Children’s Guardians, two Bills, and a seriously ill child: The last week in family law

Nagalro, the Professional Association for Children’s
Guardians, Family Court Advisers and Independent Social Workers, has raised
concern about the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’)
undermining the role of Children’s Guardians. Nagalro is concerned that Cafcass
public statements have disseminated inaccurate information on its website,
which appear to dilute the role of the Children’s Guardian and minimise their
legal obligations. A number of recent judgments have reinforced their view that
children’s interests are being compromised. In June 2019 Nagalro became aware
of what it considers inaccurate details on the Cafcass website, and Nagalro
wrote to Julie Brown, interim Chief Executive of Cafcass, explaining its
concerns, particularly that the information does not accurately reflect the
legal powers and duties of the guardian and that it may impede guardians in
carrying out a thorough investigation on behalf of the children whose rights
and interests they represent. Nagalro says that they are disappointed that they
have received a reply from Cafcass declining to change their website content. Nagalro
urges Cafcass to review their policies in the light of the evidence of the
service failings revealed by recent court judgments and to provide accurate
information to the public and practitioners. They say that: “the powers and
duties of the Children’s Guardian are clearly set out in the Children Act 1989
and the associated Family Proceedings Court rules and are designed to ensure
that Children’s Guardians are able to exercise the full extent of the legal
powers available to them in order to safeguard each child’s welfare.”

Fears that the Domestic Abuse Bill, which includes new
proposals to protect domestic abuse survivors, has been lost as a result of the
prorogation of parliament were allayed, after a Cabinet minister said that the
Bill is expected to be “revived very quickly” in the new parliamentary session.
House of Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg insisted that Boris Johnson is “fully
behind” the Bill, and indicated it will be among the measures included in the
Queen’s Speech. However, it has since been confirmed that the Bill was not subject
to a last-minute carry-over motion, which means it will have to be started from
scratch if it is brought back in the next parliament. Amongst the provisions
contained in the Bill are placing a new legal duty on councils to provide
secure homes for those fleeing violence and their children, introducing the
first legal Government definition of domestic abuse, which would include
economic abuse and controlling and manipulative non-physical behaviour, and
preventing cross-examination of domestic abuse victims by alleged perpetrators.

Meanwhile, the previous Lord Chancellor David Gauke has
confirmed in a tweet that the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which
aimed to bring in a system of no-fault divorce, has also been dropped.

The parents of a seriously ill child have begun a High Court
case to take her to Italy for treatment. Doctors at the Royal London Hospital
in Whitechapel say there is no hope five-year-old Tafida Raqeeb will recover
from a brain injury, and that it is in her best interests to be allowed to die.
However, clinicians at a hospital in Genoa have offered her treatment. A
week-long hearing is being held in front of Mr Justice MacDonald in the High
Court, to establish if Tafida can go to Italy. Prior to the proceedings, Barts
NHS trust, which runs the Royal London Hospital, made an application for one of
Tafida’s female relatives to be removed as her “litigation friend”, a child’s
representative in court, after Tafida’s mother obtained a fatwa – a ruling in
Islamic law – from the Islamic Council of Europe, which concluded that it would
be a “great sin” and “absolutely impermissible” for the parents or anyone else
to consent to the removal of life support. The trust submitted that
particularly in light of the fatwa, no member of the family was suitable to act
as litigation friend, as it was not possible for the family to be open-minded
about the fact that a best decision made by the High Court is, or may be, in
Tafida’s best interests. However, Mr Justice MacDonald rejected the trust’s
application.

And finally, the Queen has appointed 159 Recorders on the
advice of the Lord Chancellor, The Right Honourable Robert Buckland QC MP, and
the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, The Right Honourable The Lord
Burnett of Maldon. The appointments will take effect from the 16th
of September 2019. 104 of the new Recorders have been assigned to the family
jurisdiction.