Transparency Project: Family Court Reporting Watch – Weekly Round-Up, No. 15

21 02 2017

round-up-courtesy-flickr-lauri-heikkinen-1080x675The purpose of this update is to correct, clarify and comment on media reports of family court cases, to explain and comment on published Judgments of family cases and to highlight other transparency news.

Media Reports of Family Courts Case and Family Justice Issues

The judgment explaining the Court of Appeal decision to grant permission to appeal the making of placement orders, on grounds that included insufficient weight being given to whether adoption was necessary instead of fostering, is also published. The children were 5 and 7 years old and were settled with foster carers who were explicitly offering to care permanently for them.

The AOL report is accurate (though a link to the judgment would help readers to really make sense of a complex situation). Also missing is Keehan J’s explanation for why non consensual adoption with legal severance and loss of contact was considered the only realistic option for these children despite a successful foster placement being available long term. The parents had persistently chosen not to have contact with their children rather than sign agreement not to discuss the case or tell the children they would be returning home. Keehan J found that if the children were to remain in long-term foster care and had contact with the father, he would be wholly incapable of supporting the children remaining in long-term foster care and would do everything to undermine the placement [the mother had already travelled abroad to give birth to another child].

We await a published judgment with a view to commenting further.

  • The Mirror (and local press) reported the coroners findings in relation to Hayley Gascoigne’s sudden death at the Hull Crown Court after a family court hearing. This was a resumed inquest (adjourned on 2nd February pending histology and toxicology results). Save for the impression in the heading that she died during the actual hearing, the report  (Tragic young mum-of-four who collapsed and died during court hearing revealed to have suffered heart failure) seems pretty balanced and accurate, whilst also reporting her families view that her existing heart disease was exacerbated by the stress of the hearing and other events leading up to it.
  • The Daily Telegraph reported comments by Anthony Douglas on parental alienation. The piece raised some eyebrows about the misleading impression that Cafcass and the family courts have somehow only now acknowledged parental alienation behaviours exist and may often amount to emotional abuse (albeit it’s not recognized as a distinct medical syndrome in the family courts here). hat report is here. There were several other reports on what is an important topic for children who can only benefit from enhanced public awareness of it in parents, so long as reports are accurate.

Two parents claiming they had been misled by David Bright of Parents Voice (who has just been released from prison for peverting the course of justice in another family case) were interviewed. The reports are largely accurate and may serve a valuable purpose as a warning to distressed parents in family proceedings to take care before paying large sums to unqualified, unregulated people offering the sort of help that in hind sight was obviously ‘too good to be true’ at a time when they were most vulnerable.

(The report does, frustratingly, repeatedly use the outdated and unhelpful term ‘custody battle’ – even when referring to ‘Ravinder’ who was trying to oppose an adoption order after removal of her children for safeguarding reasons by Children’s Services. It also inaccurately implies ‘Ravinder’ wouldn’t have got legal aid since legal aid cuts when in fact she wouldn’t have got it because (at these later stages of the making of an adoption order) her case didn’t have enough chance of success / she didn’t qualify financially. ‘Ravinder’ frankly admits her lawyers had told her she had no real chance of applying to oppose the adoption at this late stage, not least because her children had got settled with the intended adopters. Again the short cuts on the facts appear to be for the purpose of concise reporting rather than feeding any disingenuous narrative. (She would have had legal aid automatically to fully oppose the plan much earlier). Nor did the brief piece make any attempt at balance by presenting any of the positive parental experiences of Mckenzie Friends found in the making of the programme but it did acknowledge this.

  • More reports on cross examination by alleged perpetrators

A number of papers cover proposed changes to arrangements for the cross examination of those who complain of domestic abuse in the family courts. The headline in the iPaper wrongly gives the impression that proposed changes to prevent cross examination of complainants by those they accuse of domestic abuse are already in force: Abusers barred from cross-examining former partners in court. ‘Abusers to be barred from cross-examining former partners in court’ would have been better. Even better would have been to identify “abusers” as “those accused of abuse” or “alleged perpetrators”. That said, the article itself makes clear that these are proposals only, arising from one line in a speech by Liz Truss. Although it seems likely the changes will “allow judges to appoint a legal aid lawyer to block violent abusers from being able to question their former partners” there has not yet been any detail announced, so the mechanism by which this sort of cross examination will be prevented is unclear. The wording here is unhelpful – it probably means legal aid lawyers will be appointed to carry out cross examination on their behalf (as in the criminal courts), but the wording could be read as suggesting lawyers would be appointed to argue against the rights of an accused to cross examine.

The article also repeats the “alternative fact” that “One quarter of women in family court proceedings have been subjected to cross-examination by an abusive former partner”, based on a Women’s Aid survey which does not demonstrate that assertion at all (and which does not really qualify as “research”.

Our chair Lucy Reed is quoted in an article on this topic in the solicitors journal here.

The I-Paper then went on to report Victims of domestic abuse set to suffer in court as solicitors’ fees slashed by 60%. This report about plans to pay criminal solicitors to do one off cross examination in family court seems based on little more than speculation, given no mechanism (let alone the detail) has yet even been released. This report inaccurately refers to solicitors (such advocates might be barristers or solicitors).

The focus appears to be criminal measures with extensive consultation promised alongside an audit of any realistic interim measures. (See also Social Work Tutor comment on the context with Tory cuts allowed domestic abuse to prosper: How dare you lecture us on its impact Theresa May)

 And in case you missed these…

An unreasonable petition?

Media reports on “the baby milk” case: Inaccurate? Spun? Harmful? A twitter discussion

(See also the Independent report that followed Newborn baby taken into care from parents with learning disabilities after father speaks about bottle-feeding)

Correction request re inaccurate headlines : Mother who let her two boys sleep in her bed has them taken away by judge

Mrs Millstone…?

(We’ve had two out of three responses to our request for corrections – one positive, one negative and one still awaited. We’re awaiting confirmation no objection is taken to publication of responses and hope to update shortly)

Open Response from the Professional Standards Authority (PSA)

Newly Published Cases for Explanation or Comment

And in case you missed these…

Brewster : “Shifting (or not) the Supreme Court’s view on marriage”

Enforcement of Family Financial Orders: Iqbal is the perfect example of why reform is needed.

In other Transparency News

Press Regulation

Feature image courtesy of Flickr with thanks to Lauri Heikkinen

This post originally appeared on the Transparency Project blog and is reproduced with permission and thanks.


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21 02 2017
daveyone1

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