Our annual Family Justice Day took place on 9th October and was again a huge success. The event, at Stamford Court, was well attended by local lawyers, magistrates and judiciary, social workers and cafcass officers, and members of other groups and organisations.
This year’s conference was entitled “Vulnerable Adults and Children: Justice for all?” The main themes of the day centred around the Court of Protection and adults who are “protected parties” due to mental incapacity, and children who are victims of child sexual exploitation (CSE), a very rapidly growing area of child protection.
The morning was opened by the Midlands Region Family Division Liasion Judge, Mr Justice Michael Keehan. He spoke of his experience dealing with the case of BCC v Riaz and the issues that led to the making of wide-reaching injunctive orders under the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court against several men whom he was satisfied had been involved in a prolonged, organised campaign of sexually exploiting a young, very vulnerable girl. He also explained his reasons – having balanced all of the competing human rights at play – for allowing the publication of the names of each of those men. Mr Justice Keehan then described himself as a changed man following two very different cases he had dealt with in which he spoke directly with the subject children. He said that the discussions he had held had a very significant impact on his perception of the cases. He is now a strong exponent of the view that Judges should see the children they are dealing with and hear their voices directly.
The conference then heard from Alan Bedford, author of the 2015 Oxfordshire Serious Case Review into child sexual exploitation. He described the reasons why – only a few years ago – all of the professionals involved in respect of several vulnerable girls over many years missed every opportunity to identify and prevent the serious and sustained trafficking and exploitation of these children by organised gangs of men. He spoke of the lessons to be learned in this area of child protection, which – it is now becoming all too clear – unfortunately takes place on a massive scale across the whole country.
The conference delegates then took part in two group workshops exploring the following:
Placing disabled children and adoption (Dr Sarah Blunt, University of Bedfordshire)
An introduction to the Court of Protection (Joseph O’Brien, St John’s Buildings Chambers)
Domestic Violence and Learning Disability (Siobhan Hunt, Kent University)
Assessing Learning Disabled Parents (Ward Andrews)
Preventing CSE (Alan Bedford)
Later in the afternoon the conference heard from Alistair Pitblado, the Official Solicitor. He focussed on the needs of “protected parties” in proceedings, particularly in the light of the significant reduction in the availability of Legal Aid in private law proceedings. He highlighted many areas of difficulty for parties and judges in such situations and the lacunas that exist in the current funding available either under Legal Aid or from HMCTS, which – in his view – may lead to potential miscarriages of justice.
As ever the day was wrapped up with the raffle. Prizes were very generously contributed and the raffle raised over £800.
We look forward to seeing you again next year for what is always a fantastic event, exploring hot topics in family law.Read More