Reporting the Family Courts – Are we doing it justice?

STOP! Don’t answer that question….well, not yet anyway. Come to The Transparency Project’s debate on the topic on 5 April, with a super line up of esteemed persons (and myself) – and tell us what you think then. Details below.

I warn you, I hit publish on the event last night and within less than 24 hours almost half the tix have been snaffled, so get yours now while stocks last! (should I have booked a bigger room?)…

Reporting the Family Courts – Are we doing it justice?

A collaborative discussion between those working in and reporting on the family justice system

This event, hosted by The Transparency Project to coincide with the publication of our Media Guide for journalists, aims to promote cross-silo discussion about the reporting of family courts and how we might improve it.

  • What are the barriers to good reporting?
  • What are the risks to vulnerable children or adults?
  • What does good practice (for lawyers, social workers, judges and journalists) look like?
  • How can the family courts and professionals in family justice work collaboratively with the media to enable public debate whilst protecting privacy?

The event will be chaired by Jo Delahunty QC, Gresham Professor of Law, and will take the format of a panel discussion followed by questions and contributions from the floor. Panellists will include :

The Honourable Mr Justice Peter Jackson 

Sanchia Berg (BBC)

Brian Farmer (Press Association)

Dave Hill (immediate past Chair Association of Directors of Children’s Services)

Will Moy (Director, Full Fact)

Gill Phillips (Director of Editorial Legal Services, Guardian News & Media)

Lucy Reed (Barrister, Chair The Transparency Project)

Debbie Singleton (Co-Chair, Association of Lawyers for Children)

I know, right? It’s gonna be so ACE! Here’s the link for booking your ticket : BOOK ME BABY!

Family Law Conference

The Manchester Centre for Law in Society and the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre are holding a Family Law Conference on 4 March 2017 (10am – 4pm). Speakers :

  • Rebecca Probert, Warwick University
    ‘The women who did: feminism, free love & freedom’
  • Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP
    ‘One couple one lawyer – a solution to the abolition of legal aid on divorce?’
  • Lucy Reed, Chair of the Transparency Project, St John’s Chambers
    ‘Transparency? A practitioner’s view from her window’
  • Lucy Crompton, MMU
    ‘McFarlane 10 years on: a critique of the death of compensation’
  • Edwina Higgins & Kathryn Newton, MMU
    ‘The parental involvement presumption: “unnecessary risk for too little gain?”’

The conference aims to attract a mix of academics, practitioners and students, and provide a relaxed atmosphere for a topical discussion around the papers. There will be extra time for discussion of the parental involvement presumption and especially its potential impact on the child’s voice. The conference is suitable for CPD for practitioners. Location: Manchester Met Business School, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6BH

Admission Cost: £60 or £25 for students and concessions

More Information: for more information please contact Lucy Crompton at Manchester Law School at



Dance of the synapses…

Brrr but it was a mighty cold one this morning [yesterday morning now – I got tied up!]. A morning of luscious oversleeping under warm duvets and a crunchy frosty frogmarch into school just before the 8.50 kettling bell. And then a long, hot, steamy shower to defrost my face and brain.

Radio 4 have been running various things about boredom and the creative process recently. Eddie Mair on PM played 2 minutes of what h considered to be “boring” yesterday to see if our synapses got jigging. However, this was clearly not a pop-experiment meant for lawyers. Because Mair’s 2 minutes of “boring” was someone reading the Ts & Cs for voting in Strictly Come Dancing – a fascinating piece of weird and imperfect legal drafting, which led me off onto a reverie about how on earth it could ever be enforced, before realising of course it is an exercise in box-ticking futility. As a boring person once said – only boring people get bored.

img_5894Anyway, back to that thawing shower. It got my synapses in a right tizz, firing off in all directions, joining dots here there and thither. And this post is the somewhat chaotic result. Having mentally formulated the gist I rushed out of the shower, hair still wet, to snap a picture of the side of my car before the evidence disappeared. They might be involved in more accidents (says my dad), but as I discovered this morning the beauty of a black car is the creeping frost-tinsel web that encrusts your motor on mornings like this (Made even more lovely by the swooshing finger doodles drawn by my gloved children as they raced to car at 8.43am). Like a frozen map of all those synapses, right?

