Question It!

Welcome to the week and our question, which is a little different to the kind we normally ask…

Researching Reform’s site has been scribbled on by us, and you, for the last four years and whilst we have tried to inform, share and highlight all the latest family policy and legislation developments through articles, questions, debates, stories, case studies and more, we feel we should now ask what you want more, and less of.

Our question this week then is just this: what would you like us to write about and how?

Would you like more opinion pieces or more news? Do you prefer audio, video or just good old text? Or is there something else you’d like that we’re currently not doing? We’d love to know what you think, so please come on over and tell us!



European Conference on “the Best Interests of the Child”

The Belgian authorities, in cooperation with the Children’s Rights Division of the Council of Europe are hosting a conference in Brussels on 9-10th December to look at the notion of ‘the best interests of the child.”  

The Conference, which will examine this concept in theory and practice, will be hosted by the Belgian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in conjunction with “the promotion and realisation of human rights”.

The event also falls on the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The conference will be focusing on three objectives:

  • to take stock of the understanding and application of the child’s best interests in the international context as well as in the various national contexts
  • to identify factors that hinder and those that drive as observed by the decision makers in the application of the child’s best interests and to outline solutions
  • to find and develop ethical, procedural and practical standards which support the practitioners and policy makers when they take into consideration the child’s best interests.

The first day of the Conference will look at the child’s best interests in general and the second day will examine the child’s best interests in family affairs.

This is an interesting conference, not least of all because findings and lessons learned from the conference will be submitted to the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and so the Belgian hosts are asking that all those involved in this field come and share their point of view.

This event is first and foremost about strengthening children’s rights, and we like this, very much.

Many thanks to Maggie Tuttle for sharing the details of this conference with us.




Lords Debate Children and The Internet Today

In what is a fascinating line up of some very interesting peers, (did you know for example, that Baroness Shields was a former vice-president of Facebook?), The Lords will today discuss how the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child impacts on children’s and young people’s online and digital interactions.

Parliament’s website tells us that the debate was requested by Baroness Kidron. Speaking ahead of the debate, Baroness Kidron said: ‘The question of today’s debate is whether we are fulfilling the rights of children and young people where they interact with digital technologies – those rights enshrined in the UNCRC to which we are signatories’.

Other speakers expected to take part include:

Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth (Conservative), government spokesperson, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, will respond on behalf of the government.

You can watch all the action on Parliament TV, with the debate scheduled to start at 2pm.

New Recommendations to Simplify Law On Kidnapping

The Law Commission has been busy with a consultation designed to look at simplifying the laws surrounding various crimes including kidnapping and how best to improve those laws with a view to bringing them up to date with current understanding and thinking.

The consultation proposed that kidnapping and false imprisonment should be replaced by one or more offences set out in statute.

The following questions were raised for consultation:

  • Should there be one offence or two?
  • If there are to be two offences, should the distinction be between detaining and moving, or between simple and aggravated detention?
  • Should it be a defence that the abductor honestly believed that the victim consented, or should that belief be required to be reasonable?
  • Should the new offence or offences be made triable in a magistrates’ court as well as in the Crown Court?

The report stemming from the consultation has been published today, and makes a series of recommendations, which have been set out on the Law Commission’s website. We reproduce the salient bits, below:


Reform of kidnapping and false imprisonment

We provisionally proposed that the offences should be made triable in a magistrates’ court as well as in the Crown Court. Consultees disagreed, and on further statistical analysis it appeared that no significant number of kidnapping and false imprisonment cases result in sentences of less than 6 months’ imprisonment.  We therefore recommend that these offences remain triable in the Crown Court only, with the existing maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

In line with the model favoured by consultees, we recommend the creation of two distinct statutory offences to replace the existing common law.

We recommend that false imprisonment be replaced with a new statutory offence of unlawful detention (a label which we believe better captures the nature of the offence). The elements of the new offence would closely follow the existing common law.

The new statutory kidnapping offence would be somewhat narrower and more focussed that the existing common law offence.  Kidnapping would have fewer, more closely defined, elements and a clearer relationship with the offence of unlawful detention.  The new kidnapping offence would be committed where a person, D:

  • without lawful authority or reasonable excuse;
  • intentionally uses force or the threat of force;
  • in order to take another person V, or otherwise cause them to move in his company.

Reform of sections 1 and 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984

We also recommend changes to the offences under sections 1 and 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984.

  1. We recommend the increase of the maximum sentences for these offences from 7 to 14 years’ imprisonment, in order to avoid undesirable inconsistency between the most serious instances of these offences and kidnapping offences of a comparable level of seriousness.
  2. We also recommend that the offence under section 1 be extended to cover cases of wrongful retention of a child abroad, in breach of the permission given by another parent (or other connected person) or the court. This extension would close the gap in the law highlighted in the case of R (Nicolaou) v Redbridge Magistrates’ Court.

It will be very interesting to see how these recommendations work, if implemented. In cases where parents feel let down by the courts and flee the country with their children to avoid violent partners and escape domestic abuse, we hope that the new statutory offence’s “reasonable excuse” caveat is given due weight. Watch this space.




Speeches for “Religious Power: Risk and Regulation”

Last night’s debate was hugely successful, with a full house and lots of thought-provoking comment, and it’s with great pleasure that we can share the speeches given by our panel members.

