We will keep you informed about training events which may be hosted by the FJB or other organisations, and will make educational material available on this page.

Transparency and Open Justice Conference 2020

  |   Education & Training, Events, Latest News


Our 2020 conference – entitled Transparency and Open Justice – was held on Friday 24th January at Leicester City Hall. Her Honour Judge Jane George, Designated Family Judge for Leicester, opened the conference, welcoming the 150 delegates: as ever, a sell-out crowd.




Delivering the keynote address, The Hon. Mr Justice Keehan, Family Division Liaison Judge for the Midlands Circuit, described the efforts of the Public Law Working Group to achieve immediate and long-term reform to the way in which child protection cases progress through the family justice system. The Group – which had a wide remit, requiring the committee to grow from 12 to 38 members since inception – published 57 recommendations for immediate change and 16 recommendations for long-term reform in its report of July 2019. The Group has since processed hundreds of individual and group responses arising out of the public consultation which, happily, were in broad support of the recommendations. Mr Justice Keehan is hopeful that the final report will be published very soon and, as a result, anticipates that several Best Practice Guides will be circulated by the President of the Family Division over the course of the coming months. These are likely to be in relation to Special Guardianship Orders, Case Management and Section 20/76 Accommodation; all due before summer.


More difficult is the thorny issue of best practice guidance for social workers and local authorities in respect of pre-proceedings under the public law outline and what efforts should be made to divert cases from court prior to issue. It has been recognised that 60% of child protection cases are issued on an urgent basis; sometimes this is of course necessary, however, often these cases are ill-prepared resulting in unfairness to the parents, practitioners and the Court. The Group is clear that more work can be done pre-proceedings to ensure that even where a case does meet the threshold of requiring court intervention, all necessary evidence and assessments should be in place to allow the case to “hit the ground running”. The Group is anxious to make sure that any proposed guidance has the benefit of input from those working at the coalface; therefore consultation with social work groups and local authorities is ongoing. Interestingly, some of the proposed changes have already been introduced in Swansea on a trial basis, resulting in a reduction in the number of public law proceedings issued by (an almost unbelievable) 60% and savings to the local authority in the region of £900,000.


Delegates certainly welcomed confirmation that the dreaded Case Management Order will only be required at the first hearing in public law cases; short form orders will suffice thereafter. Mr Justice Keehan rather wryly observed that he often has difficulty in working out what it is that he has ordered when inevitably presented with a 6-page draft CMO. It was also made clear that, following a recent resurgence, the number of experts instructed in public law cases will need to decrease. Courts will be encouraged to examine whether such experts are really “necessary” with increased rigour.


Mr Justice Keehan spoke at some length about the need for solid guidance regarding the practice and procedure for the granting of Special Guardianship Orders. The issue has been explored by both a dedicated sub-group of the Public Law Working Group and the Family Justice Council, who have produced interim guidance. He reiterated that such orders are intended to provide permanence for a child and that they are closer to adoption orders than child arrangement orders. Every case requires a robust and detailed assessment which will inevitably take at least 16 weeks to complete. That the legislation does not require a child to have lived with a prospective special guardian prior to an order being made has been raised with the government, as it is the universal view of the Group that this ought to be a pre-requisite to the making of a final order. Research suggests that special guardians feel excluded from the court process, abandoned by local authorities following the conclusion of proceedings and provided with no support to assist them to navigate the requirements of contact between the child and its birth parents. All of these issues require attention. Mr Justice Keehan strongly reinforced the need for not only a robust assessment, but a robust and detailed special guardianship support plan which ought to be scrutinised by the parties and the Court before approving any orders. He railed against the making of supervision orders alongside special guardianship orders, pointing out that these are often only put in place either because there is insufficient confidence in the prospective special guardians as stable long-term carers for the child, or because of a lack of belief that the local authority will provide the requisite assistance to support the placement. Additionally, the need for a proper legal framework for any interim placements with prospect special guardians requires consideration.


