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. [...]
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
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.
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.
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:-
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
I specialise in a range of areas within family law, such as: Divorce. Childcare. Private and Public Law Children. Financial Relief. Domestic Abuse.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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).
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”).
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
You can apply to discharge (dismiss) the Emergency Protection Order within 72 hours only if:
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.
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.
With summer holiday’s around the corner, it is imperative to consider the legal implications of taking your child abroad and or agreeing to holiday contact arrangements.
We are aware of situations arising where children with different surnames to the parent they are travelling with, have been stopped at the airport by officials requiring proof that the other parent consents to the child going abroad.
With border control agencies tightening up on this issue, it is advised that you obtain a letter, email or even a text message to show the other parent approves the holiday plans and that you have let them know when you will be back. You may also have to travel with other ID documents, such as a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate naming both parents. National Legal Service Solicitors are able to certify copies of passports for clients for a small fee.
When taking children on holiday abroad, if there are no court orders in place as to any of the children arrangements since the parents separated, there is nothing to prevent the de facto primary carer from taking the children abroad for a family holiday. However, if the other parent has parental responsibility for one / all of the children, then attempts should be made to consult with that parent about the intended holiday, providing details of where you intend to go, where you will be staying and intended return flight details. If the other parent agrees to those plans, you could ask them to put that consent in writing so there is no doubt as to the permission having been obtained. Similarly, if it is not possible to consult with the other parent, due to the whereabouts being unknown or serious domestic abuse, for example, then provided there are no orders in place, you are able to take that holiday abroad. However, if the other parent has parental responsibility but objects to the holiday plans and will not provide clear consent, the parent objecting to the holiday will have to apply to the court for an order preventing the removal of the children from the UK. Both parents will be directed to file evidence in respect of the application, CAFCASS may become involved and asked to make a recommendation and the family court will decide whether the holiday can take place and if so, it will grant permission. All decisions relating to children in this respect are dealt with under s.8 of the Children Act 1989 and the court’s paramount concern is the child’s welfare. There is a checklist that is adopted in this type of decision and that can be found at s.1(2) of the Children Act 1989. If you have any issues relating to whether you need permission to leave the UK for a family holiday, please seek early legal advice as all cases depend on the full circumstances and the information within this blog can not be relied upon in respect of your situation without first seeking full clarity from one of our legal team.
If a Court Order is in place to prevent you taking your child abroad without permission and you do so, intentionally or not, it may be considered as international child abduction.
If you have a Child Arrangements Order (CAO) confirming a child lives with you, then in those circumstances you can take your child out of the UK for up to 28 days without the need for consent. However, it is best you notify the other parent of the planned holiday, particularly if there are any contact arrangements that may be impacted by the holiday. You may need to seek legal advise about what to do if a planned holiday may put you in breach of a CAO – spend time with order. One of our legal team can assist you in this and to check the terms of any CAO that is in place as the wording of your particular order is key to what you can/can’t do in terms of whether there is any flexibility around holidays, for example.
If you are looking to move abroad with your child you must obtain agreement from the other parent. Even if they do not have Parental Responsibility there should be discussions. This is so new contact arrangements can be planned for and made and it can stop any late attempts to prevent your intended move by way of formal court applications. This can be a complicated issue and early legal advice is essential to prevent and disappointment, for example, if the court does not grant permission for the relocation.
During the summer holidays, separated parents quite often wish to vary the existing regular contact arrangements. It is good to discuss your plans early so that if there are any disagreements, these can be smoothed out before the summer holidays arrive. A lot will depend on whether there is an existing court order or whether the existing arrangements have been agreed outside of court. If you are a parent with concerns about taking your child on holiday, or you want to stop your child being taken abroad, contact our specialist family law team on 0203 601 5051
While the overwhelming assumption is that domestic abuse victims are female, research from Mankind Initiative highlights some concerning statistics:
Owing to regressive ideas of what abuse looks like, male victims of domestic abuse find it harder to access help. Nearly half of male victims fail to tell anyone they are a victim of domestic (only 51% tell anyone). They are nearly three times less likely to tell anyone than a female victim (49% as opposed to 19%).
National Legal Service Solicitors has helped more than 3,000 victims of domestic abuse in the last year. We feel strongly that each victim should be seen as an individual and helped accordingly irrespective of their gender.
Positive Steps Undertaken
In September 2017, The Crown Prosecution Service published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, domestic abuse, harassment, stalking and child sexual abuse. The CPS statement covers
Over the years I have assisted many male victims of domestic abuse and it is my experience that despite there being lots of positive campaigning around domestic abuse, there can remain a prejudice in the court arena. This was more so around 10-12 years ago, when I remember vividly, that I was helping a male victim to obtain a non molestation order and there were linked children act proceedings wherein we were trying to keep the child of the family safe from the mother’s abuse. Despite clear photographic evidence of injuries to the male victim and supporting statements from doctors and teachers, the Judge that heard the case did not accept the risks posed by the mother to my client or the child. In fact, a comment was that the mother’s outburst were as a result of her “latino temperament”, a comment that haunted me for some time as what flowed was that the father went from being primary carer of the couple’s child, to the Judge changing the arrangements on the ground, giving the mother the majority time each week, and my client went from being primary carer for 5 years, to having an order detailing the 3 nights a week he would care for the child.
That was one of the most extreme cases I have ever dealt with and I have continued to do all I can to assist male victims whenever they have approached me but I have continued to face difficulties. Even securing legal aid can be troublesome if you have a male victim (the “true applicant”) but the respondent issues cross applications and makes representations about your funding. Again, photographs of injuries had to be sent as justification and that case was another example where there was disbelief that a woman of relatively small stature could cause the violence and injuries alleged in my client’s witness statements. We need to continue giving male victims a voice and we need to educate everyone that domestic abuse can be committed by women. The law is there to protect the victim, we have to have our eyes open to who the true victim is when we are dealing with this area of law.