The author Noel Arnold is the Director of Legal Practice at the Coram Childrens Legal Centre (@CCLUK) and is a member of both the Association of Lawyers for Children Executive Committee and the Law Society’s Children Law Sub-Committee. He often writes on the topic of Children Law, including occasionally on Pink Tape. Noel tweets as @Children_Law.
This book is one of The Law Society’s “Legisation Guides” series and as such was never going to be the most rip-roaring read of 2014. But it is in fact interesting, and I would wager that hidden away in its pages will be a small handful of genuinely missed points that even the most astute practitioner will have missed when brushing up on the impact of the wide ranging Children & Families Act 2014. I read it pretty thoroughly when it was passed, and so although much of what was in the book was familiar I have picked up a few nuggets to store away for some time in the future when they will come in handy.
So for example, one of the points that I picked up for the first time was in connection to the new provisions for the grant of parental responsibility. Although I had recognized that it was now possible for the court to grant parental responsibility to any person named in a “spending time with / contact” as well as a “living with” child arrangements order, the penny had not dropped that this functioned also as an indirect mechanism for a grandparent to apply for a s8 order without requiring leave. As such, the award of PR to a non-carer (most obviously a granny enjoying contact that may function as something of a “respite” or bolstering of a placement with parents) acts as a route for the stepping up of that granny’s role should the wheels fall off the parental placement. To some limited extent this deals with the requests from Grandparents organisations in the course of the FJR regarding the removal of the leave requirements in s9 CA 1989, albeit in a less than obvious way.
There is a useful discussion of the wisdom and necessity of s13 C&FA, the provision about expert evidence which is a section that is, strangely, not drafted by way of an amendment to the day to day statutes but which stands alone, unincorporated (and potentially forgotten).
Also interesting are sections relating to parent carers and the enhanced role of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, who is now tasked to promote and protect the rights of children in England (previously to promote awareness of the views and interests of children) and who may now provide advice and assistance to any child living away from home or receiving social care (a group towards whom she is directed to have particular regard), and who may make representations on behalf of such a child to any person who is providing accommodation or exercising functions in relation to that child. It will be interesting to see how this develops in practice, although as the author states it does not appear that the intention of this provision is to develop a full casework role for the Commissioner’s office.
Noel Arnold has written this book in a clear and straightforward way, summarizing for each provision its aetiology and purpose, and highlighting its interplay with the Family Procedure Rules. It offers in places sensible, if brief, criticism and querying of whether or not a particular provision is likely to achieve its stated purpose or to advance the broader objectives of doing justice more speedily.
Because it follows the structure of the Act itself, the book hops from one area to another – but this is no more disconcerting an experience than reading the Act itself, and can hardly be helped. For the Children & Families Act 2014 covers a multitude of sins, some of which are of direct and pressing relevance to family law practitioners, others of which are of tangential relevance or remote interest only. The book is clearly written with the family practitioner in mind, focusing it’s energies on those sections of the Act most directly relevant to day to day family law practice. Sections covered in less detail offer a practitioner a helpful set of reference points for future research or reading should that prove necessary.
The book is a surprisingly quick read – partly due to it’s clarity of language, and partly due to the fact that a significant part of the bulk of it is the Act itself, which is handily reproduced in full.