Surrogacy, domestic abuse and the Sally Challen case: The last week in family law

The Law Commission of England and Wales and the Scottish Law
Commission are proposing to reform the surrogacy laws to allow intended parents
to become legal parents when the child is born, subject to the surrogate
retaining a right to object for a short period after the birth. This new
“pathway” would replace the current system where the intended parents must make
an application to the court after the child has been born, and do not become
legal parents until the court grants them a parental order. The proposal comes
in a consultation paper on the reform of surrogacy laws. Other proposals
include the creation of a surrogacy regulator to regulate surrogacy
organisations which will oversee surrogacy agreements within the new pathway; in
the new pathway, the removal of the requirement of a genetic link between the
intended parents and the child, where medically necessary; and the creation of
a national register to allow those born of surrogacy arrangements to access
information about their origins. Sir Nicholas Green, Chair of the Law
Commission said: “More and more people are turning to surrogacy to have a child
and start their family. We therefore need to make sure that the process is
meeting the needs of all those involved. However, the laws around surrogacy are
outdated and no longer fit for purpose. We think our proposals will create a
system that works for the surrogates, the parents and, most importantly, the
child.” The consultation closes on the 27th of September.

Research by Birmingham University published in the British
Journal of Psychiatry has found that women who experience domestic abuse are
three times more likely to develop a serious mental illness. The study was based
on 18,547 women who had told their GP of domestic abuse they had experienced.
They were compared with a group of more than 74,000 women of a similar age who
had no experience of domestic abuse. The study, from 1995-2017, showed that
nearly half of women who had gone to their family doctor with domestic abuse
had a mental illness already diagnosed. Among the rest, the researchers found
that domestic abuse survivors were twice as likely to develop anxiety and three
times as likely to develop depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Dr
Joht Singh Chandan, lead author and academic clinical fellow in public health
at the University of Birmingham, said the burden of mental illness caused by
domestic abuse in the UK could be much higher than previously thought. He
commented: “Considering how common domestic abuse is, it is important to
understand how strongly the two are connected and consider whether there are
possible opportunities to improve the lives of women affected by domestic
abuse.”

And finally, Sally Challen, who killed her husband with a
hammer in 2010, will not face a retrial, after prosecutors accepted her
manslaughter plea. In 2011 Mrs Challen was found guilty of murdering her
husband, and jailed for life. However, she recently appealed against her
conviction, on the basis of fresh evidence, namely a diagnosis by a consultant
forensic psychiatrist that she was suffering from two previously undiagnosed
disorders at the time of the killing, and fresh evidence as to alleged coercive
control by her husband. The appeal was allowed by the Court of Appeal in
February this year, and the conviction was quashed. The Court of Appeal ordered
that she should face a retrial for murder. However, prosecutors accepted a
manslaughter plea on the grounds of diminished responsibility, and she was sentenced
to nine years and four months for manslaughter, but walked free due to time
served. Mr Justice Edis said the killing came after “years of controlling, isolating
and humiliating conduct” by her husband. The outcome has been welcomed by many,
who believe that it shows that the law recognises the effects of psychological
abuse upon victims.