Cafcass, contact and forced marriage: The last week in family law

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for May 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 857 care applications, representing a 13% decrease compared to those received in May 2013. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,239 new private law cases, which is a 55% decrease on April 2013 levels.

The Ministry of Justice has published an analytical summary presenting findings from the 2012/13 Crime Survey for England and Wales examining public attitudes towards and experiences of the family justice system, including mediation. The survey showed that although the public’s direct experience of the family justice system was limited, those who had been involved reported positively on their experiences. Around half of adults were aware of the family justice system and mediation as an alternative to court. Overall, the majority of adults were confident in the system.

A children dispute which has taken almost 13 years has been described by a judge to be the “longest dispute of its kind” he had encountered during his years as a judge and barrister. The case concerned a 14-year-old girl who refused direct contact with her father. Eight judges, numerous social workers and psychiatrists have been involved in more than 80 court appearances that have “irredeemably marred” the teenager’s childhood, judges have said. Last September the Court of Appeal ordered another hearing into the case and said the teenager had been “failed” by the family justice system. In the latest hearing Mr Justice Moylan, who made the comment about the length of the case, refused to order the girl to have direct contact with her father after she said she did not want it.

One of Britain’s leading parenting experts has angered fathers’ rights groups by claiming that young children of separated couples should not be allowed to stay the night with their fathers. Psychologist Penelope Leach, whose parenting books have sold millions, claims that, as a general rule, children aged four and under should not be separated from their mother by having a “sleepover” with the father, when couples have separated. She says that attempts by separated parents to “share” young children is putting “adult rights” above those of children, and that there is “undisputed” evidence that separating children from their mothers “reduces brain development” and creates a tendency toward “unhealthy attachment issues”. A spokesman for New Father’s 4 Justice group said: “Leach’s advice sounds like absolute poison and potentially terribly damaging to children’s development. Overnight stays with fathers from as early an age as possible is crucial if children are to form strong attachments with both of their parents.”

An eight year old child involved in care proceedings has suggested fitting her house with CCTV so that social workers could monitor her parents’ abusive behaviour. When she was asked ‘What did she think the Judge should decide?’ she replied: “That’s a difficult question. The judge should decide that we can’t go home yet until Mummy and Daddy change…the Social Workers should watch Mummy and Daddy. They need to put cameras in every room; not upstairs, downstairs because they hit us downstairs…” Details of the suggestion emerged in a judgment of Judge Swindells QC, in the Family Court. Judge Swindells made a care order with a plan of long term fostering for the girl and her younger siblings.

And finally, a new law against forced marriage has come into effect. From the 16th of June forcing someone into marriage is a criminal offence, carrying a maximum seven-year jail sentence. Home Secretary Theresa May said: “Forced marriage is a tragedy for each and every victim, and its very nature means that many cases go unreported. I am proud to say that the UK is already a world-leader in the fight to stamp out this harmful practice… Today’s criminalisation is a further move by this Government to ensure victims are protected by the law and that they have the confidence, safety and the freedom to choose.”