A murder, child cruelty and Brexit: The last week in family law

Former High Court judge Mrs Justice Hogg has been heavily criticised in the media and elsewhere, following the conviction of Ben Butler for murdering his daughter Ellie. Ellie had been removed from her father’s care after her father had been arrested for assaulting her, an offence for which he was later convicted. In 2007 the family court found that her father had caused her a serious injury, and placed her with her grandparents. However, her father’s conviction was subsequently quashed and in 2012 Mrs Justice Hogg overturned the previous findings. Ellie was therefore returned to her father, just eleven months before she was murdered. Marion Davis, a former president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, has described the decision to send Ellie back to her parents as “extraordinary”, and said that serious questions had to be asked about Mrs Justice Hogg’s decision.

The Supreme Court has ruled that it does not have jurisdiction to hear a second appeal in a case concerning the recognition of a Romanian custody order. The case was Re D (A Child). In it, the child had been born in Romania in 2006, but his parents later moved to this country. They separated in 2007, after which the father returned to Romania and the child stayed in this country with his mother. A Romanian court subsequently made a custody order in favour of the father. The father applied to have the order recognised and enforced over here, but this was refused. The father appealed to the Court of Appeal, but his appeal was dismissed. He therefore sought to appeal again, to the Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court has held that, under the regulations governing the recognition of orders made by EU courts, it did not have jurisdiction to hear the appeal. Accordingly, the appeal was struck out.

Child cruelty and neglect cases recorded by police have risen by 75% in the last decade, according to the NSPCC’s annual overview of child abuse and protection data. There were 8,506 child cruelty and neglect offences recorded by police in England in 2014-15, compared with 4,855 in 2005-06. The NSPCC says that it is unclear why the figures have risen so dramatically, but greater public awareness and improvements in how police record offences could be factors. Commenting on the figures Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “This rise in reported neglect is concerning and I will be investigating the reasons behind it in the coming months. Children who have been abused or neglected are often deeply traumatised and this can have a lasting and damaging effect into adulthood if they don’t get the right kind of mental health support needed to start rebuilding their lives.”

The High Court has allowed a hospital to withhold resuscitation treatment for a dying patient with advanced dementia. The court heard from the patient’s daughter who said that her father wanted to be treated and that the ‘do not resuscitate’ decision by Great Western Hospital had caused “immeasurable distress”.  However, Mr Justice Keehan ruled that cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (‘CPR’) would be “positively harmful”, if successful, and not in the best interests of the patient. He added that the patient “has a right to die peacefully with dignity and should be permitted to do so”. Accordingly, he granted a declaration to the Great Western Hospital NHS Trust that it would be lawful and in the patient’s best interests to withhold CPR if he suffers respiratory or cardiac arrest, or some other life-threatening deterioration.

And finally, family lawyers are considering the implications for family law of the EU referendum result. Nigel Shepherd, the Chair of Resolution, the association of family lawyers, said: “We won’t know yet what withdrawal from the EU will mean for measures like Brussels IIa, which provides for uniform jurisdictional rules for divorce proceedings; or maintenance arrangements, which are currently regulated throughout the European Union. It’s unlikely that the implications for family law will be a priority for the government, and it’s a distinct possibility that any currently planned or envisaged reforms to family law will be put on hold.”