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10.11.2019

Thakmina Begum receives Law Society’s Children Law Panel Accreditation

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Congratulations to Thakmina Begum, one of our Supervising Solicitors within the London Family Law team who has been awarded the Law Society’s Children Law  Panel Accreditation.

The Children Law Accreditation provides a recognised quality standard for practitioners representing children in child law proceedings. The accreditation shows awareness, knowledge and expertise in this area of law.

Thakmina had to undergo rigorous evaluation to achieve the accreditation. Only experienced practitioners with Children Law Panel Accreditation can represent children in the Family Court either in conjunction with a Court appointed Children’s Guardian or upon independent instructions.

Kirsty Richards, Head of Family commented on Thakmina’s achievement

It’s a wonderful recognition and a great boost for the department and the new care team we are building. I’m extremely happy that Thakmina has been recognised as a specialist care solicitor and look forward to watching her career develop further with the firm

Situations involving children can be difficult and sensitive. Our experienced team are here to provide support and guidance in order to achieve the very best outcome for you and your family. Call us on 0203 6015051 to speak to our specialist Child Panel solicitors.

05.11.2019

Domestic Abuse bill falls for the second time in two months

Written by Rosita Mendonca

The Domestic Abuse Bill, which aimed to ‘transform the national response to domestic abuse’ and end the practice of allowing domestic abusers the opportunity to cross-examine their victims in court has fallen for a second time in two months on account of the next month’s general election.

All bills that have failed to achieve royal assent by the time parliament is dissolved on Wednesday will fall- this includes the Domestic Abuse Bill, which fell on 10 September, when parliament was unlawfully prorogued, but was reintroduced in the Queen’s speech on 14 October.

Also at a standstill are the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which introduces provisions for no-fault divorce, and the Courts and Tribunals (Online Procedure Bill).

30.09.2019

Care Crisis – Vulnerable children are being failed

Written by Rosita Mendonca

A recent BBC News investigation has found that looked-after teenagers over the age of 16 are at risk of exploitation and abuse whilst residing in unregulated homes across England and Wales. Such accommodation avoids inspection and regulation due to its provision of ‘support’ opposed to ‘care’, despite the vulnerabilities of these young people.

According to figures from the Department for Education, about 5,500 looked after children in England were living in this type of accommodation, up 70% from 10 years ago. This increase is attributable to the rise of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)-  these are experiences in which children are exposed to domestic violence, neglect, abuse, drug and alcohol addiction and untreated mental illness.

The recent BBC news article highlights cases at Centurion Care. One incident involves a resident who was not provided with sufficient care following incidents of self-harm, and another incident involved resident who absconded for a week despite being seen getting into a car with a large group of males.

One of the primary issues that the report highlights is that vulnerable young people were typically placed in towns away from where they were brought up. The Association of Directors of Children’s Services said: “There is a national shortage of foster carers and a growing disconnect between the location of residential children’s homes and need.”

The Department for Education in England has described how local authorities have a legal duty to ensure there is suitable accommodation for these children. Local authorities are in breach of duty in allowing the existence of these unregulated care homes that enable young people to be exposed to exploitation.

In a welcome move, the government has recently announced a £30 million funding boost that will assist law enforcement with pioneering new technologies to track down  paedophiles operating online and help safeguard children who have been abused.

25.09.2019

Domestic Violence Killings at a Five year High

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Last year, 173 people were killed in domestic violence related homicides, an increase of 32 deaths on 2017, according to data obtained by the BBC from 43 police forces across the UK. This figure has steadily increased from 2014.

Domestic violence homicides are not just committed by a partner or spouse, they can also be committed by family members such as parents, brothers and sisters. Whilst acknowledging that men can be victims, the BBC states that the vast majority are women, and refer to the Office for National Statistics data for domestic abuse in England and Wales for the year to March 2018, which indicates that between April 2014 and March 2017, around three-quarters of victims of domestic killings by a partner, ex-partner or family member were women.

