Industrial Scale Conspiracy to Pervert The Course of Justice Involved A Post Box in Berkshire

We’ve been waiting for some time to discover what exactly happened at a hearing before Sir James Munby in April of this year when he hailed what he saw as a “conspiracy to pervert the course of justice on an almost industrial scale”. And now the wait is over.

It seems that Italians had been using a loophole in UK family law process to apply for divorce, using a post box in Maidenhead, Berkshire. The scam involved couples in Italy wanting to avoid having to wait the allotted time for a divorce in their native country (the UK time period is shorter). The scheme cost £120 an hour, payable to various agents, who would then forge legal papers to process the dissolution. The couples would then sign blank forms, which were completed and sent to British courts, claiming that they had been living apart for two years.

How in the world did the postbox feature? Well, it was being used as a home address. The diminutive house caught the attention of a county court clerk in Burney who noticed two separate applications with the same address on them.

So, no fraught men and women fleeing war torn countries or children in need of refuge (our initial concern when we first heard about the case). We’re just glad the story was this light hearted.

Children in The Vine Audio Series: Episode Five

Children In The Vine

Based on actual events, this is a serial about the love, hate, anger, panic, occasional joy, dark humour, professional dedication and professional controversy at the heart of the family justice system. The stories feature an organisation of McKenzie Friends – lay advocates who help clients who are representing themselves in legal cases.

The dramas feature cases about public family law (where a public body like a local authority is involved in arranging the care of children), and private family law (disputes between parents, especially over children) .

The cases are controversial and life changing for the families.

McKenzie Friends are a relatively new phenomenon inside the legal system but over the last few years their presence has increased significantly. Today they sit uncomfortably in the court system with fee charging lawyers who sometimes view them as potential competition. But as the legal aid cuts impact on the family justice system and the economy worsens, the small office becomes inundated with requests for assistance. The team of four have to learn to cope with the increase in work and an unforgiving system which makes it almost impossible to resolve issues conventionally.

The team begin to resort to unconventional methods to get to the bottom of the cases they’re given.

Each McKenzie Friend has their own style of working through cases and their own personal motivations for getting involved, stemming from personal experience with the system. They work with limited resources which they share with each other. They learn on the job.

But the team find help and support in the most unusual places. Rogue journalists, renegade MPs and family lawyers come in and out of the agency’s life to help them solve their cases and help the families and children they work with.

This is a story about the next generation of lawyers, who work with the spirit of law as it was intended. Often discriminated against in the court system for not having legal qualifications they slowly infiltrate the system and expose corruption and malpractice as they try to help the families who come to them because they have nowhere left to go.

We hope you enjoy this series.

You can catch the fifth episode, here.


Question It!

Hello and welcome to another misty Monday. As the cogs inside the system slowly come back to life, more concerns seem to emerge daily about the way it is run, and this morning is no exception.

Although the topic of information sharing inside the child welfare sector is not a new one, The Guardian ran a story yesterday focusing on the extent of information foster carers are given about the children they are looking after. 

The article tells us a survey found that only 23% of foster carers ever received the full details surrounding their child’s background, with the rest having to address what are often serious behavioural difficulties “as and when they crop up”.

The Fostering Network, the charity who carried out the survey, also went on to say that there was evidence to suggest that  information was sometimes withheld by local authorities in an attempt to ensure that a child with a difficult background found a home.

Our question to you then, is this: do you think this is a well meaning but misguided policy or should foster parents be able to address a child’s emotional difficulties without being privy to his or her background?


“If You Don’t Take Our Advice, We Will Take Ashya Into Care”

The moment we thought would come, has done so. During the time that the Kings were reunited with their son, who was diagnosed with a form of cancer in need of urgent treatment, and who subsequently went without the love and support of his parents for three days, in a foreign hospital on his own, because authorities deemed it necessary to arrest and detain his parents without just cause, we spoke to the BBC about why we felt the story was far from over, and why the actions of the professionals involved carried all the hallmarks of something rather less palatable than genuine concern for a little boy’s well being.

Ashya King cried like a wounded animal, we are told, until his parents were returned to his bedside.

This morning, the news tells us that The Kings were threatened with the removal of their child off the back of them wishing to explore other alternatives to the treatment on offer. Treatment which would leave their son with disabilities for the rest of his life.

The Kings detailed how one doctor told them that if they did not allow the hospital to treat Ashya, they would seek to remove their parental rights and go ahead with the treatment anyway.

