Special guardianship and adoption: The last week in family law

Men visiting their GP with symptoms of anxiety or depression are more likely to have experienced or carried out some form of behaviour linked to domestic violence and abuse, according to a new study by the University of Bristol. The study was led by Professor Marianne Hester, who said: “Research on domestic violence and abuse has largely focused on women and there is a lack of research on men, both as victims and perpetrators.  The findings from this study are important as they suggest that when men present to GPs with anxiety or depression, they should be asked about domestic violence and abuse as there is a higher likelihood that they will be victims or perpetrators.”

The number of babies made subject to special guardianship orders (‘SGOs’) in England has tripled in two years, from 160 in 2012 to 520 in 2014, according to data obtained by the BBC. During the same period the number of children placed for adoption has been falling. The Department for Education said: “Councils have told us the way they use SGOs has evolved over the 10 years since their introduction, including a rise in orders for younger children in more recent years. That is why we are taking the opportunity to ensure SGOs are only used in the right circumstances, as well as reviewing the existing good practice and support available for special guardians.”

The Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal by the Lord Chancellor against an order that Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) pay the cost of an advocate cross-examining a child on behalf of a father, where the father was unrepresented and the child had made an allegation that she had been sexually abused by the father. The Court of Appeal held that the judge had no power to order HMCTS to provide the funding, and therefore allowed the appeal.

A former nightclub bouncer turned McKenzie friend has been banned indefinitely from representing anyone in court. Nigel Baggaley swore at ushers and phoned clerks to say he was ‘coming for’ an opposing barrister. He was also found to have ‘faced up’ to a barrister in a court corridor, with the lawyer fearing he was about to be physically attacked or head-butted. Baggaley, who admitted having no relevant training or professional qualifications, was made subject to an interim order in 2014 preventing him from acting for anyone else in court. Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, last week extended that order indefinitely.

Children awaiting adoption could soon benefit from being placed with a family far quicker under a new approach that will open up a greater number of potential adopters for every child. This week’s Queen’s Speech will include specific new powers that will require councils combine their adoption functions if they fail to join together services under their own steam within the next two years. At the moment, says the Department for Education, adoption is happening at too small and localised a scale. With councils working together, the choice of potential matches for a child would increase significantly, giving children a far better chance of quickly finding a permanent family. Councils will be encouraged to identify their own regional approach that would see authorities uniting their adoption services under one system or outsourcing the delivery of their adoption functions into a single regional agency. The new powers, contained in the Schools and Adoption Bill, would only be used if councils failed to take action quickly enough.

And finally, the Government has indicated that it will be closing a loophole that could prevent some former spouses from benefitting under a pension attachment order (formerly known as an ‘earmarking order’). Since April it has been possible for pension holders to withdraw all of their pension as a lump sum, which would make pension attachment orders worthless. However, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions has said that rules may be changed to ensure that pension attachment orders are honoured.