Efforts are being made by Government to tackle the ever growing issues of domestic violence and with the introduction of the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and Claire’s Law, which sees people being able to check the background of their partner should they suspect may have a history of domestic violence, is a step closer in trying to protect individuals against domestic violence. Despite this, homicide as a result of domestic violence continues to grow.

The Government have hired Nicole Jacobs from Standing Together Against Domestic Violence as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner to spearhead the £69b campaign to tackle the problem. It is hoped this campaign will see the number of victims and homicides of domestic and sexual violence reduce significantly.

At National Legal Service Solicitors, we have a team of accredited solicitors that include specialists in domestic abuse cases who can help obtain court orders on an emergency basis. For more information, please call us on 0203 601 5051

04.09.2019

Birmingham family lawyer receives national recognition

Written by Rosita Mendonca

We are pleased to share that Nadia Butt from the National Legal Service Solicitors Birmingham office has been awarded the Family Law Advanced Accreditation from The Law Society, specialising in Children Private Law and Violence in the Home.

For Nadia to have achieved the Family Law Advanced Accreditation she had to demonstrate that she has and will maintain the required level of competence and knowledge, as defined by the Law Society in her chosen specialist areas of Family Law.

Nadia’s achievement demonstrates her skill set and expertise and we are delighted to see her achieve that recognition at National Legal Service Solicitors.

Nadia Butt said:

Achieving this accreditation was important to me as it furthers my aim to provide the highest quality of legal services to my clients; demonstrating our devotion to their circumstances, which can often be a challenging time for them. From a personal perspective, I wanted to be an expert in my field and highlight my commitment to Family Law.

Kirsty Richards, Head of Family, said:

I am delighted for Nadia’s achievement in respect of her Law Society Family Law Advanced Accreditation.  She has worked hard to receive that recognition and mark of excellence.  It has been a celebrated moment for all at NLS but especially for the team at our Birmingham Branch that work with Nadia on a daily basis. It is so lovely to see everyone cheer her success and I look forward to the next stages of her career development with us.

02.09.2019

Financial Abuse is Domestic Abuse

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Like all forms of domestic abuse at the centre of it is usually one person exercising control over another. Abuse can take many forms- emotional, physical, psychological and financial. Financial abuse (or economic abuse) is an aspect of  ‘coercive control’, which is a pattern of controlling, degrading and/or threatening conduct which takes away the victim’s freedom. Financial abuse is one of the most frequent ways that perpetrators exercise a significant level of control over their partners and enables them to be able to restrict their partner’s movements and keep tabs on their lives. Often victims do not have the financial knowledge or means to be able to support themselves and their children independently- as a result, people feel there is no alternative but to remain in an abusive relationship.

Almost a fifth of adults in the UK have been a victim of financial abuse in a current or past relationship. This rarely occurs in isolation – 8 out of 10 people had also been victims of other forms of abuse in their relationship.

 

These were findings of a joint campaign conducted in 2015 with The Co-operative Bank and Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, which aimed to raise awareness of the scale of the issue of financial abuse.  Key findings from this study also include:-

  • 60% of all cases are reported by women although victims spanned all gender, age and income groups.
  • A third of financial abuse victims suffer in silence, telling no-one
  • 78% of women & 23% of men said their abuse went on over five years
  • For women reporting experience of the problem, the abuse tended to start at key life stages: 71% said it was when they moved in with a partner, 75% said it was when they got married, and 30% when they had children. Among men the figures were 28%, 25% and 30% respectively.

 

Escaping financial abuse

If you are being subjected to financial abuse, you may be apply for a Non-Molestation Order and/or an Occupation Order.  A Non-Molestation Order is used not only to protect you from actual or threatened physical violence but also form wider forms of abuse, such as financial abuse where it is having a significant impact on your emotional well being. (You will need to see if you satisfy a legal test around the association of you to the alleged perpetrator as well as evidencing that the abuse is causing you significant harm).  Depending on the seriousness of your situation, you may be able to apply for a non molestation order without notice to the alleged perpetrator.  However, there will most likely be a second hearing listed on notice so the other party is then able to attend court to say whether they contest the order).

