The Little Book – Keep Calm and Keep Them Occupied!

We came across The Little Book a couple of years ago and were astounded to discover a treasure trove of activities, information and engaging commentary for families and their children. And now we’re sharing it with you.

If you’re not familiar with The Little Book, it might just become your new best friend in the next five minutes.  Spanning several counties, including Berkshire, Surrey, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, The Little Book offers tons of ideas on where to take your Mini Me’s, all beautifully and neatly organised on their online site. There’s even an on-site directory giving you links to party cakes, babysitters, brilliant days out and beyond….

And if you’re not sure about that new restaurant, or want to know if a venue is family friendly, then their Reviews section is your go-to page for all you need to know.

Being that time of year, The Little Book is something of a life saver if you’ve got kiddy twinks bouncing off the walls and tugging at your collar to take them out. There’s masses of fun to be had, with the book never disappointing for inspiration and new ways to keep the kids occupied. For Londoners, it can be a great way to get the kids out into the nearby countryside, or if you don’t want to leave the comforts of the city, the book also offers London-based entertainment for all the family.

If you want to get the goodies in real-time (there are meals out and other wonderful giveaways to be gotten), you can always follow this brilliant little book on Twitter or check out their Facebook page. And you can also subscribe to their super-fab newsletter if you’d like the bounty to come straight to your inbox :)

It’s also a great site for businesses, with wonderful advertising space on offer, inside a publication which is widely read. Many of the businesses advertising, including our very own Chameleon Copy, are small, family or parent-run businesses . No surprise, as the book is read by a lot of families. If you’d like to find out more about their advertising rates you can contact them here.

We’re big fans of The Little Book…. we dare you not to get hooked…..

Children’s Rights, Views and Interests Are Still not On the Government’s Agenda, New Report Claims

Hot off the Voice of the Child Conference, and now numerous statements from government officials looking to prioritise children in family proceedings, comes a report which claims that children’s interests are still not fully fixed on the government’s agenda.

Written by Dr Julia Brophy, Kate Perry, Alison Prescott and Christine Renouf, in conjunction with NYAS and the Association of Lawyers for Children, it aims to balance media access with the Voice of the Child.

The report highlights the need to ensure children’s privacy is safeguarded during the court process, at a time when more transparency is called for both within the family justice system and by the media at large. In it, the report suggests that Parliament should be able to scrutinise media access in such cases.

There are other suggestions, too. In relation to the current policy which is moving towards including Young people’s views, the authors argue that a full-scale consultation should take place to fully weigh up what is being proposed and what children think about the proposals. The authors also appear to indicate that this kind of research might be lengthy, given the serious nature of the issues at hand.

Young people questioned felt that children’s rights, views and interests were still not on the government’s agenda.

Given that Lord Justice Munby, the President of the Family Division is very aware of the need to balance right to privacy and public interest where children are involved, we are not sure whether this research is necessary, and too time consuming, when what we should really be doing is focusing on improving social work, expert training and getting children’s wishes and feelings in the mix when trying to work out what’s best for them. However it will be interesting to see how certain quarters respond to this report, particularly government sectors who seem to be focusing on child welfare for the time being.

You can access the full report here.

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Question It!

It’s Summer proper, with all that that entails and up for debate this week is the notion of The Voice of The Child.

In his speech last week, Simon Hughes, our Justice Minister, talked about focusing on making children central to family law proceedings. Speaking at The Voice of The Child Conference, he suggested that the government would be implementing the following:

  • Ensuring children were made aware of their rights during proceedings;
  • Allowing children to meet with judges, not just to learn about how the court process works, but to express their wishes and feelings directly;
  • Creating proper pathways which would allow children to give CAFCASS their views in writing;
  • Giving children the ability to give feedback about their experience of the process;
  • Making it law that all children involved in proceedings must have their views heard before any decisions are made;
  • That these measures will be available to all children aged 10 and over (Hughes says that age threshold was chosen because it is also the threshold for Criminal Responsibility, suggesting that if a child is old enough to be held responsible at 10 for a crime, then they must also be able to express their views about their future).
  • Where children below 10 wish to have their views heard, they will be able to do so;
  • Children who are vulnerable will need to be treated differently to those who are not in terms of expression, and may need someone to express their views on their behalf;
  • To make the Voice of the Child central to family mediation processes.

Our question to you this week, is just this: do you agree with the proposals?

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As The Home Affairs Committee Publishes Its Report on Sham Marriages Today, Were We Right About Rapisarda?

