Coercive control, child neglect and legal aid: The last week in family law

The NSPCC has revealed that child cruelty and neglect offences in the UK have doubled over the last five years. There were 16,939 child cruelty and neglect offences recorded by police in 2017/18, up from 7,965 in 2012/13. Reports to the police included extreme cases of when a parent or carer deliberately neglected, assaulted, abandoned or exposed their child to serious harm. The amount of police offences is mirrored by the number of calls made to the NSPCC helpline, totalling 19,937 last year about children suffering neglect, with three quarters referred to police or children’s services. NSPCC chief executive Peter Wanless said the reason behind the dramatic rise is unclear, but improvements in how police record offences and ‘deeper societal issues’ could be behind it.

 A Family Court judge has
strongly criticised a local authority for the quality of its care of two young
women. Mr Justice Keehan said that Herefordshire Council’s care and care
planning in relation to the women over the last ten years or so had been
“woeful”. Interim care orders had been made in relation to the pair in 2003,
when they were aged four and three respectively. Full care orders were made in
2008, but neither child was ever placed for adoption, as had been planned. Both
young women are now over 18. Mr Justice Keehan said: “For reasons I do not
begin to understand, it was not until 5 February 2008, over four and a half
years after the proceedings had been commenced, that both children were made
the subjects of care orders and placement orders.” He also said that from 2009
the chronology of events and the explanation for how their care was planned
became “extremely confused and contradictory”, leading to the children, who
were half siblings, being split apart into separate foster placements. Mr
Justice Keehan said that he had been given no explanation for the contradictory
versions of events, which demonstrated “the chaotic and irrational approach” of
the local authority to the care of and care planning for the children. The
local authority conceded that the serial failures in the care provided, or not
provided, to the children amounted to breaches of their human rights. Mr
Justice Keehan urged the council to reach an agreement to pay them damages for
those breaches.

And finally, the Law Society has urged the government to
reintroduce legal aid for early advice for separating couples. With reference
to the government’s consultation on reforming divorce, the President of the
Society Christina Blacklaws said: “Cuts to legal aid failed to recognise that
solicitors providing early advice were a significant source of referrals to
mediation – avoiding costly court hearings. We believe that without early
advice from a solicitor, many people do not know that the option of mediation
exists, or how to access it. Reforms to divorce law need to come at the same
time as the reintroduction of legal aid for early advice. At an emotionally
traumatic time such as divorce or separation, parents want and need legal
support in order to put the best interests of their children first. It is
essential that couples are supported throughout the process. Family law is one
area where early advice actually saves money. It can help resolve problems
sooner and prevent some legal issues from escalating into costly court cases.”