Finally, Mr Justice Keehan recommended legislative change to supervision orders. He said that these either need to be given “more teeth” or a that new order ought to be brought into force; falling short of a care order, but which gives a local authority real statutory powers to provide support and intervention for families in appropriate cases. This was certainly met with favour by the delegation.




The conference then heard from Sarbjit Athwal and Dr Clive Driscoll, Founder and Deputy Chair respectively of True Honour, a charity which spreads awareness of so-called “honour-based violence” and supports all victims of HBV, forced marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).


To say that Sarbjit’s story is a moving one would be a dramatic understatement. In a brave and emotional address, she described how she had found herself living at the mercy of her cruel and abusive mother-in-law and extended family members when she was forced into a marriage against her wishes at the age of 19. She and her sister-in-law, Surjit, endured emotional and physical abuse and controlling behaviour not only from their husbands, but from their mother-in-law, the scheming matriarch of the family. Over time, Surjit began to attempt to break free, hoping for a divorce and to live a life of happiness: but this was not to be. Sarbjit learned of the family’s plan to take Surjit to India and – terrifyingly – she suspected that they intended to murder her. Sarbjit did her utmost to alert the police and authorities to the plan before it was too late, but her attempts went unheard.


In 1998, Surjit was taken to India. She was murdered in cold blood, her body thrown in a river.


Upon her return, Sarbjit’s mother-in-law Bachan Athwal admitted to her what she and her son had done. Sarbjit – together with her children – had to remain living under the same roof as self-confessed murderers, forever at risk.


Despite the Metropolitan Police quickly becoming suspicious of the family and launching a missing person investigation in 1999, this proved fruitless. The family insisted that Surjit was alive and living in Mumbai. In 2001, a murder investigation began and the family members – along with Sarbjit – were arrested. Sarbjit saw her chance to finally tell her story in safety so explained everything she knew when interviewed, but she was not believed. Nothing was done. It was not until 2005 when, following a near-death experience, Sarbjit was able to gain the courage to escape her abusers for good. This time she was fortunate that the investigating officer –DCI Clive Driscoll – finally believed her story and took action to protect her.


Dr Driscoll described the investigation process which eventually led to the murder convictions of both Bachan and Sukhdave Athwal. He fully accepted the grave errors made by his predecessors – often led by prejudice and a lack of understanding of cultural issues – which had riddled the earlier investigations. These included a failure to share information across the relevant public authorities and undue deference to the family, despite them being suspects in a murder. Matters as simple as allowing the family to request that the police only circulate details of Surjit in her maiden name were obvious failures to explore the issues with necessary rigour. A warning letter which Sarbjit had written before the fateful 1998 India trip sat, unopened, for seven years on a police station shelf.


Since her escape, Sarbjit has rebuilt her life. Before establishing True Honour in 2016, she served as a PCSO in the hope that she could give something back to her community.


True Honour now aims to spread the “One Chance Rule” and to encourage those who may be investigating HBV to “Go the Extra Mile”. All professionals involved in the criminal, education, social care, health or family justice system must be on their guard and remember that they may only get one chance to help a person whom they suspect is the victim of HBV, forced marriage or FGM. They should go the extra mile to investigate and protect that person as far as possible.


The whole delegation was incredibly moved by Sarbjit’s poignant account, although buoyed by her and Clive’s steadfast commitment to improving awareness of the issues surrounding HBV across not only UK communities, but worldwide.


You can read Sarbjit’s story in her book Shamed: The Honour Killing that Shocked Britain – by the Sister Who Fought for Justice.




