A New Broom?

Sir Andrew McFarlane: ‘Everyone is working flat-out but delays are creeping into the system.’
Lord Justice McFarlane

Last year, the President of the Family Division (Munby LJ) retired, and his place has been taken by Lord Justice McFarlane.

I have to say that, having read now a lot of Superior Court decisions, I never witnessed Munby LJ put a foot wrong. He had all the right ideas. He said, for example, in 2004:

“Other things being equal, swift, efficient, enforcement of existing court orders is surely called for at the first sign of trouble. A flabby judicial response sends a very damaging message to the defaulting parent, who is encouraged to believe that court orders can be ignored with impunity, and potentially also to the child.”

Sounds good, huh? But, by 2015, on his watch, nothing had changed. Still only 1.2% of Court Orders were enforced. Munby’s fine words did not ‘cash out’ in the real world…

And so it is with some trepidation that one reads the words of Lord McFarlane (his address to FNF can be seen here).

Well, let’s see what the learned judge has to say about PA:

” I wish to say something now about “alienation”. For some time there has been debate as to whether or not the holy grail of “parental alienation syndrome” actually exists. For my part, I have never regarded it as important to determine definitively whether or not psychologists or psychiatrists would be justified in attributing the label “syndrome” to any particular behaviour in this regard. In time gone by, there was similar debate as to whether a diagnosis could be made of “Munchhausen’s Syndrome by Proxy” in such cases the focus of the Family Court, rightly, moved away from any psychological/psychiatric debate in order to concentrate on the particular behaviour of the particular parent in relation to the particular child in each individual case. If that behaviour was found to be abusive then action was taken, irrespective of whether or not a diagnosis of a particular personality or mental health condition in the parent could be made. In my view, “alienation” should be approached in the same way. “

This is highly instructive and supports, again, my contention about labels. Do not label!

Well, McFarlane LJ was, at the time, due to embark on a ‘drains up’ investigation of the Family Court system. I am not sure at the moment if he has produced any kind of report, but two months ago, the Guardian published this. Here is my reaction.

Well, the Family Law Consultation closes at the end of this month – we await the findings. In the meantime, here is my submission, for what it might be worth.

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