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A human approach to Family Law - Robin-Simmers and Adrien (Children: Care Order)  EWFC B5212th January 2021 Family Law
Family law cases are not just words on a page. They are people, relationships, emotions and children.
As family lawyers, we deal with difficult, complex and emotionally challenging cases. In theory at least, we can put them to one side at the weekend. Family Court, its procedure and its orders are routine and every day for us. It is a responsibility of family lawyers – and Family Court Judges - never to forget that those we represent, or those who appear before us, cannot do that: it is their life and these proceedings are often life-changing and momentous.
It is easy for professionals to lose sight of that in a hard day’s work. However by and large, we are family lawyers because we care deeply about the families we help.
Many will have appreciated, therefore, the approach taken by the judge, Recorder Henley, in Robin-Simmers and Adrien (Children: Care Order)  EWFC B52.
Recorder Henley was faced with an upsetting set of facts and an impossible scenario. The case concerned two sisters aged 14 and 8 who alleged that their parents had been emotionally and physically abusive. Their parents both denied this throughout the investigation and proceedings. They finally admitted it, however, after the children had given evidence to the Court. Recorder Henley was charged with deciding where the children should live and in whose care, and what needed to happen before it could be safe for the children to return to live at home as a family.
Recorder Henley wanted to protect the anonymity of the children and allowed them to choose their own names for the sake of the judgment. She addressed that judgment directly to the children, in language they could understand.
These are small gestures but thoughtful ones. It helps the children know that this work is for them. It helps them know that they have been heard. It also helps the parents (who, Recorder Henley acknowledges, do love their children) understand what needs to happen next, with the judgment delivered in plain English rather than “legalese”.
These gestures show that there is scope for a human touch in the Family Court and in fact it is very necessary. To this blog’s professional audience, I hope it serves as a welcome reminder of the need to be mindful of how our work affects those involved in the case. I know it did for me. To the individuals or families who may follow it, I hope it serves as a welcome reassurance that the people who work in Family Law, fundamentally, do care.
And whilst the focus of this blog is more the manner in which the judgment was delivered, rather than its contents, I would also urge anyone with an interest in children law to read it. It is not a long judgment and it contains a simple and elegant explanation of some key principles. The Judge explained to the children that she must put together a “jigsaw” to decide what is best for them. One piece is what they think and how they feel. That has to be balanced with all of the other pieces, such as their emotional, physical and educational needs etc.
I hope the children felt listened to and that the judge cares. And I would welcome this approach becoming the norm where it is appropriate.