Brexit – Family Law Perspectives


My first thoughts on Brexit news today was sympathy for parents whose children have been removed to other European countries following leave to remove decisions. The decision last night will be causing them uncertainty and anxiety.

One of the the best EU regulations from a family law perspective  (or bureaucracy that was forced upon us as some would say), were the Brussels II Revised Regulations. Article 21 of those regulations make contact orders made in one EU country (excluding Denmark who opted out) enforceable in another EU member state. Will we lose those protections? Will a replacement to that agreement be made between the UK and EU? Will this protection be removed entirely, and will the parent facing the high cost of legal proceedings in the UK then face the daunting cost of starting again in a foreign jurisdiction with a UK order not worth the paper it’s written on? One can only hope this is not forgotten in the Brexit negotiations which follow. I wish I had the answers to give assurances, but no-one does nor will for some time.

Parents whose children are relocated to other EU states may face higher air fares (Europe saw the end of bi-lateral air service agreements); they’ll face travel insurance costs (while at the moment there are reciprocal agreements); and then there’s the loss of protected rights in terms of travel to other European countries. Will their children be able to return to the UK if they so decide when they reach adulthood? Maybe only if they have the requisite skills to meet an immigrant quota system. School choice and subject choice could become far more important for parents who remain in the UK. Will there be a right to involvement in those decisions? Will that right be enforceable in a foreign jurisdiction? Unlikely.

In terms of protections against international child abduction, we’ll stay part of the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, but I’ve no doubt that membership of the Brussels II Regulations gave British parents (and all European parents other than the Danish) greater protection. The Hague Convention as we all should know, is no guarantee of having your child returned.

I’ve no doubt that membership of Europe made it harder for the Tories to pursue their wish to extract the UK from the Human Rights Act (and EU Convention on Human Rights). It is the UK’s being subject to the European Court of Human Rights which freed Sir James Munby to insist on legal aid being given to two parents with learning difficulties who couldn’t afford legal representation, who faced their children being permanently removed from them by social workers, but had had their right to legal representation taken away by Government. They faced a Local Authority with a full legal team. Our judges could challenge the decision of Government on human rights’ grounds, because those rights were protected despite what was undeniably a democratic decision to strip those rights from two, vulnerable parents who lacked the capacity to conduct their own case. Democracy isn’t always a good thing or democratic decisions defensible. Europe at least gave a check and balance against human rights abuses. A chance for the man or woman in the street to stand up to large institutions and fight injustice.

I know some who view Brexit as a good thing. In terms of the microcosm of family law, it is not. My thoughts today are with the parents it affects, and who will be affected in the future.


Courts don’t deal with perjury or enforce contact?


W v G [2015] EW Misc B47 (CC)

It is unusual to see judgments published by the County Court so this case may have escaped you (it did me and thank you to the person who tipped me off yesterday). The case concerns an intractable contact dispute made more complex by the subject children having a half‐sister who also lived with the mother who lives some distance from the father.

In earlier proceedings, the court had made an order for shared living arrangements as a result of the mother´s failure to promote the children´s relationship with the father or properly recognise his role in their lives. The mother was also referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the judge in those earlier proceedings for having committed perjury. Continue reading Courts don’t deal with perjury or enforce contact?


Proposals for the Reform of Intractable Contact Dispute Law


paper2Last September I had the opportunity to write a paper on the reform of private family law and specifically related to contact enforcement. The paper was presented to Sir James Munby, President of the Family Court, by officers of Families Need Fathers who had been offered a continuing dialogue by him following his presentation to the charity AGM in 2014. A follow-up meeting is diarised to discuss the paper’s contents and proposals.

Within the paper, the guiding principles for the proposals were “what is practical, realistic and has a reasonable chance of being taken forward”.

Continue reading Proposals for the Reform of Intractable Contact Dispute Law


Failings in Intractable Contact Cases Continue


When intractable contact dispute cases fail to be resolved there are common reasons, and ones which involve how the cases are managed by the court and professionals involved in proceedings. Some of those cases are salvageable, while for others the long length of proceedings acts as a bar to the court entertaining a different approach.

My criticism isn’t universal and I acknowledge there are experienced and highly capable judges and welfare officers. It’s that very observation which sees me compare what, in case management terms, is the good, the bad and the ugly (one movie we didn’t see this Christmas). Sadly, justice and positive outcomes remain reliant on the quality and experience of the individuals involved, with a lack of process and poor adherence to what process exists exacerbating problems. The appeal system alone is an inadequate means of quality control to identify poor practice and capability.

Rather than intractable contact disputes being complex, these are often cases made complex by poor investigation, inadequate welfare analysis and failures to apply and carry through strategies from an early stage. These are common reasons for failure, and the saddest thing of all is that none of these should come as a surprise. Continue reading Failings in Intractable Contact Cases Continue


Failures in Judicial Case Allocation and Gatekeeping


We have seen a number of cases recently where the courts are failing to follow rules in relation to case allocation. Some of the worst examples include:

  • leave to remove cases (where one parent seeks to remove the children abroad).
  • complex cases previously heard in senior courts ending up heard by magistrates who fail to examine case history prior to varying the existing orders (which came before them for enforcement).

In short, the wrong level of judge is hearing cases in breach of court rules and guidance. If your case is allocated to the wrong level of judge, ask for it to be moved to the right level by writing into the court. We suggest writing into the court where the application was made, and addressing your letter to the Designated Family Judge (DFJ) responsible for Gatekeeping and Case Allocation. If you can, take the letter into court, hand it into the court administration department and ask for a receipt to confirm delivery. After this, if matters continue to be heard at the wrong level, write a position statement including a request for the case to be transferred and deliver this to court two days before the next hearing. Raise the matter orally at the hearing and take a copy of that position statement and the letter sent to the DFJ into court with you.

Case outcomes can be put at risk when too junior a judge hears them. This is why the rules exist to ensure more complex cases are heard by more experienced judiciary. In this article, we remind people of how cases should be allocated and the rules which govern this. Please reference the guidance we cite when asking that the court move proceedings to the correct level of judge.

Continue reading Failures in Judicial Case Allocation and Gatekeeping