Coercive control, Drug and Alcohol Courts and supporting separated families: The last week in family law

A judge has directed a solicitor to visit her client in Saudi Arabia, to ascertain her instructions. The client, a 21 year old woman who had previously lived in Wales, had claimed that for the last four years her father had been preventing her from leaving Saudi Arabia. At a previous hearing the High Court had made an order requiring her father to permit her to leave by the 11th of September, but she remains in Saudi Arabia, and has sent an email to her solicitor apparently indicating that she wishes to stay in Saudi Arabia in order to continue to rebuild her relationship with her father. However, there have been other communications from her, which have led her solicitor to assess her instructions as “equivocal”. The judge has therefore directed that the solicitor should meet the woman in Saudi Arabia in order to obtain clear instructions, and ensure that the woman is able to make an informed decision free from pressure or influence.

The College of Policing is running a new police pilot to support officers to spot the signs of someone who is being controlled by their partner. In a first of its kind for UK policing, officers from three forces will take part in the pilot, which will focus their attention on dangerous patterns of abusive behaviour. The pilot comes on the back of research which found officers may not recognise high risk patterns of coercive and controlling abuse because they concentrate on the facts of the incident they are attending, rather than the pattern. When officers involved in the pilot attend incidents of domestic abuse they will be looking out for certain behaviours and dangerous patterns of abuse with a view to taking action. College of Policing lead for crime and criminal justice, David Tucker, said: “We know in some cases of coercive control that violence is threatened in combination with surveillance and other tactics of intimidation which allow perpetrators to exert almost complete control over a victim’s life without recourse to physical violence. This pilot will assist frontline officers in identifying patterns of abusive behaviour and in particular it will help improve officers’ understanding of the risks around coercive control.”

New research has been published regarding the effectiveness of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, which deal with child care cases in which drug or alcohol misuse is an issue. The research found that mothers reunited with their children after proceedings in the courts are more likely to stay off drugs and alcohol for longer, and their family life less likely to be disrupted when compared with cases heard in ordinary care proceedings. The researchers say that the London Family Drug and Alcohol Court, which was the first in the country, has reduced the number of children taken into care because of parental substance misuse compared with those in ordinary care proceedings. Justice Minister Phillip Lee MP commented: “I am delighted to see the positive effects these innovative courts can have on keeping families together. This study shows family drug and alcohol courts successfully tackle substance misuse, and produce better outcomes in care proceedings.”

A former BBC actress has been cleared of abducting her child after an international custody battle with her former boyfriend. The actress, who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been accused by the father, a documentary-maker, of leaving Australia with the child after agreeing to live in Sydney with him. The father had made an application under the Hague Convention on International Child Abduction for the child to be returned to Australia. However, Deputy High Court Judge Alexander Verdan QC found that the child was not habitually resident in Australia. Accordingly, the mother’s removal was not an abduction, and the father’s application was therefore dismissed.

And finally, the Department for Work and Pensions has published a report evaluating seventeen projects funded under its Help and Support for Separated Families programme, which aims to help parents avoid conflict when separating and collaborate in the best interests of their children. The projects provide at least one of the following: talk-based services involving mediation or a therapeutic intervention; information-based services providing legal advice, information and signposting; and help with contact arrangements for non-resident parents. The report says that of the 13 projects that measured parental collaboration at the start and end of the intervention, nine showed statistically significant improvements, although when measured seven months after the start of the intervention, collaboration levels had fallen back somewhat. The research also found that parents with shared care arrangements were significantly less happy with their contact arrangement than either parents with care or non-resident parents, and that while parents engaging with projects tended to see an improvement in contact arrangements, the projects had less impact on child maintenance arrangements.