This (young legal aid) life: Heather Thomas

heather-thomasIt’s only Tuesday lunchtime but already it feels like Friday. That’s probably because I worked for much of Sunday and Monday was a pretty long day.

  • This is the second in a regular series of written columns by members of Young Legal Aid Lawyers. You can read the first here.

AT 11.30am on Monday, an email had popped into my inbox: a local authority was seeking an urgent hearing to obtain the court’s permission to remove a baby from the care of my client, a teenager herself. The judge would be hearing the case at 2pm. My client was in a specialist unit with her daughter, having her parenting assessed due to concerns about the impact of her own upbringing and mental health on her capacity to parent. Counsel – who dropped everything to get to court – was emailed the papers and briefed over the phone across several fraught calls. Despite counsel’s protestations that safeguards could be put in place and that the hearing should be adjourned to ensure that my client would get a fair trial, the judge sanctioned the separation of mother and baby.

This case is not over yet, though. I have a plan. My client should never have been placed in a unit. She should have been in a nurturing foster placement with her baby. We will be issuing an application for a parenting assessment with a social worker independent of the local authority and this issue will be heard next week. If this is positive, we can apply for mother and baby to be reunited. I feel optimistic. My client just needs the right support.

After dealing with that case, I drafted a brief for a hearing later in the week for a Forced Marriage Protection Order against my client’s estranged father. My client is almost 18 but lacks litigation capacity so it is her mum giving me instructions. Her father was threatening to marry her off for money. The court’s protection is vital. I finish the brief at 3.45pm.

I keep being distracted responding to constant emails back and forth on various cases but manage to draft a position statement for a hearing on Wednesday morning. I represent the father. His sons have recently been moved to his care and he is working well with the social workers. If he keeps this up, I am hoping the local authority will agree his children should stay with him long term.

I have already briefed a barrister for another hearing listed on Wednesday. My client misuses drugs and alcohol and the local authority wants to put her baby son up for adoption. It will be a difficult day for my client to say the least, and I have arranged for her sister to come to court to support her. Sadly, given my client’s own limitations, the outcome in this case is – I reluctantly agree – best for the child. I only hope that I guided her through the legal process as gently and sensitively as I could.

Of the emails flying around on Monday afternoon, many concern the final care plans for four children who are going to be returning to the care of my client, their aunt, after being taken into foster care earlier this year. All have complex needs, and it was becoming increasingly difficult for their aunt to look after them. The local authority is seeking to retain parental responsibility for her nephews and nieces. We oppose this because of the powers it would give them over the children, without needing the scrutiny and oversight of the family court. My client has worked really well with the professionals involved, so I am confident that the judge will agree with us.

I am also instructed on a new case. This concerns a baby who has been in hospital for most of his life due to numerous health complications but has been found to have several unexplained fractures. My client, his mum, denies harming her son and believes the injuries were sustained accidentally due to his medical conditions. At present on this case, it’s a waiting game.

I spent Monday evening drafting a couple of letters to clients confirming the outcome of court hearings the previous week and advising them on the next steps in their case.



Heather Thomas

About Heather Thomas

Heather is a family solicitor at Amphlett Lissimore and member of Young Legal Aid Lawyers committee

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