Top family judge calls on MoJ to intervene to deal with ‘impasse’

MoJThe secretary of state for justice was invited to intervene by the most senior family judge in England and Wales in a contact case which began almost four years ago and was further adjourned as a result of the lack of legal aid. Sir James Munby called upon the justice secretary Chris Grayling to advise on the situation when funding was not available from the Legal Aid Agency but which was ‘in the view of the court… necessary to be incurred to ensure proceedings which are just and fair’.

The case of Q v Q, concerned an application for contact by a father with his six year old son. The father was a convicted sex offender and the proceedings had been going on since July 2010. Expert reports commissioned as to the question of the risk posed by the father stated (in the words of the judgment) ‘unequivocally and… with some force’ that the son would not be safe in his presence – and as a result the father’s legal aid was cut. Two consequences flowed: there was no funding for expert witnesses and the father, who could not speak much English, was unrepresented.

The mother’s legal team had argued for the father’s application to be dismissed as it was ‘totally without merit’. However Sir James was ‘unpersuaded that there [were] not matters in these reports which could properly be challenged, probed by someone representing the father’.

‘The question then is what is to be done. On one view, we have thereby reached an impasse, which is unthinkable. This case raises, in quite an acute form, a problem which is increasingly troubling judges sitting in the Family Court at all levels.’
Sir James Munby

The judge cited a run of recent cases Re B (A Child) (Private law fact finding – unrepresented father), D v K [2014] EWHC 700 (Fam) and Re R (Children; temporary leave to remove from jurisdiction) [2014] EWHC 643 (Fam). ‘There is a pressing need to explore whether there is any other way in which two problems can be overcome,’ he said.

‘I appreciate that this is a case in which there have already been too many adjournments of supposedly final hearings. I appreciate it is a case which has been going on for the best part of four years, which is depressing to say the least. And I am very conscious of the fact that the mere existence of the proceedings, and they must seem to the mother and her son to drag on interminably, is having a significant impact both on the mother and also on the parties’ son.’
Sir James Munby

About Jon Robins

Jon is a journalist and has written about the law and justice for the national papers and specialist press for more than 15 years. Jon is a visiting journalism lecturer at Winchester University, a visiting senior fellow in access to justice at the University of Lincoln and patron of Hackney Community Law Centre. He has won the Bar Council’s legal reporter of the year award twice (2015 and 2005). Jon is editor and co-founder of LegalVoice

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