Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Family Courts; Barnet

If judges and court staff were ready for what has been hailed as a revolution in the family courts, lawyers at Barnets Civil and Family Court Centre were slightly taken by surprise by the arrival of the media.
Two cases had to be adjourned while lawyers discussed whether to oppose the admittance of The Times, but both, in the end, agreed realising that stringent reporting restrictions remain in place.
After decades of holding such hearings behind closed doors, no one quite knew what to do. One counsel for a local authority at least had on him the guidance on admitting the media just issued by Britains most senior judge. But he confessed to Judge Marcia Levy: I dont know what our position is . . . I simply dont know. I was asking for ten minutes to take instructions from the team manager.
The judge, who was preparing to give an hour-long judgment in a case involving two young children, said that neither their names, nor those of other children involved, could be mentioned; nor those of the parents, nor schools, places or anyone else connected with them that would enable them to be identified.
Nonetheless, her detailed unravelling of the complex family circumstances of a young mother who faces losing her two children, one aged 4, the other a baby, cast light on the daily difficult balancing exercise that the courts face in such cases.
The mother, in her twenties, was the step-daughter of the man who had fathered her children. She had grown up with his four other children, and had helped to look after them. A relationship developed and two children resulted.
There were allegations of sex abuse (denied) between the father and one of his other children; of inappropriate sexual behaviour between those children; and evidence of his unpredictable personality, glue-sniffing, lack of ability or willingness to care for them in any appropriate way or put their needs first.
Rather than worry about his children, the judge, noted, his main concern was for himself.
The action was brought by one London council but three others were mentioned and one, Judge Levy noted, had been criticised by the guardian (the social worker for the children) for failing to take action over the elder child at least three years ago.

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