From Baroness Cox’s opening remarks on FGM, child sexual abuse and religion’s part to play in monitoring and addressing these concerns, to Rabbi Romain’s rousing speech on the responsibility of religious leaders to come together and explore the reasons behind this kind of behaviour, you’ll find a wide array of interesting and inspiring thought.

We hope you enjoy the speeches.

Please click on the links below to access our panel members’ thought-provoking speeches:


Welcome to “Religious Power: Risk and Regulation” – A Safeguarding Debate on Child Abuse

It is officially the day our debate takes place, as we move through the last few hours before we begin what we’re sure will be a very interesting evening in the House of Commons.

“Religious Power: Risk and Regulation”, will be looking at religious authority, its regulation and the extent to which that regulation has failed to safeguard against human rights breaches in the UK, and internationally.

The debate will look at child abuse within a faith setting and ask whether religious leaders are addressing the problem sufficiently, and whether the current inquiry into child abuse has placed sufficient emphasis on this area of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

If you are coming to the event, please feel free to tweet about it whilst you’re there, using the hashtags #RRR #ChildAbuseDebate and #PanelInquiry. 

If you were unable to grab a seat this time, don’t worry, we will be posting up the speeches, audio and photos of the night for you shortly after the event.

Simply click on the links below to access all the latest information on this debate:


InterFaith Week: Islam and Women at Baitul Futuh, The Largest Mosque in Western Europe

As our debate in the House of Commons, on child abuse within a faith context is tomorrow, we thought we would share this lovely invitation we received from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Carshalton, to be given a guided tour of Baitul Futuh, and to hear a short presentation entitled, ‘The Rights of Women in Islam’.

The event which is on 22nd November, from 4-6pm is open to women only, and welcomes all faiths and backgrounds.

The afternoon’s activities are focused on promoting peace and tolerance, as InterFaith week begins today.

As we go into preparation for our debate on issues which will touch upon Islam and its practice, we would like to thank the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community of Carshalton for their kind invitation and hope that the actions of a small few who use Islam to mitigate at best and vindicate at worst, the most abhorrent crimes within our communities and beyond, do not tarnish the majority who practice in peace and compassion.

Love for all, hatred for none. 

If you would like to attend, please send an email to the address in the flyer.

IFW Poster-page-0


The Buzz

These are the stories floating under the radar which we feel are noteworthy:


Lawyers Muscling In To The McKenzie Sector?

It was bound to happen eventually, given the huge shift in demand for conventional legal services (people just can’t afford them), but it now looks as if lawyers masquerading as McKenzies are trying to have a piece of what they feel is a profitable pie.

An organisation called The McKenzie Friends’ Trade Association has just  sprung up, which promises to offer a wealth of McKenzies who all meet a set of Service Standards, written up by the organisation and in conjunction with the current guidance issued by The President of the Family Division and The Master of the Rolls. But scroll down the list and open up the resumes of each on their own dedicated website, and what you find are a group of people who are predominantly solicitors. Their requirements for joining too, are interesting. Currently, the Association requires all its members to have Professional Indemnity Insurance, and a qualification, equivalent to A level or above, in law or other relevant subject, or have 3 years experience as a McKenzie Friend.

Now, we’re not sure how the Law Society would formally react to this (though informally one can imagine they would be sympathetic to this development given the current climate in the legal sector), but this creates an awkward strand to the McKenzie sector – lawyers who are working as lay advisers for a fee.

The McKenzie Friends’ Trade Association has recently come to the attention of the legal sector because it has chosen to set out a series of Service Standards, in line with the Legal Services Board’s recent recommendations. The Board’s April 2014 report suggested, amongst other things, that:

  • Fee-charging McKenzie Friends should be recognised as a legitimate feature of the evolving legal services market.
  • External regulation of McKenzie Friends should not be introduced.
  • Fee-charging McKenzie Friends should form a recognised trade association.

And so the lawyers got in there, and did just that. The Association’s site though is not courting any interest at present (its current Google Page ranking is 0), so it remains to be seen whether they will make headway with this latest version of the McKenzie. From our experience, most trusted McKenzies with a proven track record of helping families and being honest with their charging are the ones who are currently inundated with work, and whilst we have nothing against lawyers offering their services at a reasonable rate, they have tough competition in the McKenzies who are practicing law the way it was intended – with integrity and honesty.

If the lawyers entering the McKenzie market can do that, not only will they be providing an excellent service backed with years of training and skills some lay McKenzies don’t have, but they will help to remove the stigma associated with the practice of law as it stands. Can they pull this one off?

law society


Question It!

Welcome to this week, and another question, which this time focuses on the duty of care, not of local authorities and their agents, police or medical practitioners looking after children, but of religious men and women tasked with guiding their communities and protecting children and vulnerable people from abuse and exploitation.

Tomorrow, the House of Commons is hosting a debate on religious power, its regulation and the risks involved in having religious organisations which may not always be subject to the same rules and regulations as other non religious organisations. This debate will be looking at the sexual abuse and exploitation of children within a faith setting and will ask: are we doing enough to protect our most vulnerable from this type of harm?

We already know that a duty of care exists by the Catholic Church to ensure that those within the Church are protected from abuse. This duty of care extends to priests within the Catholic Church regarding child protection and creates a compelling point of interest for child abuse cases within care homes and institutions generally.

Our question this week then, is this: what kind of duty of care would you like to see, if any, across all religious organisations in the UK, when it comes to child protection?



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