This just in.

The Home Affairs Committee has this morning published its report on the work of the Immigration Directorates, which looks at sham marriages in the UK and the apparent increase in this industry to secure immigration rights. 

The report suggests that the problem is now a large-scale one and one which needs greater powers to tackle. The Committee explains that sham marriages provide UK residence rights not to one person, but to other family members as well.

The Home Affairs Committee make several recommendations, including:

  • A change in the law so that if the Home Office enforcement team do not act on a section 24 report from the Registrar and the Registrar is confident the wedding is a sham, then the Registrar should have the power to cancel the wedding.
  • Allowing The Home Office to provide training on how to identify potential shams and to provide full, accurate and timely information to the Registrars to tell them what action is being taken as a result of their reports.

In a statement on Parliament’s website, Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Commitee says:

“There is an industry of deceit in the UK which uses sham marriages to circumvent immigration control. Marriage is a precious institution and should not be hijacked to make a mockery of the law or our immigration system.

The estimated 10,000 sham marriages appears to be increasing at an alarming rate. One sham marriage can provide UK residence rights to an entire extended family who would otherwise have no right to be here.

The role of Registrars is critical. The Home Office should not only provide them with better feedback and training on reporting but also empower them to stop suspicious marriages.

Data is not being collected in a consistent manner across the UK. We cannot afford for any town or city to become a back door entry to our country. The Government needs to publish the total number of interventions, arrests, prosecutions and removals to prove that action is being taken.

It is absurd that we willingly accept as valid, marriages where the two parties do not attend the ceremony. This allows an easy ticket into the UK and this proxy marriage loophole must be closed immediately. Without taking these steps the Government will never get a firm grip on a situation which is spiralling out of control.

The backlogs continue to blight our immigration system with no appreciable reduction. The use of the term service standards is a way of moving the goal posts to relieve the pressure. The Home Office need to act now to ensure this problem is fully cleared as soon as possible.”

Given what we know about  the case of Rapisarda, it is very likely, as we suggested when Munby’s Judgment was first published, that this case does indeed involve sham marriages with the intent to secure UK residence.

Despite Mr Vaz’s obvious rancour at the industry, we hope the government will treat this issue with the sensitivity it deserves. We can’t imagine what it must be like fleeing from war-torn countries or escaping hardship.

 

Michael Gove Removed From His Post as Education Secretary

Love him or loathe him, Gove is out.

David Cameron’s cabinet reshuffle ahead of the 2015 elections has seen Gove replaced by Nicky Morgan, MP for Loughborough.

Gove will now serve as Chief Whip. Chief Whips are the Head Whips for their respective political parties. Their role, like that of ordinary whips, is to encourage members of Parliament to vote the way their party would like when it comes to important divisions.

For our part we were never terribly impressed with Gove. He could talk the talk, but we never actually saw him walk the walk. If there’s one thing worse than a man without charisma, it’s one who pretends to have it.

Good luck, Nicky.

Nicky Morgan MP, new Education Secretary

Whistleblowers May Be Given Amnesty in Child Sex Abuse Inquiry – But Are They Playing The System?

Amnesty of any kind is always going to involve a trade-off between getting to the truth of the matter and letting people go, but what happens when the very people who step forward to whistle blow are the very people we need to protect our children from?

That was the thought that crossed my mind when I read this article about a Conservative party activist who says he willfully provided child prostitutes to Tory cabinet ministers during Thatcher’s term in government. 

Anthony Gilberthorpe says that he was asked to find underage boys for some of the most senior cabinet ministers of the time, so that they could be ‘entertained’, at specially organised parties where these boys would be plied with alcohol and cocaine and then engaged in intercourse with the ministers present. And now he wants to blow the whistle, so he says, on the parliamentarians who abused children in the 80’s.

Lethargy to come forward and speak out, especially when you’re a new face in the work place is not uncommon when witnessing abuses of power. People are afraid to lose their jobs and to have their reputations tarnished should they speak out. No doubt over the course of the next few weeks, more professionals inside the family justice system will come forward and tell the government what they know about allegations of child abuse inside their various sectors. And whilst it’s easy to feel anger towards anyone who fails to speak out about something as serious as child abuse, it is unlikely that those people will be viewed as direct perpetrators of these crimes.

But Mr Gilberthorpe is different. He was not just an innocent bystander. He actively engaged in the procurement of young children for ministers’ sexual gratification.

