Family


Analysis: Children’s “best interests” and the problem of balance

2 February 2011 by

ZH (Tanzania) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2011] UKSC 4 (1 February 2011) – Read judgment

This case (see yesterday’s summary) is illustrative of two misconceptions about rights that we are all in thrall to from time to time.

One is that there is a fundamental hierarchy of human rights which allows certain interests to prevail over others in all situations; the other is that this hierarchy is determined by considerations that are morally and politically neutral. A prime example of this kind of principle is the idea of the “overriding rights of the child”, a consideration with a perfectly orthodox role in family law, but one whose application to human rights as a whole is questionable.
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Family legal aid tender process was “unfair, unlawful and irrational”

30 September 2010 by

Updated The High Court has ruled that the Legal Service Commission’s legal aid tender process was “unfair, unlawful and irrational”. The decision came in  a judicial review of the tender brought by the Law Society.

According to the Law Society’s press release:

The failure of the LSC to anticipate, let alone manage, the outcome of the process was the latest and perhaps most alarming of the LSC’s apparently haphazard attempts to reshape legal aid…

The LSC’s actions would have seen the number of offices where the public could get subsidised help with family cases drastically cut from 2400 to 1300.

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UK discriminated by making same-sex relationship mum pay more child maintenance

30 September 2010 by

J M v. The United Kingdom – 37060/06 [2010] ECHR 1361 – Read judgment

The European Court of Rights has declared that rules on child maintenance prior to introduction of the Civil Partnership Act discriminated against those in same-sex relationships.

The events happened nearly a decade ago and the law in relation to same-sex couples has greatly altered since, so it will be of limited relevance to those paying child benefit now. Of more interest is the reasoning of the majority in deciding the case under the right to peaceful enjoyment of property rather than the right to family life.

The case summary is based on the Court’s press release, and is followed by my comment.

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Fathers’ rights on the agenda for upcoming family justice reform

26 September 2010 by

Last week I posted on a speech given by Sir Nicholas Wall on family justice reform. The speech has been widely reported: see the BBC, Zoe Williams’ challenge to Sir Nicholas’ point that intelligent parents made worse litigants, and this thorough analysis from Marylin Stowe.

It should not be forgotten, however, that Sir Nicholas’ speech was to Families Need Fathers (FNF), a fathers’ rights lobby group – see the Wikipedia entry on the movement’s history.

There are two interesting articles on fathers’ rights in this morning’s Observer, the second of which comments on the speech. FNF is, according to the Observer, “at the forefront of a shift in tone in fathers’ rights – away from the notorious stunts of Fathers 4 Justice, which involved grown men dressed as superheroes unfurling banners on public monuments, towards a professional lobbying approach, deploying reasoned argument and concern for the child.”


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Top judge says legal aid in family cases may disappear

21 September 2010 by

Update The president of the family courts, Sir Nicholas Wall, has given a wide-ranging speech to Families Needs Fathers. In it he outlined his own vision for change and also sounded a warning that legal aid in family cases may soon be abolished.

On legal aid, he said “you do not need a crystal ball to see that legal aid for private law proceedings is likely to be further diminished if not abolished“. This may not come as a surprise to those who have been following the family legal aid tender debacle. But the practical outcome of a reduction or abolition of Legal Aid will be that when cases do come to court, more will have to be accomplished, and faster, before the money runs out. Sir Nicholas suggests some ways of achieving this.

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Contraception, capacity and coercion: when does a woman lack capacity to decide whether to use contraceptive treatment?

25 August 2010 by

A Local Authority v Mrs A, by her Litigation Friend, the Official Solicitor, and Mr A [2010] EWHC 1549 (Fam) – Read judgment

In the first case of its kind, the court was asked to consider whether a young married woman lacks capacity to decide whether to use contraception, and whether it would be in her interests to be required to receive it.

Mrs A was a 29-year-old woman who suffered from serious learning difficulties, which put her intellectual functioning at approximately 0.1% of adults her age. In 2004 she gave birth to a daughter, and in 2005 she had a son. Both children were removed from her at birth because she did not have the capacity to take care of them.

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Control order breached human rights say Supreme Court [updated]

16 June 2010 by

Secretary of State for the Home Department v AP [2010] UKSC 24 (16 June 2010) – Read judgment

The Supreme Court have given the latest judgment on the controversial control order scheme, and in this case have allowed the appeal of a man suspected of terrorism on the grounds that confinement to a flat 150 miles away from his family amounted to a breach of his human rights.

The Appellant was an Ethiopian national who was the subject of a control order. This confined him to a flat for 16 hours a day in a Midlands town 150 miles away from his family in London.

The Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal, set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal and restored the High Court’s order. Lord Brown gave the leading judgment. Lord Rodger and Sir John Dyson SCJ delivered concurring judgments. The press summary of the judgment can be read here and the summary below is drawn from it.

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One year on, “opening up” of family courts has led to closed justice

11 May 2010 by

Watch but don

The family courts were opened up to media scrutiny by the Justice Secretary Jack Straw at the end of April 2009. One year on, the Times legal editor reports that not only have family courts remained closed, but media access is even more restricted than before the reforms.

In a week where promoting open justice has been high on the Court of Appeal’s agenda in cases involving terrorism, Frances Gibb writes that the family courts are still sealed shut: “After a flurry of interest, the media have stopped reporting family cases in all but rare high-profile disputes because a restrictive reporting regime makes coverage meaningless.”

The Justice Secretary’s 2009 reforms were the outcome of years of campaigning by the media and pressure groups to open up the secretive family courts. The arguments had centred on the conflict between the privacy of those involved in proceedings versus the public benefit of open justice; a balancing exercise which all public authorities are now familiar with by virtue of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (the right to privacy). It is an often quoted principle of English law that justice must not just be done but be seen to be done, and it seemed that that the family courts were moving onto that side of the balance.

In the heady days of late April 2009, Camilla Cavendish, who had campaigned for the changes predicted that “more than 200,000 hearings involving sensitive and traumatic cases, and with decisions that will have a huge impact on the lives of children and their families, will now be open to media scrutiny.”

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New head of Family Court says social workers perceived as “arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children”

13 April 2010 by

Sir Nicholas Wall, the new head of the Family Division, is being sworn in today. The Times reports this morning on comments he made in a recent judgment in the case of EH v London Borough of Greenwich & Ors [2010] EWCA Civ 344.

He said of social workers:

What social workers do not appear to understand is that the public perception of their role in care proceedings is not a happy one. They are perceived by many as the arrogant and enthusiastic removers of children from their parents into an unsatisfactory care system, and as trampling on the rights of parents and children in the process. This case will do little to dispel that perception. (paragraph 109)

A profile of Sir Nicholas in The Times suggests that he arrives at his new post with a reputation as a forthright critic of social services, local council, social workers and politicians. Indeed, it has been suggested that the Justice Minister Jack Straw may have been trying to block the appointment of Sir Nicholas for that very reason.

We posted earlier this week on the issues regarding child protection and the duty of care of local authorities. The courts are often finding themselves having to balance the competing rights of children, who must be protected against abuse, and parents, who are sometimes themselves the victims of overzealous prosecutions by local authorities. It would appear that the pressure on public authorities will only increase once the new Family Division head is in post.

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