Prince Family Law - Weekly Family Law Update

Alternative medication, domestic violence and a child’s name: The last week in family law

The Legal Services Consumer Panel has said that family lawyers should be forced to offer fixed fees for their work. In its response to the interim report that the Competition and Markets Authority published into the legal services market last month, the Panel says that “consumers need price transparency” and that fixed fees are “the optimum solution especially in areas like family law, where consumers are often at their most vulnerable”. In May 2016 the panel published a report identifying three areas of law for the oversight regulator to prioritise in order to enable the market to best meet the demand for legal services. Family law was identified as one such area.

A baby whose father advocates the use of “harmful alternative medication” should be taken into council care, a family court judge has decided. Social services staff told Judge Helen Black that the man had sold Master Mineral Solution, a sodium chlorite solution equivalent to industrial-strength bleach, as a treatment for cancer and autism. Social workers said there were concerns that the baby, now aged about eight months, might ingest “harmful alternative medication” either directly or via his mother’s breast milk. He had been temporarily taken from his parents when he was a few days old, after social workers and police became concerned about his safety. The baby’s parents had not attended family court hearings for a number of months, and had gone to Portugal. Judge Black said that the couple had abandoned their son and that there was no other option but to place him into care.

A Local Government Ombudsman report has concluded that there was a lack of effective partnership working between two west London authorities when supporting a woman at risk of domestic violence. The woman is a Brent council tenant who had been suffering abuse at the hands of a former partner. It was not safe for her to remain in her home, as her ex-partner continued to make serious threats towards her. She asked Brent council to help her move away from the area. However, instead of immediately referring the woman to another authority, Brent council inappropriately spent several months looking into a managed move within the borough. After some time Brent council passed her details on to nearby Ealing council, but then that authority took 11 weeks to determine her application, instead of the agreed five working days. This delayed the woman’s housing application being accepted by another council because her case could not be passed on while Ealing was still considering her application. When Ealing eventually looked at her situation it decided not to accept her application. The woman will receive an apology and compensation from both councils.

A High Court judge has ruled that medics can stop giving life-support treatment to a seriously ill baby unable to smile, despite the local authority wanting the treatment to continue. The ruling means the six-month-old girl will move to a palliative care regime, allowing her to die. Doctors believe her inability to smile indicates a lack of cognitive function. She is in the care of Nottingham City Council, which opposed the medics’ request to move her to palliative care. The girl’s mother wanted her daughter to “pass away peacefully”, while her father wanted a judge to decide. Mr Justice Keehan ruled in favour of Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust, which has been treating the girl and wanted her life-support to be withdrawn, saying: “I am completely satisfied that the only course to be taken in [her] best interests is to withdraw her current life-sustaining treatment and to move her to a palliative regime and allow her to die peacefully in the arms of her loving parents”.

And finally, a court has heard that a separated couple called their three year-old daughter by different names. The fact emerged when the mother applied for the return of the child, who had been living with her father in London, to New York. Mr Justice Hayden found that the girl was habitually resident in the UK and therefore refused the application. He said that a “striking fact of this case is that both parent’s call their child by a different name”. When asked by the mother’s counsel whether he thought this was a bad thing for his daughter, the father responded that he had come to realise, during the course of the proceedings, that other people might think so, and he volunteered in future to call his daughter by the mother’s chosen name.