Weekly Family Law Update March 28, 2021

Legal aid, asylum and domestic abuse

Parents without legal aid lose fight to keep child on life support

The High Court has granted an application by a hospital trust for a declaration that it is in best interests of 9 month old brain-damaged child to have life-sustaining treatment withdrawn.

The child was born last June without any heart rate, and other adverse indications. He required resuscitation including intubation and ventilation, external cardiac massage, medications and blood transfusion.

As a result of his severe lack of oxygen and blood supply to vital organs around delivery, he sustained a severe brain injury. He has remained in intensive care on a ventilator since he was born.

The hospital trust applied to the court for a declaration that it was in the child’s best interests to have life-sustaining treatment withdrawn, and for him to be allowed to die. His parents opposed the application.

Granting the application Mrs Justice Judd pointed out that until the day of the hearing, the parents had no legal representation. She said:

“Parents whose children are the subject of an application by the local authority to take them into care receive full non means and non-merits tested public funding but parents who face an application for the withdrawal of treatment from their child do not, despite the enormous significance of the decision to be made. Not only are these cases medically complex, but emotionally they are as hard as is possible to imagine for the parents. In this case, the father works and his wages mean that the family are over the limit for assistance with representation. Unsurprisingly, they could not afford to pay for a lawyer themselves.”

On hearing of their plight a barrister stepped in to help and represent them for free.

Abducted child cannot be returned pending mother’s asylum application

The Supreme Court has ruled that a child who was wrongfully removed from her home in South Africa by her mother cannot be returned to South Africa, before the final determination of the mother’s asylum claim.

The mother brought the child to this country in March 2020. The father applied for an order that the child be returned to South Africa. The mother opposed the application on the ground, in particular, that there is a grave risk that return would expose the child to physical or psychological harm, or otherwise place her in an intolerable situation.

The mother identifies as lesbian. She alleges that after separating from the father and coming out, her family subjected her to death threats and violence. On her arrival in England she applied for asylum, on the basis of her fear of persecution by her family. She listed the child as a dependant on her asylum application. The application remains outstanding.

The English court initially stayed the father’s return application pending the determination of the asylum claim. The father appealed, and the Court of Appeal held that there was no bar to ordering the child’s return to South Africa.

The mother appealed against that decision, to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court allowed her appeal.

Massive increase in abuse victims seeking help during pandemic

The domestic abuse charity Refuge has reported a massive increase in appeals for help over the past year from those suffering domestic abuse.

Refuge says that between April 2020 and February 2021 it recorded an average of 13,162 calls and messages to its National Domestic Abuse helpline every month, up 61% on the average number of monthly contacts at the start of 2020.

Lisa King, Refuge director of communications and external relations, said: “For women and children experiencing domestic abuse, home is not a safe place. Lockdown measures, where women have been isolated and confined with their perpetrators more than ever, have compounded their exposure to violence and abuse.”