A Court of Appeal ruling, domestic abuse and mediation: The last two weeks in family law

A transgender Ultra-Orthodox Charedi Jew who left her community to start a new life as a woman has won the right to have her case reconsidered by the High Court, after an earlier ruling that she should have no direct contact with her five children. The woman brought an application for direct contact with her children in 2015, but Mr Justice Peter Jackson (as he then was) held that the risk of psychological harm posed to the children by having direct contact with their father was too great, on the basis that they, as well as their mother, would be ostracised by the Ultra-Orthodox Charedi community. The woman appealed, and the Court of Appeal overturned Mr Justice Jackson’s ruling, saying that he did not address ‘head on’ the human rights and discrimination issues that arose, and especially, that even secluded religious communities within society are not above the law of the land. In making a final order for indirect contact only, he “gave up too easily” on making direct contact work. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the case was remitted back to the High Court for further consideration.

The House of Commons Education Committee concludes in its latest report that children in foster care must be given better information about their placements, placed with their siblings where possible, and have access to advocacy services. The Committee finds the foster care system is under pressure and that the Government needs to conduct a fundamental review of the whole care system to ensure children get the support they need. The report calls on the Government to do more to prevent unnecessary placement breakdowns, increase the number of foster carers in the system, and improve working conditions by establishing a national college to support carers. The report also makes a range of recommendations relating to valuing young people, valuing foster carers and valuing care.

Two years after new domestic abuse laws made “coercive or controlling behaviour” a criminal offence for the first time police forces remain poorly trained and ill-equipped to deal with the new crimes, it has been claimed. Latest official figures show that only eight out of 43 police forces across England and Wales have rolled out a new national training programme, and campaigners say that this lack of training is reflected in the low number of prosecutions involving the new offences. A freedom of information request by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism revealed that just 532 charges have been brought under the new laws in the 29 police force areas that responded to the request. Six police forces have brought five charges or fewer since the new offences were brought into force in December 2015.

A judge has hit out at a gay couple whose marriage ran into difficulties after they had a surrogate daughter. In the case the couple entered into a surrogacy arrangement with an American surrogate mother, and the child was born in September 2014. The couple jointly applied to the English court for a parental order, making them the child’s legal parents. However, the couple then separated, and only one of them proceeded with the application. Hearing the application, Mrs Justice Theis said that the couple had abdicated their responsibility to ensure that the child’s welfare needs were met. She refused to make a parental order, because she said the man had not proved that he had a permanent home in the jurisdiction of England or Wales, as was required before an order could be made.

And finally, the charity National Family Mediation has said that although recent figures show declining numbers of people are attending family mediation, they are optimistic the New Year can still bring the traditional spike in demand for mediation. However, they warn that the longer term future could be bleak unless the government takes a more proactive approach to ensuring its pro-family mediation policies succeed. Jane Robey, the charity’s CEO, said: “Recent figures indicate publicly funded mediation numbers have slumped. They are compounded by our own research showing a worrying lack of compliance with the 2014 law which makes attendance at a mediation information and assessment meeting (‘MIAM’) compulsory before a court order can be applied for. Boosting mediation numbers should not be difficult since powers already exist, but we need to see enforcement of the legislation. Stronger monitoring and a more proactive government approach would, we believe, transform the situation. It would avoid the government being embarrassed by watching its pro-mediation policy die on its feet.”