Parental Alienation – Dr Julie Doughty


Dr Doughty took her workshop delegates through the main findings of her Cafcass Cymru-commissioned research review in an engaging presentation which pulled together both research and case law regarding parental alienation. The topic remains a difficult one, there still being no recognised definition of parental alienation. Academics are at odds as to whether the phenomenon should be internationally-recognised by the World Health Organisation as a diagnosable “syndrome”. Although there is a plethora of published articles on the topic, there is a dearth of empirical studies and data analysis, with most of the current research being polarised and positional. Additionally, there is a significant lack of evaluation as to the effectiveness of interventions, despite these having become big business in the USA. Jean Mercer has recently published research which suggests that commercialised American parental alienation treatments (PATs) are actually harmful and intrusive for children. Professor Doughty also pointed to research by Joan Meier which concludes that there is a significant issue of gender imbalance in the way in which allegations of parental alienation are treated by courts and a report by Linda Neilson which reiterates the importance of reducing child stress and supporting the child’s resilience through a family breakdown. The current court approach seems to focus on apportioning blame between the parents rather than on the child’s needs and interests. Professor Doughty cautioned against the instruction of inappropriate experts in such cases where there may be a risk of confirmation bias and amour-propre.


Functional Family Therapy – Joanna Pearse


Joanna Pearse delivered a dynamic workshop describing Functional Family Therapy, a system of therapeutic intervention designed for families on the edge of care. A child welfare adaptation of this evidence-based model – FFT-CW – is currently being delivered by Leicester City Council in a push to divert cases from court-proceedings. This team accepts in the region of 80 referrals each year for families of children of all ages where there are concerns regarding the parents’ caring abilities and the family is at risk of child protection court proceedings. Already, after only 18 months, the Leicester FFT-CW team has a remarkable success rate of one third of cases being closed to the local authority within 6 months of their involvement.


The original FFT model has been rolled out in areas across the UK and the world. This focusses on families of children aged 11-18 where the concerns do not necessarily revolve around parenting capacity, but where the children’s behaviour and the associated risks mean that the parents are struggling to cope. Joanna described how the model does not place the parents “one up” hierarchically, but instead encourages the family to repair their relationships first in order to work towards improving their overall functioning. The first phase is motivation, which often involves reframing negative patterns and giving nobility to the children’s behaviours. This allows the family members to develop a different story of themselves and their relationships. The second phase is behaviour change: moving towards making better choices. Interventions are tailored towards each family and, in particular, each individual dyad.

Our Family Wizard – James Evans


Our Family Wizard is an innovative smartphone application which has found a wide audience in the USA and is becoming increasingly popular in the UK. James delivered a very helpful and informative workshop which outlined the app’s key features and benefits. It is intended for separated parents with the aim of improving their co-operative co-parenting relationship by providing a comprehensive functional platform for all communication regarding childcare issues. Features such as a joint calendar, messaging, expenses log, information centre and photo sharing provide a real-time, instant and safe form of information sharing for parents where communication has become a difficult feature of their relationship. Additional benefits such as the “Tonemeter” encourage positive and non-abusive dialogue and promote a healthier co-parenting environment. James explained how the app (which is a paid subscription service, but which can also be provided for free or at discounted cost in certain circumstances) can be used by the courts and incorporated in child arrangements orders. The app also logs an accurate record of all exchanges and can be accessed by third parties or even viewed by professionals and the Judge with the parents’ agreement, providing the best available evidence when necessary to resolve matters of dispute which may arise.




The final session of the day was delivered by Lucy Reed, barrister and legal blogger at St John’s Chambers, and Louise Tickle, journalist, who are members of The Transparency Project. The Transparency Project is a charity which works towards improving the quality, range and accessibility of information available to the public about family law.


Louise and Lucy explained how they met and how their paths had crossed in various guises over the years, before co-founding The Transparency Project. Their different professions had allowed each of them to challenge one another’s perceptions of the family justice system, gaining both an insider and outsider perspective.


During their lively and insightful presentation they posed a case study to the delegation, deliberately highlighting the sense of panic that practitioners may feel when faced with a sudden application for permission to report aspects of family proceedings in the press. It was clear that this was an alien concept to many in the audience, such applications being incredibly few and far between in our area. Lucy and Louise explained how the balance must be struck between the competing rights of those involved, including the strong public interest in the principles of open justice and accountability of public authorities. They recommended entering into a constructive dialogue with members of the press so as to ensure that anonymity of the child and relevant parties can be preserved, while also allowing the case to be reported as fairly and accurately as possible. It was clear from the debate that there are still many practitioners who remain apprehensive about the increasing trend towards press reporting of family law issues, something which – it seems – will inevitably need to evolve in the near future.


