Speeches and Supreme Court rulings: The last week in family law

The head of the judiciary in England and Wales has criticised the thinking behind attempts to make courts financially self-sufficient. Giving the Michael Ryle Memorial Lecture in the Palace of Westminster the Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas insisted that courts are not ‘a provider of consumer services’. He said that one illustration of the lack of understanding of the centrality of justice to the functioning of our society is “the characterisation of the courts as being service providers akin to a utility like water supply, of litigants exercising their constitutional right of access to the courts to vindicate their rights, to being consumers who, like any other consumer, must pay for the service they receive.” He continued: “What has been needed, and still is needed, is an understanding by all that the judicial branch is just that: a branch of State, and, crucially, the branch that with Parliament secures the rule of law. As such it cannot be confused with, or referred to as, a provider of consumer services. Equally, there cannot but be a proper recognition that it should be funded properly by the State, just as Parliament is properly funded, so that the State can discharge its constitutional function effectively, efficiently and equally.”

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Home Office’s policy of ‘deport first, appeal later’ is unlawful. When a deportation order has been made the Home Secretary has power to certify the claim of someone appealing against the decision on human rights grounds. The effect is that that person can appeal only from outside of the UK, unless to do so would breach that person’s human rights. The Supreme Court held that the Government had failed to establish that deportation in advance of appeal strikes a fair balance between the rights of the individuals and the interests of the community and was therefore unlawful. The charity Coram Children’s Legal Centre has welcomed the judgment. It said that there are an estimated 120,000 irregular migrant children living in the UK, over half of whom were born here. It has urged the Government to review its policy of deportation prior to appeal and insure that all individuals have an opportunity for a fair hearing in immigration proceedings.

A judge is to rule whether a woman in her 70s who is in a minimally conscious state having suffered brain damage after falling and hitting her head should be allowed to die. The woman’s daughter says that doctors should stop artificial feeding, but the doctors say that life-support treatment should continue. Mr Justice Hayden, sitting in the Court of Protection, has been asked by the NHS Trust to decide what is in the woman’s best interests. Doctors treating her have told the judge that she is in a “minimally conscious state” and “not at the severe end of the spectrum”. One medic thought that she had recently indicated what radio station she wanted to listen to – although her daughter suspected that the medic was mistaken. Mr Justice Hayden told lawyers that the case strayed into “extremely controversial territory”.

The Supreme Court has directed that doctors should continue providing life-support treatment to terminally-ill baby Charlie Gard. The treatment should continue for another three weeks, in order to give judges at the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECHR’) time to analyse the case, following the parents’ application to the ECHR. The Supreme Court has urged the ECHR to do everything in their power to address the application within the three week time period, saying that it “would feel the gravest difficulty if asked to act yet further against Charlie’s best interests by directing an even longer extension of the stay of the earlier order that treatment could be withdrawn.”

And finally, the new Lord Chancellor David Lidington has been sworn in. In a speech at the ceremony he said that he would “be resolute and unflinching as Lord Chancellor in upholding the rule of law and defending the independence of the judiciary.” He also said that he wanted “to work together to make sure the administration of justice is swifter and puts the citizen at the centre of what we do by harnessing all the new opportunities which the technologies of our digital age have to offer.”