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The Precious Right To Family Life

Probably the most heart-rending cases that a family lawyer has to deal with are those where the criminal offending or negligence of one parent results in the death or incapacity of the other parent, or a child.

Consider a) the father who kills his wife after finding her in bed with her lover, b) the father whose domestic abuse results in his wife being committed to a psychiatric unit, c) the mother who “turns a blind eye” to her child being sexually abused and d) the mother who after an unexpectedly long telephone conversation finds her child drowned in the garden pond. The common factor in each of these scenarios is that both the criminal courts and the family courts will have more than a passing interest.

In a) the child is left effectively as an orphan, because it is unlikely that father can advance a positive case to care for the child, even in the short term; and in b) similar concerns arise as the same risks which mother faced will almost certainly be faced by the children. In c) both parents will obviously face exacting scrutiny by the Crown Court as well as the County Court. It is only in d) that mother’s date with a Crown Court Judge may not be matched by a similar date with a County Court Judge. Obviously if she has no other children, the matter ends after the criminal process. But what if she does have other children? If she has a perfectly capable partner, who can effectively take over primary child care duties, then the matter may well be resolved on that basis. If she doesn’t however, a Local Authority’s Children’s Services Department will have to make a series of investigation-informed value judgements. Most will at least consider court action to remove the other children.

The right to family life is a precious one, which is worth fighting for. It is therefore a sad indictment on our society that after the 1st of April 2013, legal aid will be severely restricted in respect of family law cases.

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