So I’m pondering the latest depressing news as I apply detangler to my hair – but this morning it all seemed connected with stuff that is closer to home. Brexit, Trump, the far right in Europe. The Family Courts. Adoption Targets. Un-disentangleable…

Europe is an imperfect compromise. Some of us think (thought?) the pros outweigh the cons (a bit less than half), some think not (a bit more than half). Whoever is right, those of us who thought Brexit would never happen were not listening sufficiently carefully, or not engaging with the grumbling from those who were unhappy about the way things were. And – boom! I give you : Brexit. And – boom! The yanks gave us Trump…

Such is the way of things in Family Court disputes too. When people are pressed too hard into compromise that they can’t really live with (in court or in mediation) – it can break down further down the road, sometimes explosively. Although I don’t happen to agree with him about no fault divorce, Richard Balchin has a point about the need to build a cathartic release valve into any system dealing with wounded, anngry people – and the need to acknowledge anger or a sense of profound unfairness. We pretend we can fudge deep anger out of existence by telling them they ought to suppress their feelings and behave sensibly, pragmatically – and by intentionally or inadvertently pressurising people into compromise – it is not always possible and not always wise. Sometimes we’re just kicking the can.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-10-37-48I’m not sure we’re very good at listening to the grumbles about the family courts anymore than we really HEARD the pre-Brexit grumbles. People talk of not being listened to. It is too easy to say “Well, those are just the people who didn’t “win” or get the outcome they wanted – there will always be some of those”. There will, but we need to take care that this fact does not deafen us to messages we need to hear about how our system is not working. And how people are not prepared to buy into it.

It isn’t just individual cases. There are grumbles – loud ones – about the system itself. That victims of domestic violence aren’t listened to, that unsafe contact is permitted. That dads are discriminated against and marginalised. That social workers lie, snatch babies for targets and bonuses. That everything is corrupt.

One doesn’t have to agree with Brexiteers that they were right about Europe, and one doesn’t have to agree with Trump supporters that he has a fantastic sexy hairstyle, to see that it might have been a good idea if we’d engaged earlier with the grumbles.

So. Take adoption targets. The Transparency Project have tried to engage – we’ve listened to the grumbles and questions and tried to help find an answer. We haven’t got there yet. See : English councils confirm they set targets for the number of children to be adopted. But what response have we had? We’ve had a lot of people TELLING US that adoption targets don’t operate in the way the grumblers fear or suggest. And a few people offering anecdotal evidence that “I’ve not done x” or “I’ve not seen x done”. And I don’t doubt the authenticity of those accounts – but they fundamentally don’t answer the question or engage with the grumbling. See here on Community Care (comments) : My child was nearly adopted – here’s why adoption targets are wrong.

So. Who is going to step up and deal with this issue?
img_5896Because there is a groundswell. Those who look can see it. Those who choose not to carry blithely on telling themselves that this is the lunatic fringe, a few conspiracy theorists. They are wrong. These people are our clients, our family, our friends. These people are the parents of vulnerable children – who might, just might, be capable of being helped to be better parents – but who might shut out professionals who try to offer that help because they believe their child will be snatched if they open the door.

bolchAnd for the same reasons that people elected Trump, and for the same reasons that people voted in the confident but false belief the referendum was binding rather than merely advisory and that Brexit would somehow magically happen in a flash like the ripping of a plaster – people will start acting (do act) on the basis of the information that IS out there about adoption targets and our so-called evil corrupt secretive system of child snatching. Information like the documentary explored in this post : England’s Stolen Children? Plus ca change, plus c’est le meme chose. Because we’ve not bothered to listen or to give them anything better to rely on (You only have to look at this coverage by the BBC of Pizzagate for an illustration of how fast-spreading and powerful these narratives are – and how difficult it is to bring people back once they have leapt down the rabbit hole).

And they will start acting on this information through their engagement with lawyers, social workers, judges, their children. Don’t our professional and political leaders owe them a duty to give them some answers? We need to take a hot shower, join the dots and wake up.