A re-hearing, cohabitation and busy courts: The last week in family law

The President of the Family Division has decided that the re-hearing of a child care case should go ahead, despite the fact that the parents of the child have withdrawn from the proceedings. Shortly after the child was born in 2012 social services raised concerns and the care proceedings were begun. During the proceedings the family court found at a fact-finding hearing that the parents had caused a number of injuries to the child. A care order was made, and the child was subsequently adopted. The birth parents were later charged with child cruelty, but after expert evidence was given the prosecution was abandoned and the parents were acquitted. They then sought to appeal against the family court’s findings, essentially on the ground that there was new evidence available. The local authority conceded that the facts should be re-considered, and therefore applied for a re-hearing of the fact-finding. However, the parents have since informed the court that they wish to withdraw from the re-hearing, saying that they did not think it would be right to remove the child from the adoptive parents. Despite this, the President decided that the re-hearing should go ahead, as he felt that it was in the child’s interests, and the public interest, that “the truth” was ascertained.

Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the cohabiting couple family continues to be the fastest growing family type in the UK in 2016. The latest statistical bulletin from the ONS shows that cohabiting couple families in the UK have doubled from 1.5 million families in 1996 to 3.3 million families in 2016. There were 3.2 million opposite sex cohabiting couple families and 87,000 same sex cohabiting couple families in the UK in 2016. Together, cohabiting couple families account for 17% of all families in the UK. The figures have led to renewed calls for the introduction of proper rights for cohabiting couples when they separate.

A High Court judge has ruled that a terminally ill boy should be moved to a palliative care regime proposed by specialists, despite his parents’ objections. Mr Justice MacDonald said the boy should receive care to minimise suffering in his final months. He was diagnosed with bone cancer in 2012. His parents had argued that doctors could still treat his symptoms, but specialists said “curative treatment” was no longer possible. He is expected to live for three to six months. Mr Justice MacDonald described the case as “unbearably sad” and said the boy’s parents were suffering “unimaginable agony”. However, he was satisfied the boy’s prognosis was terminal and that pain could become unbearable if not treated.

The Lord Chief Justice has expressed concern at the volume of public and private law cases before the Family Court. In his 2016 annual report he noted that the average case duration for public law cases now stands at 27 weeks and 60% of cases are now dealt with in less than 26 weeks, compared with 55.7% in the same quarter in 2015. The number of such cases commenced between January and March 2016 was 4,833, up 24% on the same quarter in 2015. He said that the increase in workload is a source of concern as the reasons for it are not well understood at present. He also noted that for the second quarter of 2016 there was a 16% increase in new private law cases, compared with the same quarter in 2015, to 12,203. This, in combination with the increase in public law cases, is a major concern for the judiciary, he said. He also said that the reasons for the increase are not well understood and the majority of the private law cases that come before the Family Court now feature litigants-in-person, increasingly on both sides.

And finally, a Christian couple have been blocked from adopting their two foster children, after expressing concerns about them being raised by a gay couple. The husband and wife have looked after the children since early this year. When they were told that a gay couple were being put forward to adopt them, they admitted that they “expressed a degree of shock and asked if this was a ‘joke’.” They were said by their social worker to find the situation “very challenging”, and two days later formally applied to adopt the children themselves. The council, however, turned them down, saying that their views about gay parenting were “concerning” and “could be detrimental to the long-term needs of the children.” The couple have now written to the council to appeal against the decision.