The Charlie Gard case, a CMS report and more

family law


The Charlie Gard case continues, with news that the parents are appealing the decision of Mr Justice Francis that doctors can withdraw life support from Charlie, allowing him to die with dignity. Charlie’s parents want to take him to the US for a treatment trial, and are therefore asking the Court of Appeal to reconsider the decision. I realise that to many it may seem obvious that the parents should be allowed to take Charlie to the US for treatment, and the court may yet agree that that is what should happen. However, it should be pointed out that a lawyer representing Great Ormond Street Hospital told Mr Justice Francis that: “This is not pioneering or lifesaving treatment, but a purely experimental process with no real prospect of improving Charlie’s condition or quality of life.” We all want the best for Charlie, and the position taken by his parents is of course completely understandable, but what is best may not coincide with what they seek.

A couple who had lived through months of “unimaginable horror” after their baby was removed from them by social services have now had the child returned to them. Social services had been attempting to have the baby put into care after she collapsed when about five months old in August 2016. Her father was also arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm, as it was believed that the baby had been shaken. However, the local authority applied to the court for permission to withdraw their application for a care order, after experts established that she suffers from Ehlers-Danlos syndrome type IV, a condition which causes “easy bruising”, and could have accounted for her injuries. The court granted permission to withdraw the application. The case has led to demands that doctors wait 24 hours before diagnosing shaken baby syndrome to prevent parents being falsely accused of harming their child, although whether this is practical is open to question.

The conduct of Brighton & Hove City Council in a complex adoption case concerning a four-year old girl has been heavily criticised by the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby. He said that the length of the proceedings had largely determined the outcome of the case, which required him to decide whether the child should be adopted by her foster parents, or live with her father and three older siblings. He called the delay ‘deplorable’, and said that the outcome might have been different had the case been resolved sooner. He said that at one stage in the proceedings Brighton & Hove’s conduct showed a “cavalier approach to the facts and disregard for precision”. He also criticised the council over disclosures made to the father’s employer that were “inaccurate and misleading”, and led to him losing his job. His final decision was that the child should be adopted.

The new Child Maintenance Service (CMS) must be prepared and resourced to automatically take-over the more difficult or complicated child support non-payment cases from the Child Support Agency, and be less “tentative” in its approach to enforcement, according to a report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. The report says gaps in the CMS’ capabilities in domestic violence cases, or in dealing with fraudulent means declarations, must be closed, and the Government must set out how it is going to tackle collection of arrears and enforcement in ongoing cases. Member of the Committee Heidi Allen MP said: “We know the balance between state and family is one of the hardest to get right. But there is an opportunity to get control of this decades old issue, by improving the new Child Maintenance Service.” After more than twenty years of a failing child support system, I won’t be holding my breath.

And finally, the best story of the week has to be about the Zimbabwean tribal chief who has claimed that spousal and child maintenance fuels divorce. The argument is that the availability of maintenance means wives could leave their husbands easily, or not even bother to marry at all. The chief is quoted as saying that: “women can now just walk in and out of marriage or get pregnant willy-nilly and claim maintenance after all”. Nope, try as I might, I can’t see any flaws with that argument…

Have a good weekend.

Photo by Clare Black via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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Paul - May 6, 2017 at 12:32am

Im moving to Zimbabwe. At last someone who talks sense.

John Bolch - May 8, 2017 at 3:24pm


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