An Occupation Order gives you the right to remain in your home and can restrict your abuser from entering it. It can also define the areas that can be occupied if you need to both continue residing in the property. You need to understand whether you have a legal right to be in the property before considering if you are able to apply for an Occupation Order.  This type of order can be crucial for a victim of economic abuse because they usually do not have access to the money they need to move away from their abuser.

As with applications for Non-Molestation Orders, Occupation Orders can be made ex-parte, which means you will appear before a judge without your abuser being present.  Any order granted ex-parte is only temporary, a full hearing must take place at a later date.  However, the making of an occupation order ex parte requires strong evidence as to the justifications for such an order.  There is a list of considerations you will have to address in your evidence to demonstrate how the balance for the making of this type of order should fall in your favour.

Breaching a Non-Molestation Order is a criminal offence and can result in a fine and/or up to five years in prison.  Although breaching and Occupation Order is not a criminal offence; a power to arrest can be attached to the order by the court.

 

Funding for your financial abuse matter

It may be possible to obtain legal aid for non-molestation orders and occupation orders and we are happy to have assessment interviews with you via telephone to see if you would meet the eligibility criteria and to discuss what evidence you would need to obtain to meet the eligibility criteria.

 

Protection against financial abuse 

If you are concerned that someone is financially abusing you or are worried for a relative or friend, the Money Advice Service offers help on financial abuse and other financial issues.

National Legal Service Solicitors have significant experience representing people in divorce proceedings involving domestic abuse.  For confidential information, please call our office on 020 3601 5051.

22.08.2019

Staff Spotlight Series

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Each month we will now be featuring one of our Solicitors, Chartered Executives or Paralegals- this way you can learn a little more about the members of the NLS team and what makes them tick!

 

This month’s staff spotlight is on Fatimah Iqbal, Supervising Solicitor for Guildford & Southampton.  Fatimah undertook her training contract in one of the country’s largest Legal Aid firms where she specialised in areas such as Divorce, Financial Remedy, Private Law Children, Domestic Abuse, Public Law and Probate.

 

What is your current role and how did you come about working at NLS Solicitors?

Currently I am a Supervising Solicitor for Guildford and Southampton at NLS. I started at NLS at a time when I was looking for growth and recognition. NLS is known for investing in its staff and ensuring job satisfaction. I wasn’t wrong and I haven’t looked back since!

 

What inspired you to pursue a career in family law?

I was always very interested in sociology and family dynamics, as our perceptions as a society changed and we realised that a nuclear family isn’t always the right fit for everyone. I was fascinated by families that change and reshape themselves for a happier life. Law has always been an extremely exciting and dynamic industry so combining both was always going to be an organic outcome for me.

 

What are your specialisms?

I specialise in a range of areas within family law, such as:  Divorce. Childcare. Private and Public Law Children. Financial Relief. Domestic Abuse.

 

What are your strengths as a family solicitor?

I feel that at the core of my personal policies I place the most vulnerable in the dynamic who are the children. If you are pursuing the best outcome for the most vulnerable in any given situation you will always be in a winning position. Apart from this I think the key strength for any lawyer is research, always be prepared and organised.

 

What was the last thing you accomplished at work that you were most proud of?

My accreditation for Family Law. I only qualified short while ago, however it is such an honour and so rare to acquire panel membership in such a short time that I am immensely proud of this achievement. It is a demonstrable reward of all my hard work and recognition of knowledge and experience.

 

How is NLS Solicitors different to other firms? 

