is a long way from there to the European Court of Human Rights.

This was the position in which Patricia Reynolds and her daughter Catherine King found themselves following the sad death of (respectively) their son and brother. David Reynolds suffered from schizophrenia. On 16 March 2005 he contacted his NHS Care Co-ordinator and told him that he was hearing voices telling him to kill himself. There were no beds available in the local psychiatric unit, so Mr Reynolds was placed in a Council run intensive support unit. His room was on the sixth floor and at about 10.30 that night Mr Reynolds broke his (non-reinforced) window and fell to his death.
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Ferdinand v MGN – a “Kiss n’ Tell” public interest defence succeeds – Lorna Skinner

2 October 2011 by

Ferdinand v Mgn Ltd (Rev 2) [2011] EWHC 2454 (QB) – Read judgment

In the first “misuse of private information” trial against a newspaper since Max Mosley in 2008, Mr Justice Nicol dismissed a claim brough by England and Manchester United footballer Rio Ferdinand against the “Sunday Mirror”.

The Judge found that, although the claimant’s Article 8 rights to private and family life were engaged, there was a public interest in correcting a false image promoted by the claimant.  It was also held that the article contributed to a debate as to the claimant’s fitness to be a role model in the light of his appointment as England football captain.

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When is family life family life? A look at deportation cases – Lourdes Peroni

27 September 2011 by

In A.A. v. the United Kingdom, a recent case involving the deportation of a young Nigerian man, the Court faced, once again, the question whether relationships between adult children and parents/siblings amount to family life in deportation cases. The Court’s Fourth Section did not give a clear answer to this question. The 24-year-old applicant resided with his mother and did not have children of his own [also see Rosalind English’s post].

In this post, I take a quick look at the Fourth Section’s reasoning on this issue and try to situate it in the wider context of the Court’s deportation case law. One word of caution:  this is an attempt to briefly look at one specific question the Court asks to decide whether the deportation has interfered with an applicant’s right to respect for her family life. Do the ties invoked by the applicant constitute family life within the meaning of Article 8 § 1? To be more specific, do relationships between adult children and parents/siblings amount to family life in deportation cases?

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