FGM, domestic violence and adoption: The last week in family law

Victims of stalking and harassment are frequently failed by the police and Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’), thanks to poor reporting, regional inconsistencies and a general failure to grasp the true nature of the issue. These are the findings of a joint report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate on the police and CPS response to harassment. The joint inspection looked at 112 recent cases of stalking and harassment in depth, but not a single one was dealt with properly, the report said. The report has made various recommendations to rectify the failings. Wendy Williams, who led the inspection for Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, said: “Police forces must act quickly to protect victims, including survivors of domestic abuse leaving coercive or controlling relationships. It is not acceptable that victims and their families are left to live in fear. While we found some evidence that the police and CPS understand the risks of the repeat behaviours… we found worrying failings at every stage, including reporting, investigation and prosecution. Changes need to be made immediately.”

NHS Digital has published statistics for Female Genital Mutilation (‘FGM’), for the year from April 2016 to March 2017. The statistics support the Department of Health’s FGM Prevention Programme, by presenting a national picture of the prevalence of FGM in England. Key facts from the statistics included that there were 5,391 newly recorded cases of FGM reported in England during the year; that there were 9,179 attendances reported at NHS trusts and GP practices where FGM was identified or a procedure for FGM was undertaken; and that women and girls born in Somalia account for more than one third of newly recorded cases of FGM with a known country of birth. FGM has been illegal in the United Kingdom since 1985 and the law was strengthened in 2003 to prevent girls travelling from the UK and undergoing FGM abroad.

The Home Secretary Amber Rudd has announced that more than 40 projects across England and Wales will share around £17m from the Violence Against Girls and Women Service Transformation Fund, to help prevent violence against women and girls. The projects will carry out a range of activities including providing support to victims, working with perpetrators of abuse to change their behaviour and helping to support children affected by what they have witnessed. Announcing the funding in a speech to the Women’s Aid conference, Amber Rudd said: “Tackling violence against women and girls is everyone’s business. It needs a joined-up, collaborative response locally, providing support to victims through health, education and social care, as well as the police. These projects will help ensure that victims and survivors get the right support at the right time, as well as intervening early to prevent these crimes from happening in the first place.”

The Charlie Gard case has returned to court, after Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children requested a fresh hearing, in light of claims of new evidence relating to potential treatment for Charlie’s condition. Two international hospitals and their researchers communicated to the hospital that they had fresh evidence about their proposed experimental treatment. The hospital, in common with Charlie’s parents, believes that it is right for the High Court to explore and assess this evidence. The case is being dealt with by Mr Justice Francis this week.

And finally, a family charity has warned that babies whose mothers have voluntarily agreed to them being temporarily looked after by the state are at risk of ‘adoption by stealth’. According to a freedom of information request by the Family Rights Group, 127 babies under six months old have been placed with foster carers who are already approved as suitable adopters since fostering for adoption legislation came into force three years ago. It is not clear how many have been permanently adopted. Previously, the assumption was that parents who voluntarily gave up their children to foster care could immediately reclaim them if they chose to do so. However, the addition of the fostering for adoption legislation means that in some cases parents who may not fully understand the consequences of their decisions could find the fostering arrangement turned into permanent adoption against their will.