NLS is vastly different to any other firm that I’ve worked for because of its staff.  It is a forward thinking dynamic employer.  NLS has made diversity its strength, we have a large cohort of female and BAME lawyers we are proud of and every single person brings something special to the table. We value a hard work ethic and we recruit team players. The quality of my peers is definitely what sets us apart.

 

What is your favourite part of the job?

My favourite part of the job is knowing that in a small way I can make a difference for the better to people’s lives. That I can ensure the safety and security of people who sometimes haven’t had that in a long while. My clients and their needs are paramount, I don’t view my clients as cases to win or lose but as people to ‘secure’. ‘securing’ safety, happiness, peace of mind, basic human rights are the most satisfying part of my job. The most challenging part of my job is definitely the billing aspect, I am better with words than numbers!

 

Do you undertake any volunteering roles?

I volunteer for the Citizens Advice Bureau and East Surrey Domestic Abuse Services, both are extremely rewarding opportunities to give back to your community. I also volunteer at the homeless shelter opposite Grays Inn in London on Sundays. The ‘guests’ who visit for a warm meal and someone to talk to are always a pleasure to speak to and learn from and the coffee is always very good!

 

What do you do like to do in your spare time?

In my spare time I enjoy travelling, learning and living new cultures, I love to come out of my comfort zone and travel to places a little off the beaten track and live a life that’s teaches you something different. My favourite so far has been living in a Berber village. I think for our own personal growth and to evolve, it is important to see things from perspectives other than your own. I think it was Foucault who said that if I feel the same way about something in 10 years then I have failed to evolve.

 

 

 

12.08.2019

I want to see my grandchildren: Do grandparents have legal rights?

Written by Rosita Mendonca

Grandparents play an important role in children’s lives and research has shown that they can have a positive impact, particularly on adolescents and when families are going through difficult times. Their involvement is strongly associated with reduced adjustment difficulties in all family types, but particularly so amongst adolescences from divorced or separated families.

When a parental relationship comes to an end, it often has far reaching implications in respect of the child/ren’s ongoing relationship and access to their wider family, such as grandparents.  It is a sad reality that grandparents do not have an automatic right to contact with their grandchildren. However, family courts do recognise the often invaluable role that grandparents have to play in their grandchildrens lives and it is very rare that the court would refuse a grandparent access to grandchildren unless there is a safeguarding issue that would prevent that access taking place and/or unless there are practical/logistical reasons that would mean any contact would not be in the child/ren’s best interests (having regard to the welfare checklist in s.1(2) of the children act 1989).

Can I make an application to the court?

Only people with parental responsibility, for example parents, step-parents or guardians can make an application for a Contact Order (see s.10(4) and (5) of the children act 1989 for full details). Grandparents are not automatically entitled to apply for a child arrangements order, and they must obtain the permission of the court (“known as applying for leave”).

When deciding whether the grandparents should be given permission, the court will consider (see s.10 (8)-(10) of the children act 1989 for full considerations):-

  • The nature of the proposed application that the grandparent wishes to make
  • Their connection with the child
  • Whether the application might be potentially harmful to the child’s well-being in any way.

If one or both parents raise objections, there is likely to be a full court hearing where all the parties can put forward their evidence. At that stage, it is extremely beneficial to have legal advice to assist with preparing the case, to demonstrate to the court that the applicant grandparents do have meaningful and ongoing relationships with their grandchildren, which significantly benefits their lives.

If you are a grandparent and would like to know more about your options or you are not happy with current arrangements regarding your grandchildren, please do not hesitate to contact our Family team on 020 3601 5051.

28.07.2019

Family courts suffer from an unprecedented increase in cases

Written by Rosita Mendonca

According to a recent article in the  Guardian, the most senior Family Judge in England and Wales (Sir Andrew McFarlane) has stated that Family Courts are having to “run up a down escalator”  particularly due to an unprecedented increase in childcare cases.

Ever since the drastic legal aid cuts in 2013, the family courts have come under increasing pressure. Most professionals within the family justice system predicted that the cuts would lead to not only significant injustice in cases, but also a huge increase in litigants in person – As a result, far more pressure exerted on the family court.

