Contact Inactivity?

I promised I would post when I found the elusive list of contact activity providers that the DCSF / CAFCASS have been threatening to publish since early December. And so here is the link. I want to weep. I knew there would be holes in the provision at the outset, but in my region (the South West) there is NO Domestic Violence Programme provision at all, no Parenting Information providers and the four Co-Parenting providers for Avon, Wiltshire and S Gloucestershire (where the two busiest courts are Bristol and Gloucester) are located in Cheltenham, Oxford, Plymouth and somewhere I've never heard of in Dorset. I mean how is that supposed to work when half of our clients can't even afford to or can't manage to get themselves to their local county court on time? No, contact activities are Do-Do dead in the West Country, for the time being at least.

So the interesting question is, in contact activity deserts like the West Country how will courts approach making enforcement orders? Notionally at least the first line of response to recalcitrant parents is a contact activity direction, followed by an enforcement order if that doesn't work. What if contact activities are nowehere to be had or ridiculously inaccessible?

New Year…New Law…Same Old Problems

So it's back to work in 2009 and in my pigeonhole are several sorry tales of Christmas Contact Orders gone wrong. A timely reminder that a) its no good having an order if the court doesn't produce a copy with the warning notice prior to the start of contact, because then it can't be enforced using the new powers under the Adoption and Children Act 2006 (in force last month) and b) even if you could enforce it by applying for a community service penalty or a compensation order you can't get back a christmas missed.

On a related note, readers may be interested to note the rather belated publication of the details of Contact Activity Providers on the CAFCASS website - of course it would prove rather more interesting if the map showing the location of the providers would actually load! Those providers (whoever they are) will be crucial in the implementation of the other measures brought into force in December, namely contact activity directions and conditions. I will post when the technical glitch appears to be rectified.

Children & Adoption Act – postscript

Further to my post yesterday, there is a piece in The Times today about the new provisions and John Bolch at Family Lore has posted the new court forms which are in use as of today. Resolution are quoted in the article by Frances Gibb, their full press release is here.

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The quote in The Times' article from 'a family judge' seems to me to be a bit misleading - it seems to suggest that the new provisions are giving a 'go directly to jail' card to courts - but in fact the courts have the power to imprison already, and the new provisions are clearly intended to be a precursor to committal to prison, which is now only likely to be used if contact activities and community service orders have failed. And before the court makes an enforcement order it must not only be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that there has been a breach of a contact order AND have dealt with any defence of 'reasonable excuse', but must ALSO first obtain a raft of information and satisfy itself that the order is really necessary and proportionate - they will not be made in every case of breach, in fact I venture to suggest these orders will be made very rarely and will probably make committals to prison even more infrequent because they provide and alternative sanction. 

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The other inaccuracy in the article is the suggestion that parents will be criminalised by the provisions - although the penalty of community service is drawn from the criminal law, a person subject to an enforcement order will NOT get a criminal record and their details will not be entered on the national offenders register - they will be punished for what is effect a contempt of court (although the orders are intended to be an 'encouragement' to compliance rather than punitive for the sake of punishment) but they will NOT be criminalised. What is absolutely right is the concern raised by Chris Goulden at Resolution about the funding of contact activities and the lack of clarity about who will provide them. I am trying to finalise the details of a seminar on this topic for Thursday and am still waiting for the promised publication on the DCSF website of the list of contact activity providers.