A will, BAAF and social workers: The last week in family law

A woman who had been deliberately omitted from her late mother’s will should receive a third of her mother’s £486,000 estate, the Court of Appeal has ruled. Melita Jackson never forgave her daughter Heather Ilot for eloping at the age of seventeen, and so left her estate to the RSPCA, RSPB and Blue Cross animal charities. Mrs Ilot challenged the will and was awarded £164,000 by the court. The decision is considered by some to be contrary to the idea of testamentary freedom, whereby a person can leave their estate to whoever they wish. Some lawyers have also suggested that the decision could lead to many further such cases.

A wife who was described as a “fabulously wealthy” heiress is to be repaid £3.6 million from the estate of her ex-husband, who committed suicide just twenty-two days after a consent order was made providing for her to pay him a lump sum of £17.34 million. That sum was reduced to £5 million by Mr Justice Moor in the High Court, on the basis that the rest of the sum had been awarded to meet the needs of the husband, and was therefore no longer required. The wife had made the claim after she discovered that the husband had left his estate to his brothers, rather than to the parties’ children.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has ordered that the children of families who were suspected of attempting to travel overseas to join Isis fighters should be returned to them. The children had been removed under interim care orders. It is a condition of the President’s order that the parents wear electronic tags, which they had volunteered to do. The President said: “I accept that there is some degree of risk of successful flight … but … my considered assessment is that the degree of that risk is very small, indeed, so small that it is counter-balanced by the children’s welfare needs to be returned to parental care.”

The British Association for Adoption and Fostering (‘BAAF’) has announced that it has closed. Caroline Selkirk, the CEO of the charity, which has been supporting, advising and campaigning for better outcomes for children in care for over 30 years, said that it had not been possible to sustain the organisation “in the face of significant changes and prevailing economic conditions”. Some of the BAAF’s functions have transferred to children’s charity and adoption and fostering agency Coram, and to a new entity, CoramBAAF Adoption & Fostering Academy.

Social workers have been heavily criticised by a High Court judge for the way they treated a father fighting to prevent his child’s adoption. Ms Justice Russell accused the social workers at Brighton and Hove Council of making claims they “weren’t qualified to make”, and said that the authority adopted a “seemingly belligerent behaviour and an oppositional stance” towards the father and, by extension, his children. The child was returned to the care of the father.

And finally, in more judicial criticism for social workers a family court judge has complained that a social worker’s report was written so poorly it might as well have been “in a foreign language”. Raising the concerns during a family court hearing in Nottingham which was deciding the fate of two children who were facing adoption, Judge Jeremy Lea said the lack of plain English was not a matter of “linguistic pedantry” but a serious failing of those involved in crucial decisions. A friend of the family had put herself forward to care for the girls, but the judge said the social worker’s report on the woman was written in such a way that he doubted the woman would have understood it. He ruled that the woman should be able to care for the children, rejecting the concerns of the social worker.