The volume of cases has increased significantly since the beginning of 2016. The number of “public children law” applications for care or supervision orders – issued by local authorities – has risen by about 25% . Last year, there were 53,164 new private law cases issued involving 123,334 children.

Ideally, the commencement of legal proceedings should always be a last resort as it can cause further stress for families that are already dealing with a number of issues following a breakdown in the parental relationship.  Parents and carers who are representing themselves often have not sought legal advice as to their options and may think that an application to court is their only option. Really, it is only if an agreement cannot be reached between parents that an application to court may become necessary.  The removal of early legal advice for separated parents has had a real impact on the rise of applications, further increasing the pressure on court staff and the judiciary.

As family lawyers, we understand the importance of children spending quality time with both parents (when it is in the child’s best interests to do so), and agreeing fair arrangements for children and we understand how challenging it can be if a parent is being prevented from spending time with their child by the other parent.  The child/ren at the heart of the dispute will also be impacted by warring parents and it is very important that legal advice can be obtained so that issues can be narrowed wherever possible.

Legal Aid is available for parents/ carers of children subject to care and supervision proceedings, brought by a local authority and early advice is critical to the presentation of any party’s case at the outset.  (There are also other public children law applications that fall within the scope of cases for which legal aid is still available but you should speak to one of our advisors as to what the application is and we can advise if it is means/merits tested or not).

Legal Aid is also sometimes available for some private children law disputes subject to the satisfaction of the evidential requirements of Reg 33 and 34 of LASPO (such as evidence of domestic abuse or child protection issues).  That is known as “gateway evidence”.  However, even with gateway evidence you will be subject to financial means testing and it is important to understand whether you would be eligible for legal aid.

If you find that you are ineligible for legal aid, you can contact our team to obtain information about our fixed fee work that would mean you could receive advice and assistance in relation to your family law matter.

With the school holidays around the corner, please also read our blog on how to avoid contact issues over the holidays. Rather than making an application to the court, we would recommend that you first seek advice from a family solicitor who can guide you through the various options available.  In the event a court application is unavoidable, we will represent your interests as best we can throughout. Please call us on 020 3601 5051 for further information or fill in our contact enquiry form.

Head of Family, Kirsty Richard comments

 I was practicising family law prior to the LASPO cuts and there is a link in my bio for the interview I did with BBC London in 2011.  I had discussed my concerns about how the legal aid cuts would most likely impact those that needed legal advice the most and sadly, like many practitioners, our fears and predictions have been borne out.  I had discussed at the time (among other issues) that in preventing parents/carers from getting early intervention legal advice and potentially having to deal with private children law applications (around child arrangement disputes); that would most likely have the reverse effect and instead of saving court time and costs by introducing LASPO restrictions, there would actually be an increased strain on the court system and all professionals involved in this type of work.  I also feared that in not having legal advice as to what is reasonable and talking through the welfare checklist (for example) that parents/carers may take matters into their own hands, causing an increase in violent offences and more instances of children being withheld following arranged visits with the other parent/carer.  That can then escalate to the involvement of the police which in turn sees referrals to social services and could easily lead to the commencement of care and supervision proceedings.  What we have seen since the introduction of the very drastic legal aid cuts is a rise in applications for interim care and supervision orders (ss.31 and 33 of the Children Act 1989) as well as a rise in applications under s.8 of the Children Act 1989.  It has caused a massive strain on the judiciary and family practitioners from the Bar and in private practice and at local authorities.  It is also widely discussed as to how this is also having a devastating impact on the wellbeing of all of professionals trying their best to deal with surges of court applications and warring families.  The early involvement of solicitors/ legal advisors used to prevent disputes escalating in a number of cases and it is the child/ren at the heart of these disputes that suffer the most in these present times.