The case will sound eerily familiar to anyone who works inside the child welfare sector. It carries all the hallmarks of a system gone rogue, unmanageable due to its sheer lumbering size, disjointed arms and resource strapped quarters, not to mention an ever falling standard of care.

In the interviews in which we spoke about the case we explained, despite some scepticism by interviewers, that the King’s ordeal sounded very much like the situations many of the families we assist find themselves in – desperate to do the best for their children, but constantly thwarted at every turn, by an ultra defensive system which seems to incubate a stronger strain of God Complex every day. Professional arrogance in this case, of which it has become apparent was a feature, is simply a symptom of a system manned by people under pressure, who often also happen to be not terribly good at the service they are supposed to be providing.

The hallmarks we identified were poor communication, hostility to new ideas and a defensive response to the family, which stems from a system that behaves more like a vulnerable person than a professional service provider. This is when families begin to take matters into their own hands, with many choosing to leave the country, looking for protection and better care, elsewhere. And who can blame them?

None of this of course excuses putting a child’s welfare on the line. The system needs to regroup and remember why it is there in the first place. It can no longer run roughshod over families and children, the stakes are too high.

As for Ashya King’s current treatment, the treatment the hospital in England wished to deny him, it has so far been very successful, and the Kings are delighted with Ashya’s progress.

And so to the Kings we say good luck, and go get ‘em.



Social Experiment Sees People Laughing At Men Being Abused in Public

According to the San Francisco Globe, a social experiment which involved having a male harass and abuse a female in public, followed by the reverse scenario – a woman harassing and abusing a male, has caused quite a stir.

Whilst people rushed to help the woman being abused in the experiment, incredibly no one helped when the tables were turned – some bystanders even laughed and took photos as the man in question was being abused.

We also just did a search on YouTube for more experiments like this and we found another, this time created by a men’s domestic abuse shelter. We have added it below.

Many thanks to Mehrnaz Allawi for alerting us to this news item.

Gina Ford’s Brand of Part Time Parenting Challenged By Neuroscience

Heralded as a parenting expert in the nineties, Gina Ford’s brand of parenting struck a chord with millions of women across the country hoping to juggle busy lifestyles and hectic work schedules. Her now infamous advice, which included allowing your baby to cry his or herself to sleep at night, was followed religiously in the hope that it might allow parents the chance to have some hold on their fast disappearing way of life before their children came into the world.

And now, it seems, science is decrying what many thought to be sound advice. The Mindful Policy Group’s Twitter account sent out a tweet yesterday morning which read “Gina Ford is wrong – never leave babies to cry, says latest neuroscience.” Whilst we have asked the Group to share the report from which this assertion stems, we need not look very far to see established research in this area.

Do a quick google on the topic and thousands of entries come up from scientists, baby experts, psychiatrists, and mothers, all of whom warn against what we feel strongly is inhuman and cruel training techniques surrounding ‘crying control’. And whilst there are schools of thought out there which say this technique shows no evidence of harm (rather than providing evidence of this – a subtle distinction but one worth making), you only need to observe a baby crying to know prolonging this state in a child isn’t right.

Crying is nature’s way of ensuring parents know something is wrong with their baby. In most cases it’s either the need to be held, fed or an indication that a child is unwell. And whilst there is an understandable need to get a good night’s sleep, allowing a child to cry itself to sleep, and grow despondent about ever getting the help it needs so that he or she no longer cries at night, is, to our mind, counter-productive.

Here at Researching Reform, we affectionately call Gina Ford, The Anti-Christ. Her brand of self-centered, part time parenting, which seeks to place children in convenient time slots in our lives is a depressing indication of how far away we have moved from understanding the power and beauty of instinct in parenting.

If you want a good night’s sleep, place your baby in your arms and cherish every moment.

Conference Held At Westminster Highlights The Dangers of Shared Parenting Post Divorce For Babies and Toddlers

Highly controversial, and embracing some of the best known names in child welfare, both famous and infamous, how could a conference so explicit, so sensitive in nature, have gone unnoticed by the public at large?

Yet that’s exactly what happened when The Mindful Policy Group, a Group dedicated to using science to promote ‘ a more caring and humane society’ held their first major conference in Westminster this week.

The topic of the conference was attachment, specifically surrounding the shared parenting debate, and at the fore was Dr Allan Schore, who emphasised that the family courts need drastic reform to come into line with scientific knowledge on shared parenting and children of a certain age.

