Access to justice, data protection and marriage: The last week in family law

Three children of a woman who was believed to be intending to take them to Isis-controlled territory in Syria have been removed from her care. When the woman was arrested at Birmingham airport last summer a mobile phone was taken from her and found to contain images of children carrying firearms and wearing balaclavas bearing the Isis emblem. The children were immediately put under a Police Protection Order. Leicester City Council then issued care proceedings and the children were taken into temporary foster care. At a hearing in January Mr Justice Keehan decided that it would not be in the children’s best interests to return to their mother’s care, and therefore ordered that they should live with their maternal grandparents.

Doctors may proceed with surgery on a schizophrenic woman suffering from cancer, the Court of Protection has ruled. The woman had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and her doctors believed that if she did not have a hysterectomy she would die before the year ended. The woman refused surgery and the NHS Trust therefore applied to the court for a ruling on the issue. Mr Justice MacDonald held that the woman lacked the capacity to make her own decisions, that the surgery was in her best interests, and that it should therefore proceed.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has submitted evidence to the Bach Commission on Access to Justice, as part of its continued campaigning work on legal aid following the legal aid cuts in 2013. The evidence provides an overview of the impact of the cuts to legal aid on separating families, and on vulnerable people in particular. It also provides a number of recommendations for reforms which could be made to improve access to justice for people facing separation and divorce. Short-term recommendations include raising awareness of the availability of legal aid among those who remain eligible, and long-term recommendations include extending the availability of legal aid to include all out of court dispute resolution methods, in addition to mediation.

West Dunbartonshire Council has been criticised by the Information Commissioner for repeatedly failing to give staff training on data protection. The council were told to implement training on several occasions, as well as being advised to put in place a policy around home working. However, their failure to do so ultimately contributed to a data breach that led to a child’s medical reports being stolen. In July 2014, the council reported a data breach to the Information Commissioner’s Office (‘ICO’), after an employee had a bag containing confidential information stolen. The employee had taken details of an adoption case out of the office to work on from home, but a laptop and paperwork left in their car overnight were stolen. An investigation by the ICO found that the employee had not been given training on the Data Protection Act, and that the council still had no guidance to staff on handling personal information when working from home. The council has now been issued with an enforcement notice requiring it to implement training and guidance, or face court action.

And finally, new analysis of the British Social Attitudes survey of NatCen, the independent social research organisation, suggests that the British public is reaching a tipping point in its views on marriage. For the first time since NatCen started asking whether people who want to have children ought to be married, the proportion who disagree (35%) is almost the same as those who agree (37%). Back in 1989, seven people in ten (70%) felt that people should be married if they want to have children, compared with less than two in ten (17%) who disagreed. There has also been an increase in the proportion of people who believe that there is little difference between being married and living together. In 2014 three quarters of people (74%) held this view, compared with two thirds (66%) in 2006. Meanwhile, a significant majority (62%) also believe that it is just as difficult for unmarried parents to separate as it is for married parents.