Coercive control, domestic abuse, and more: The last week in family law

A sick 13-month-old girl who was born with kidney failure should
receive medical treatment against the wishes of her parents, the High Court has
ruled. Specialists at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital, where the girl
is being treated, said that her one chance for “ongoing survival” was
hemodialysis, a process of purifying the blood of a person whose kidneys are
not working. The girl’s parents, who Mr Justice Hayden described as having “a
deep, profound and simple faith”, and who were said to have longstanding mental
health issues, opposed the treatment, saying that their daughter’s fate should
be left in the hands of God. However, after reviewing the evidence Mr Justice
Hayden ruled that the treatment would be in the girl’s best interests, and
should therefore go ahead.

A woman who killed her husband in a hammer attack in 2010 has
had her murder conviction quashed, after the Court of Appeal said that evidence
that she was suffering from two mental disorders at the time of the killing was
not available at her trial, and undermined the safety of her conviction. Sally
Challen admitted killing her husband but denied murder, claiming to have
suffered decades of abuse from him. However, she was convicted of murder in
June 2011, and ordered to serve a minimum of 22 years, which was later reduced on
appeal to 18 years. She will now face a retrial. The case has raised the issue
of the effect upon the victim of coercive and controlling behaviour over a
prolonged period. Speaking outside the court Mrs Challen’s son David said: “The
courts have acknowledged this case needs to be looked at again. We’ve always
said as a family the abuse our mother suffered we felt was never recognised
properly and her mental condition was not taken into account.”

The Ministry of Justice has announced that it has awarded a
grant of just under £900,000 to two organisations who provide in-court support
to vulnerable victims: the Personal Support Unit (‘PSU’) and the Citizens
Advice Witness Service. The PSU has been supporting litigants in person in
family courts since 2001 and Citizens Advice has been supporting witnesses in
criminal court proceedings since 2015. They both have extensive front-line
experience of helping victims and witnesses navigate court processes and feel
safe at court. Citizens Advice will be using the funding to extend their
current Witness Service to selected family courts to provide information and
practical and emotional support to victims before, during and after the day of
the hearing. The PSU will be using the funding to invest in further training of
their staff and volunteers and to share learnings on best practice with a range
of family justice stakeholders. The funding runs from January 2019 through to
31 March 2020, and will allow Citizens Advice to provide these services in up
to 12 family courts across England and the PSU in 24 courts across England and
Wales.

The fourth report of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of
Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services on the police response to domestic
abuse found continued improvement in how the police identify, respond to, and
support victims of domestic abuse. The report recognises the good work being
carried out by the majority of police forces, including continued investment in
training for their workforce on domestic abuse; developing multi-agency
safeguarding hubs to work in partnership with other organisations to better
protect victims of domestic abuse; the increased use of body worn video to
capture evidence at the scene of an incident; and the increased roll-out of
Operation Encompass or similar schemes, which involve the police and schools
working together to support children present at domestic abuse incidents.

And finally, James Bulger’s father has had an application to
vary the anonymity injunction in relation to the person formally known as Jon
Venables refused by the High Court. Venables and Robert Thompson, who were both
10 at the time, killed James in 1993, and were later convicted of his murder.
Ralph Bulger wanted information about Venables’ new identity to be made public,
after the he was jailed for possessing child abuse images. Mr Bulger’s lawyers
argued that information about Venables which was “common knowledge” should be
made public. However, President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane
refused to change the terms of the injunction, which was designed to protect
the “uniquely notorious” Venables from “being put to death”, saying: “There is
a strong possibility, if not a probability, that if his identity were known he
would be pursued resulting in grave and possibly fatal consequences.”