Dr Schore said at the conference, that “…recent developmental neuroscience on the right brain and attachment now suggests negative impact of shared-time parenting arrangement following separation and parental overnights in first (and second) year, when brain doubles in size. Family Law policy about infants needs to incorporate this recent knowledge.”

This will no doubt cause a furore amongst the shared parenting groups and fathers’ rights movement at large and may well be why the conference was kept so tightly under wraps prior to taking place on September 25th. Invitations (150 of them) were also only extended to professionals inside the system. Not very sporting, or democratic, it seems.

Amongst the conference speakers were Penelope Leach, who caused a (calculated) outrage with her sentiments on shared parenting only a few weeks ago. Penelope is the Director for the MPG. Other speakers included, rather oddly, Paul Coleridge of the Marriage Foundation, Tim Loughton (once Children’s Minister-turned-MPG Chairman) and Jessica Lee MP.

It’s no secret that at Researching Reform we feel very strongly about the use of shared parenting, and whilst we’ve made it clear our views do not stem from gender bias, we agree with Dr Schore’s view that certain types of shared parenting arrangements and overnight stays post divorce can and do cause harm.

So once again we re-ignite a sensitive debate, but we do so in order to highlight this latest development, a conference, which should have been aired prior to going forward and which should have allowed for a wider debate, even if that debate was painful and messy.

Simon Hughes’ Speech on Family Mediation

Simon Hughes, our Justice Minister, made a speech at the annual Family Mediation Conference this week, summing up the issues surrounding the family sector, mediation and the latest developments in the field.

The speech, which is entitled, “Mediation: a central part of family justice”, speaks for itself in many ways – a bolstering nod to the mediation quarter, advocating for increased awareness, and use of mediation and its potential benefits.

At Researching Reform, we take the view that mediation in a family law context can only work if the parties firstly trust each other to some degree, and can talk without being overwhelmed by emotion. For those reasons, mediation is bound to fail unless those issues are addressed first and if the less than impressive attendance figures for mediation over the last two years are anything to go by, the government might as well be bashing their heads against a mediation wall, as they are clearly not listening.

That said, Hughe’s speech was sensitive to the already delicate legal sector, badly grazed from legal aid cuts, dwindling resources and a lack of public appreciation for the services on offer. He went on to talk about the latest developments, too. The latest legislation now makes it mandatory to attend a MIAM (Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting), unless there are domestic violence concerns. The MIAM will then be followed up by one free mediation session in the hope that it will draw people in to the service. However, the free session will only be available if one party is already legally aided – which affects about 70% of all cases, at this point. This measure has been put in place for the next three years.

Hughes also expressed a desire to allow children over the age of 10 to have a more active role in proceedings (something he has said before), notwithstanding that younger children may also be able to express their wishes and feelings, too. Hughes is going to set up an advisory body for this area to ensure best practice and the prioritising of child welfare in all family mediation.

Simon also attempts to engage the legal profession in his endeavour and offers further reading materials, all of which you can catch on the speech page itself (linked to above).

With his recent rally cry to have children’s access to legal aid reviewed, Simon Hughes is certainly trying – but we need a little more finesse, and a lot more thought into how to make the system better, for everyone.

More Challenges to Legal Aid

With the green light given to Rights of Women to challenge the current legal aid guidelines for domestic violence victims, another battle rages on, this time with the mantle being carried by the Criminal Law sector. The hearing which also took place last Friday saw lawyers calling for a review of the consultation process which led to the current policy on legal aid (and fee cuts), and this is one battle that just got ugly.

For the scrap this morning is not amongst disgruntled families, or charities like Rights of Women who brought their challenge out of concern for the safety of vulnerable people across Britain, but between the MOJ and the legal sector. Quite simply put, the Ministry of Justice has sent out a clear message that fee cuts for legal aid are not going to make up part of the challenge – but the fairness of the consultation process on legal aid, will.

Legal Cheek chose to focus on the MOJ’s recent tweet on the matter, which whilst we think is a little clumsy, says more about the department’s desire to move away from the legal sector’s financial interest in the outcome of this case, than it does its choice of wording.

Everyone understands that the legal profession needs to earn to survive, and that legal aid does offer a lifeline to people in distress. But to turn this case into a tug of war between a bratty child of the State and the Bank of Chris, is as embarrassing as it is demeaning – to the entire profession.

This case should be about access to justice, protection and the preservation of our rights as a democratic people. And that is all.

legal aid


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