Domestic violence, an inheritance claim and special guardianship: The last week in family law

A domestic violence victim whose former partner was released
from prison after serving just six months for assaulting her has had to go into
hiding. Abigail Blake sustained a broken back and neck and was left permanently
disabled after being attacked by Sebastian Swamy at their home in July 2017.
The judge in the case said the attack had had a “hugely serious and catastrophic”
effect on Blake’s life. Swamy was initially charged with causing grievous
bodily harm with intent, but he admitted a lesser charge of grievous bodily
harm, saying that he had been drinking heavily on the night of the attack. Ms
Blake was advised to accept the plea bargain, believing that Swamy would spend
a minimum of 20 months of a three-year sentence in prison. However the time
Swamy spent on bail wearing an electronic tag was taken into account for his
custodial sentence, hence he was released after just six months. Fearing for
the safety of herself and her two children, Ms Blake has felt it necessary to
go into hiding. She said: ““The whole thing is just so wrong. It’s neither a
punishment for him for what he has done. It’s not enough time for us to heal.
The whole thing has been like mental torture from start to finish. Six months
is not enough time for him to have been rehabilitated or for us to recover from
what he has done”.

The Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal by a widow whose
claim against the estate of her late husband was disallowed by the court for
being out of time. Such claims should normally be made within six months of the
grant of probate. However, in this case the widow did not make her claim until
nearly 17 months after the six month period had elapsed. Mr Justice Mostyn refused
her permission to proceed with the claim out of time, finding that the claim
had no real prospect of success, and that she had not demonstrated any good
reasons for what he described as the “very substantial delay”. The widow
appealed to the Court of Appeal, which found that the claim did have a real prospect
of success, having regard to the length of the relationship and the size and
nature of the estate, and that there were good reasons for the delay, as the
widow had been trying to settle the matter without going to court. The Court of
Appeal therefore allowed the appeal, and granted her permission to proceed with
her claim against the estate.

And finally, a new research review has called for
significant changes to Special Guardianship Orders (‘SGOs’), including ensuring
family members who might become carers have direct experience of looking after
the child before the court order is made. The review shows that SGOs provide
children with a safe, permanent home with family members when the court decides
they cannot live with their birth parents. However, local authorities and the
courts face major challenges in providing special guardians with adequate
preparation and support for the long-term consequences of this life-changing
responsibility, leading to avoidable and significant stress that is potentially
damaging to children’s futures. The review was commissioned by the Nuffield
Family Justice Observatory in response to a call by the Court of Appeal for
authoritative, evidence-based guidance for the use of SGOs. Special guardians –
usually family members – have parental responsibility for the child in their
care, but unlike adoption, the basic legal link between the child and their
birth parents is preserved. The use of SGOs has rapidly increased – between
2010/11 and 2016/17, more than 21,000 children had an SGO made at the end of
their care proceedings. Lisa Harker, Director of the Nuffield Family Justice
Observatory said: “Relatives are often the first to be considered when finding
a loving, stable home for children who are unable to live with their birth
parents but too often they are asked to care for children with significant
emotional and behavioural difficulties, without sufficient support in place to
help them to do so. This evidence review points to some serious gaps in
assessment, preparation and support which need to be addressed.”