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Entries in English family courts (4)

Sunday
Jul092017

England and Wales family courts pilot for 'settlement conferences'.

President of the Family Division in England and Wales, Sir James Munby, has given the green light to a number of family courts to pilot 'settlement conferences'.

The aim is to discover whether pursuing a less adversarial approach to resolving disputes between separated parents might lead to better outcomes for the children involved.

In a statement released by the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary, Sir James said, "Some Designated Family Judge (DFJ) areas are piloting settlement conferences. In a settlement conference, a trained family judge adopts an inquisitorial approach in order to encourage cooperation between parties with a view to reaching an agreement that is in the children’s best interests. I know that opinions on settlement conferences are divided but, in my view, it is an approach that is worth piloting in order to inform decisions on whether to take them further."

The pilot is supported by a package of training and guidance materials that Sir James urges judges to view before taking part in the pilot. The package includes videos, sample cases and practice directions.

FNF Scotland National Manager, Ian Maxwell, said, "We'll be watching the pilot and any subsequent evaluation very carefully. We have been saying for a long time that the adversarial procedures in Scottish family cases - including the pre court correspondence between solicitors - often create new conflicts between parents. It can make it more difficult for parents to co-operate in the interests of their children after the case is closed if the process itself has encouraged them to attack each other's character and parenting abilities."

Thursday
Jun042015

No evidence of anti-father court bias - or is there?

A new study of court cases funded by the Nuffield Foundation concludes that there is no evidence that family courts in England and Wales are discriminating against fathers.

Dr Maebh Harding, from Warwick University School of Law, reviewed almost 200 case files from 2011 and concluded that contact applications by fathers were in fact “overwhelmingly successful”.  

Right at the start of the research report, there is a worrying indication that the researchers were not approaching their topic with an open mind:

"Although the Family Justice Review’s Final Report rightly recommended against the introduction of any kind of shared parenting presumption, not wishing to draw any attention away from prioritising the child’s welfare." (our emphasis)

The use of the word "rightly" does not sit well with an unbiased approach.  Unfortunately what is a very interesting and useful study of the operation of family courts in England is undermined by an attempt to support the conclusion that "... the County courts showed no indication of gender bias in contested cases about where the child should live."

 As Glen Pool points out in an article in the Telegraph, "88 per cent of dads who applied to court for contact with their kids were awarded some kind of access. For example, 10 per cent were restricted to “indirect contact” with their children via phone, post or Skype; a further five per cent were only allowed to see their children in the company of a supervisor and 23 per cent were permitted to spend a few daytime hours with their children. I don’t know about you, but when I think of an “overwhelmingly successful” parent I don’t picture someone who is neither trusted to be alone with their children, nor allowed to wake up in the same house as them."

Read the research and decide for yourself whether it really shows that that fathers in the family courts are treated the same as mothers.  And although the study only covers English and Welsh courts, it is likely that similar findings could be made in Scottish cases.

Wednesday
Aug212013

Judge reverses residence after mother made false allegations

An English Family Division Judge has replaced a shared residence order with sole residence for the father of a five-year-old boy, the mother to have regular contact.

This drastic move follows a "finding of fact" in which the mother's allegations about the father's drinking, violent behaviour and failure to protect his son from sexual abuse at the hands of the father's brother were all found to be false.

Judge Keehan also strongly criticised the child abuse investigation carried out by police and social services, stating: " ... the interview of the 23rd May 2012 conducted by Mr. Muchekeza and DC Sutcliffe was, by any standards of child abuse investigations, woeful."

"That they conducted the discussion at the child's home with the mother present in the house might well be excused.   But they questioned the child for 30 minutes without him making any disclosure and were at the point of calling it a day and leaving, which is understandable, but that they permitted the mother to speak to the child in their presence which was, "Tell them what you told Mummy about the bath", is quite incredible."

"It is a plain good ABE practice never to ask a child to repeat what they said to somebody else, simply to ask them to tell what has happened to them or what they have experienced.   To continue the discussion in the presence of the mother with the child being from time to time held by the mother is, in my judgment, wrong and improper."

Sunday
Sep042011

False allegations of sexual abuse exposed in court

A senior English judge has taken the rare step of naming all the adults involved in a case in which a father was falsely accused of sexually abusing his daughter, in order to publicly clear the father's name.

It was found that the mother had 'manufactured' claims that the father had abused the child, then coached her to repeat the allegations. The mother, went on to put the allegations about her ex-partner into the public domain via the internet in breach of court orders.

In his judgement Sir Nicholas Wall (head of the Family Division in England) said two judges examined the case at previous High Court hearings and both found that the father was not a paedophile and had not sexually abused his daughter.

He added: “The father is entitled to tell the world, and the world is entitled to know, that he is not a paedophile, that he has not sexually abused his daughter and that the allegations made against him are false.”

This corresponds to Lady Hale's comment in the Supreme Court judgement on the Scottish case of Principal Reporter v K, in which she stated: "No child should be brought up to believe that she has been abused if in fact she has not, any more than any child should be persuaded by the adult world that she has not been abused when in fact she has."