And he is all too aware of that. Speaking out, just as the inquiry gets underway, Gilberthorpe is quick to mitigate his actions. He claims that he was groomed by politicians to pick up these young boys and offer them to ministers waiting in the wings.

Now, instead of being an active perpetrator of this despicable crime, he has tried to turn himself into one of its victims.

And I’m just not buying it.

This made me think about the ways in which dangerous members of society could potentially use the Whistleblower’s impunity to their advantage. By speaking out, they are effectively securing their freedom by abusing the amnesty process.

That’s palatable, just, as long as the whistle-blower is not directly involved with the crimes in question. But what happens if they are? We already know Mr Gilberthorpe says he provided ministers with children for sex. That is in itself a crime, if true, and we wonder how the government will deal with this new knowledge. But what if Mr Gilberthorpe was actively engaging in these parties? What if he was having sex with underage children? What if he is creating an elaborate story to hide what may be greater child sex abuse transgressions? These are questions we may only get the answers to if someone from those parties speaks out.

And yet, Mr Gilberthorpe knows that’s highly unlikely, as it would mean implicating themselves in this sordid mess.

 

 

 

 

Baroness Butler-Sloss Steps Down From Inquiry

This just in: Baroness Butler-Sloss has just stepped down as Chair of the government’s latest inquiry into historic child sexual abuse.

The Baroness has been very gracious about this move. She has explained that she didn’t think about her family ties and the potential conflict of interest involved as a result of her late brother Michael Havers’ position as attorney general in the 1980’s. Her thoughtful statement directed at the survivors of this horrendous abuse is touching and considered:

“This is a victim-orientated inquiry and those who wish to be heard must have confidence that the members of the panel will pay proper regard to their concerns and give appropriate advice to government.

“Having listened to the concerns of victim and survivor groups and the criticisms of MPs and the media, I have come to the conclusion that I should not chair this inquiry and have so informed the Home Secretary.”

The government have yet to appoint a new chairman. For our part, we would like to see Kids Company Founder Camilla Batmanghelidj sit as Chair on this inquiry. It’s not because her surname features a superhero in it (although we happen to think that’s quite cool). It’s because she is truly independent, has a wealth of experience working with vulnerable children and loves them to bits, too. Add into the mix her intelligence and talent when it comes to protecting children, and you have the perfect Chair. Dave, if you’re listening….

Watch this space.

Question It!

Welcome to another Summery week. Holidays are in the air, but controversy never sleeps.

The Guardian has posted an article today which talks about the judiciary and the level of training they receive in terms of understanding child protection and the law surrounding it. The authoress, Joanna Nicolas, is a child protection consultant. She argues that judges should be better trained and kept abreast of legal and policy changes in a timely fashion across the country.

Ms Nicolas also suggests that the burden of proof, or evidenciary threshold, should be that of the criminal court – beyond a reasonable doubt, as opposed to its civil counterpart currently used in family cases: the balance of probability. She also makes one final suggestion: that all judges who played a part in a case should be involved in that case’s serious case review.

Our question then, is simple: do you agree? 

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Bar Council’s Damning Survey on The Impact of LASPO

Yesterday the Bar Council released its preliminary findings on the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012.

The Press Release tells us that 716 people responded to the survey, of which 90% were barristers from a wide range of legal sectors. Not surprisingly, the family courts dominated the survey:

  •  88% of respondents who worked within the family courts reported an increase in self-representation.
  •  81% of respondents who undertook family legal aid work reported impacts
  • 72% of respondents who undertook family legal aid work reported a decrease in case work.
  • 69% of respondents who worked as family legal aid practitioners reported a decline in fee income

(These figures have been rounded up by the Bar Council in their press release).

Chairman of the Bar, Nicholas Lavender QC (fragrant name), summed up his view of the findings in his statement, which included the sentiment that:

“Unsurprisingly, the preliminary results from the survey confirm the concerns we raised with the Government some time ago: a significant increase in litigants-in-person, more delays in court, and growing difficulty for individuals in accessing legal advice and representation.”

The survey launched online in April of this year and was undertaken by the Bar Council and the University of Surrey. The project was created with a view to measuring how LASPO has affected access to justice one year on from its implementation. The project comes to a close in September 2014.

There’s a new discussion over at the excellent Jordans Family Law, on the survey. Seeing as most of the respondents were barristers, it would be good for the sector to get feedback from people who use the system, too.

If you’d like more information on the survey, you can contact the Bar Council on 020 7222 2525 and Press@BarCouncil.org.uk.

 

 

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