Further recommended reading:

FPR PD 36J – Pilot scheme: Transparency (attendance at hearings in private)

President’s Guidance: Guidance as to reporting in the Family Courts

The Transparency Project Guidance Note: Publication of Family Court Judgments




HHJ George concluded with words of thanks to the committee of the Leicester and Leicestershire Family Law Training Association for their organisation of yet another successful conference: Fiona Gingell, Ben Mansfield, Della Philips, Lynne Nelson, Margaret Robinson, Mandy McCrory and Gill Graham. Thanks and gifts also went to the members of HMCTS court staff who work very hard behind the scenes to make every conference run smoothly: Emma Holyoak, Louise King and Justine Blackwell.


Finally, there were kind and heartfelt words of congratulations to the Association’s Chair, Martin Kingerley on his recent and well-deserved appointment to Queen’s Counsel. Martin closed the conference – his final as Chair – expressing his gratitude to the Judiciary and local colleagues for their support during his many years of practice in Leicester. We wish him all the very best in his future endeavours; he will be sorely missed.


Thank you once again to everyone who attended this year’s conference. We are incredibly lucky to have such a supportive and proactive cohort of practitioners across the spectrum family justice in our local area.


Laura Vickers

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Transparency and Open Justice: Leicester Family Justice Day 24th January 2020

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The Leicester and Leicestershire Family Law Training Association present the Leicester Family Justice Day 2020 – bookings now open – click here to book!

Chaired by Martin Kingerley of 36 Family, the Association organises the annual FJD, and this year’s conference is again at City Hall and offers a range of really interesting and high profile speakers and workshops.

This year’s keynote speaker is Hon. Mr Justice Keehan.

Our other plenary speakers are:
Lucy Reed of the Transparency Project
Dr Doughty, Cardiff University – Parental Alienation (t.b.c.)

Our Workshops:
Family Functional Therapy
Shelagh Beckett – ISW
True Honour (t.b.c.)

Please see our poster

Prices: £60 for lawyers and £25 for social care professionals (plus Eventbrite booking fees). 6 CPD.

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The Smarter Way to Separate

  |   Education & Training, Events, Latest News

The Midlands Asian Lawyers Association and No5 Barristers’ Chambers are hosting a joint breakfast seminar on Friday 6th September entitled “The Smarter Way to Separate: Non-court Solutions”. Introduced by District Judge Fayyaz Afzal OBE, the seminar will address the most common methods of non-court dispute resolution: Mediation, Arbitration, Private FDRs and Neutral Evaluations. Richard Alomo, Laura Vickers and James Snelus of No5 Barristers’ Chambers will explain how practitioners and the judiciary alike can maximise these options to avoid litigation and achieve beneficial outcomes for clients.

Registration is from 7:45-8:15am, with breakfast and refreshments. The seminar is anticipated to conclude by 9:30am and will take place at Provincial House, 37 New Walk, Leicester.

Book here to reserve your place.

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Medical Evidence Seminar 2019

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It is not too late to book your place on next week’s upcoming Medical Evidence Seminar, hosted by No5 Chambers. The seminar features a number of eminent medico-legal experts and will be invaluable for any public law children practitioners.

The event takes place at Wolverhampton Racecourse from 9:30-15:30 on Friday 17th May 2019. It will be followed by a networking drinks reception. The cost is £100.

For programme details and booking, click here.

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MALA Forced Marriage Event

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The Midlands Asian Lawyers Association – in association with 23 Essex Street chambers – is hosting an evening seminar on Honour-based Violence and Forced Marriage at The City Rooms in Leicester on Thursday 4th April at 6pm. The event is likely to be of interest to local practitioners in all professions of the family justice system.

