Transparency, fostering and MIAMs: The last week in family law

A project to monitor the publication of judgments and media coverage of family courts has been launched by The Transparency Project, a charity aimed at making family law clearer. The Family Court Reporting Watch project, which has been made possible by funding from the Legal Education Foundation, will highlight and try and secure corrections of inaccurate or misleading reporting, and explain difficult or controversial cases for non-lawyers, through clear explanatory blog posts. The project will also make official judgments and reliable commentary/explanations of cases available in one location, by collecting and linking to them. The Transparency Project was set up in 2014 to combat the problem of poor legal understanding in the field of family law, and to improve the quality of material that is available for the public to learn from.

A judge has reprimanded a lawyer appearing for the applicant father in a child abduction case, for serving documents on the unrepresented mother at the door of the court. Mr Justice Peter Jackson criticised the “intrinsic unfairness” experienced by litigants in person during family law cases and said that there should be a change in the way court documents are given to people who do not have legal representation especially if, as in the case, they do not speak English.Court hearings are already difficult for litigants in person, but many, being inexperienced, are hesitant to complain about matters such as late service, he said, adding: “late service of documents further weakens the position of litigants in person by removing any opportunity they may have to seek advice and explanation ahead of the hearing from those who may be more familiar with the system and the language.

The House of Commons Education Select Committee has launched an inquiry into fostering in England. The inquiry will look at a range of fostering issues including the recruitment and retention of foster carers and concerns over reductions in the number of available foster care places. It will also examine the support for and treatment of foster carers, the involvement of young people in their foster care, and the increased role of independent fostering agencies. Neil Carmichael, chair of the Education Select Committee, said: “There are more children in care than at any point since 1985 and there are very real concerns of a shortfall in the number of families available to foster and about the support offered to foster carers. The foster care system is in

need of urgent attention and in this inquiry we want to examine issues around the recruitment and retention of foster carers, over the role of private sector providers, and the involvement which young people have in their care.”

The Department for Work and Pensions has published information about visitors and their use of the Sorting out Separation website, from its launch in December 2012 to December 2015. The website is for parents dealing with divorce or separation, helping them prioritise their needs and signposts them to relevant expert help. The statistics show that nearly 266,000 unique users visited the website, and that of them nearly 61,000 engaged with the website, by going beyond the home page to access support services.

And finally, figures revealed by the Ministry of Justice following a Freedom of Information request by the charity National Family Mediation show that only one in five separating couples abide by a new law which makes the consideration of mediation compulsory. Since April 2014 attendance at a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting (MIAM) has been compulsory, before a separating couple could apply for a court order in divorce proceedings. However, data from the request shows that according to latest figures over two years on, only a fifth of separating couples making court applications undertake a MIAM. Jane Robey, CEO of National Family Mediation, said: “The government’s aim was to introduce a less confrontational alternative to court, but the huge majority are ignoring the law. It’s a shocking government failure. Things are slowly improving but at this rate it will be 2022 before this 2014 policy is actually in place and being properly complied with.