01.07.2019

Guide to Emergency Protection Orders

Written by Rosita Mendonca

An Emergency Protection Order (also called an EPO) is an urgent order granted by the Court if the local authority has satisfied the court that a child is in immediate need of protection from significant harm or a risk of significant harm.  These types of applications are usually issued by a local authority.

They can follow situations where the police have exercised their powers to remove children under police protection (which is a temporary situation of up to 72 hours).  If there is no immediate risk of harm, then the most likely application will be an application for a care or supervision order, sometimes on short notice if there is still an element of urgency to the facts of the case.

If an EPO is granted by the Court, the local authority/ children services then share Parental Responsibility for the child/ren and in support of their application they will have filed a proposed care plan detailing their views around the following issues:

  • Whether the child/ren should be removed from the parent(s) and if so, where they should be placed pending further consideration by the court; for example should the child/ren be placed with other family/friends (approved by the local authority) or should they be placed with local authority foster carers, for example.
  • What safeguards need to be put in place to address the identified risk(s) to the child/ren.
  • What contact can be safely arranged for the parents to see the child/ren.

It is a criminal offence to prevent someone from removing a child if an EPO has been granted.  The child/ren are usually removed by a social worker and can be accompanied by police if it is felt necessary, depending on the situation.

How long does an EPO last?

An Emergency Protection Order usually lasts for up to eight days.  However, an application may be made to extend this.  This will be granted for up to 7 days if there is reasonable cause to believe that the child is at risk of significant harm.

What contact can I have with my child if an EPO is made?

The local authority is under a duty to allow reasonable contact between the child/ren and parent(s).  However, what is reasonable depends entirely on the circumstances of the case and most often, any contact that is permitted by the local authority is supervised – usually in a children’s contact centre but sometimes other arrangements can be made to be supervised by family members although that usually comes much later on in proceedings.

Can I appeal against an EPO?

You can apply to discharge (dismiss) the Emergency Protection Order within 72 hours only if:

  • You were not given notice of the hearing and
  • You were not present at the hearing

However, if it was believed by Children’s Services that the child was at immediate risk of harm and/or in immediate danger, they have the right to apply for an EPO without giving notice to the parent(s).

More often than not, following any EPO application, the local authority will then apply for interim care orders (ICOs) to maintain the status quo of the children’s arrangements pending further assessments/investigation of the family.  The parents (with parental responsibility) will be given notice of any ICO application listed before the family court and legal aid is available as it is not means or merits tested.

It is at that first hearing that the parents may wish to challenge the continuing separation from their child/ren and in reality, the ICO hearing may be listed sooner than an appeal can be prepared.

Head of Family, Kirsty Richards comments:-

Whenever the local authority is involved with a family,  it is without doubt one of the most scariest times for the parent/s and child/ren as these decisions can be made very urgently after relatively little court time.  There are some parents that I have helped in the past that have been working with social services for some time prior to the issue of court proceedings and when things then escalate to the family court arena, they do not always think it is necessary to get legal representation.

I would advise any parent/ carer with parental responsibility that it is crucial to get legal advice at the earliest opportunity when the local authority has given you notice of any court hearing.  Most local authorities will have a list of specialist lawyers attached to any letter advising of imminent legal proceedings, otherwise you can search for a solicitor that is a Member of the Law Society’s Children Panel via the Law Society’s website.  We have many accredited solicitors here at NLS and a team of junior lawyers that assist with this type of case.  We have experience of this type of proceedings nationwide and are committed to providing a high quality of legal advice to all parent/s in this situation.

How we can help

Our expert team of family solicitors are specialists in the area of Emergency Protection Order/Interim Care Order applications and are experienced in responding quickly in what is almost always a very rapidly developing situation.

Please call 0203 6015051 for specialist legal advice from one of our accredited solicitors.  It is crucial to obtain legal advice as early as possible whenever the local authority is involved with your family and has taken the decision to issue court proceedings.