Booking details can be found here.

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Family Justice Day 2017

  |   Education & Training, Events, Latest News

The Leicester & Leicestershire Family Justice Board prides itself on the quality of our annual training conferences – or Family Justice Days – organised by our Education Sub-committee.  2017 has been no exception.


Entitled “Can you hear us?  Older children in the family justice system” the conference was a sellout, with delegates representing all areas; judiciary, lawyers and social work practitioners.


HHJ Jane George opened the conference with a welcome to all delegates and our eminent speakers.  She said that everyone who attended had the same aim: to improve our collective ability to achieve the best outcomes for the children and young people we deal with.  She said we all needed to reflect when it comes to older children: do we hear their voices?  Do we make enough effort?  Do we really listen to them?


HHJ George then introduced this year’s keynote speaker.  Frances Oldham QC has had a stellar career at the bar and beyond, but is perhaps now best-known for recently chairing the independent inquiry into child abuse within the Jersey care system.  Fran’s fascinating keynote address focussed on the enormous task she and her panel had in undertaking the inquiry, and how essential she believed it was to learn lessons for the future.  Her first decision as chair was to remove the word “historic” from the title of the inquiry.  She cautioned against the all-too-familiar attitude – which in recent times seems to have become a running theme across many institutions, regions and organisations – that “things were bad back then but they are ok now”.  She was clear that there were still serious problems inherent in the care system in Jersey at the time of her inquiry in 2014, and that is the case in many areas of the country.  Her focus was on making sure that she had heard the voices of everyone possible, including children currently in care, and that those voices had deliberately been replicated in her report.  She quoted a very moving poem entitled “Listen” – written by a 14 year old and included in the report.  The poem’s message certainly resonated with those in the audience.  One method which she used to obtain the views of young people still within the care system was to ask them to write short messages on post-it notes about what they believed could be done to improve the current system.  She had found their opinions so powerful she had photocopied the post-it notes and kept them with her.  The clear message was one of the need to listen, communicate and understand, at all times.  Fran then helpfully took us through the findings and recommendations of the inquiry report, lessons which could be applied to so much of our own work.


After coffee, we heard from Steve Baguley, from the National Working Group CSE Response Unit.  The conference delegates are now very familiar with the nature of child sexual exploitation and the procedures and mechanisms to attempt to combat it, in all its forms; however Steve certainly opened our eyes to new ways of thinking and possible creative approaches to tackling the problem.  We were reminded of the power of language and how language – not only that which we use ourselves, but also that to which we are constantly exposed within the media and social discourse – shapes our views of children and young people, and therefore affects the way we behave and react to them.  We watched the powerful Waltham Forest video about hearing a child’s voice, which leaves on the message “Negative attitudes lead to systematic failures to protect us”.  Steve cautioned against the inappropriate use of the term “resilience”; there is a tendency for professionals to believe that children are strong, resilient and therefore “over it” following abuse.  They are not over it.  We must remember that and find ways to hear the voices of those children even if they are not openly telling us how they are feeling.  Steve commended the use of mental health assessments at the time of receiving a child into care, and the need for all practitioners to have an understanding of the impact of trauma and the development of the adolescent brain (a message reinforced later by Dr Liz Gillett).  He recommended all delegates to read the Jenny Pearce Social Model of Abused Consent to gain a better understanding of the mechanisms by which the child has been abused and the reasons behind it.  Finally he took the delegates through a number of different legislative tools which can be used to prevent and disrupt CSE and reminded us that trafficking legislation can be extremely useful.


The delegates then broke out into workshop groups.  We had three fantastic workshops this year.  The first was presented by a number of members and former members of the Leicestershire County Council Children in Care Council, supported by Leicestershire’s Children’s Rights Officers and staff from the Corporate Parenting Team.  The presentation focussed on the fantastic work of the CIC Council and the experiences of those children, in particular how (or whether at all) they felt that their voices had been heard within the court process.  We also heard from care leavers about their experiences of moving on to adulthood and independence, and the lessons that must be learned to ensure that this transition is as successful as possible.  The sadly overwhelming message from the experiences of the speakers was one of inconsistency.  The young people could not understand why some had been able to have their own solicitor at court, while others had not; why some felt they had a very good relationship with their Children’s Guardian, while others had barely met theirs; why some had the opportunity to speak to the Judge directly about their feelings about the case, while others had never even been told that this was an option.  It was a wake-up call to all those listening; we can and must do better.


The second workshop was a fascinating presentation by Dr Liz Gillett about the nature of the adolescent brain, and the reasons why adolescent children (and adults – adolescence runs to 25) react and behave the way they do.  She also explained the impact of trauma and neglect at various stages of development and how this can prevent the development of adult functioning later in life.  She explained that research in this area is changing all the time and that we now have more tools at our fingertips to be able to work with young people in a different way.  She was hopeful that this will start to be implemented. Those listeners who have become jaded over the years by experience of failing public services were perhaps less so.


The final workshop was run by Dawn Knighton, an independent social work assessor familiar with all those who practice in Leicester.  She spoke about the particular considerations which need to be taken into account when assessing older children.  She reminded us of the need to hear their voice, but that ultimately a best interests decision must be made.  She gave the delegates extremely helpful advice as to the proper approach when undertaking such assessments.


Later in the afternoon we heard from our final speaker of the day, William Baldet, co-ordinator of the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy for Leicestershire.  His absorbing (and sometimes harrowing) address explained the nature of – and need for – the Prevent strategy and the Channel programme.  He took the audience through the types of extremist ideology which fuel terrorism in the UK and the central themes which motivate people to begin to contemplate taking terrorist action.  He explained how organisations and networks identify and prey on those who may be vulnerable to idealist grooming; a safeguarding issue for young people in the same league as any others, for example CSE and gang violence.  Will highlighted the dangers of propaganda; not only overt and obviously violent propaganda, but the more subtle use of sites like Facebook to undermine opinion and change the face of public discourse by a drip-drip effect over time, thereby normalising certain discriminatory attitudes.  Finally he explained the routes to intervention through the Prevent strategy.


HHJ George concluded the day with thanks to the organisers and to draw the raffle.  The raffle this year was organised by Dodds Solicitors in support of Soft Touch Arts, a Leicester charity which uses arts, media and music to make positive changes for disadvantaged young people.  We raised £706 so thank you to all who contributed.


We would like to thank HHJ George and all those involved in the planning and organisation of this year’s event: Martin Kingerley, Ben Mansfield, Fiona Gingell, Mandy McCrory, Della Phillips, Margaret Robinson, Lynne Nelson, Jennifer McNeil, Gill Graham and of course (as ever) Louise King and Justine Blackwell of HMCTS, who go above and beyond the call of duty on our behalf every year.  We would also like to give special thanks to Leicester City Council for the use of the fabulous City Hall venue, which all agreed was ideal for our purposes.


The Family Justice Day was both incredibly informative, as ever.  Please remember to complete your feedback forms and we looks forward to seeing you all next year.

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Leicester Family Justice Day: 3rd November 2017

  |   Education & Training, Events, Latest News

The Leicester and Leicestershire Family Law Training Association, Chaired by Martin Kingerley, present this year’s FJB Day.


All Early Bird Tickets are now SOLD OUT and there are limited tickets still available.


This year’s conference has a fantastic line up and is taking place on Friday 3rd November 2017 at City Hall, Charles Street.


Please click here to go to the booking page


In addition to the previously publicised speakers, we are pleased to confirm that Prevent are delivering a plenary session.


Please note that all booking is via the above booking page and that the Court Staff are not responsible for any related matters this year, so please do not contact them!


All attendees will need to have their details entered as part of the booking process, even for group bookings. All attendees will need to select two workshops as part of the booking process.


Click here for the poster

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