One of England and Wales’s most senior judges backs the ‘Early Interventions Project’

The times they are a-changin’

Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.

These words were penned by Bob Dylan but they apply just as well to anyone that still labours under the misapprehension that parental alienation is not ‘a thing’ because one of England and Wales’ most respected judges made it clear to the world that when it comes to the devastating effects of parental alienation then MacFarlane LJ is on the road to GETTING IT’.!

Last week Lord Justice MacFarlane, one of the family court’s most senior judges, presented the keynote speech to the annual conference of NALGRO (the children’s guardian and family court reporter’s professional association).

The speech indicated Lord Justice MacFarlane’s eager support for the Early Interventions project which was developed by Oliver Cyriax and is also supported by Dr Hamish Cameron whilst being championed in Parliament by Andrew Bridgen MP. NAAP also support this project and Oliver, Hamish and Andrew gave presentations on the subject at the official launch of NAAP on the 7th March 2018.

For the remainder of his subject matter Lord Justice MacFarlane chose to talk about child contact, in public and private law.  His main premise was that public law and private law were far more similar than most people realised in this regard. To establish a fundamental area of common ground he quoted from the introduction of a recent social work report, by the British Association of Social Workers [BASW] of a major enquiry into adoption from a social work perspective undertaken by Professor Brid Featherstone, Professor Anna Gupta and a research assistant, Sue Mills. Their report ‘The Role of the Social Worker in Adoption – Ethics and Human Rights: An Enquiry’ ( ) (emphasis added).

“It was considered that in England, in recent decades, policy makers had tended to promote adoption as risk free in a ‘happy ever after’ narrative. The Enquiry heard from a range of respondents across the UK that this is unhelpful. It can lead to the silencing of adopted children and adults who may have to manage contradictory emotions such as grief and loss, joy and happiness. It can lead to birth families being unable to articulate their losses and feelings of shame and sadness. It can also leave adoptive families silenced and unable to access the help they need.”

Amongst some of the caring professions involved, this at least establishes an appreciation of the devastating reality of what the most draconian orders available to the courts actually involve for those at the receiving end of family court justice. He then compared and contrasted the public law situation with a recent private law case. He states that, despite there being an equivalence between the public and private law situations, there was, nonetheless, a glaring disparity between the time, resources and judicial concern showed to the public law situation and that given to the private law situation. Private law is without doubt identified as the poorer relation.

‘The relationship that the father in the case of Re J had with his three children was, effectively, totally severed in September 2014 with, now, little hope that it may be resurrected in any way during the remainder of their childhood or beyond. On a scale, the impact of that state of affairs is not, in my view, un-akin to the impact generated by the making of an adoption order. Adoption orders are, rightly, regarded as the most Draconian orders that a family court, or indeed any court, can make. The adoption decision in every case is therefore afforded corresponding respect in terms of time, resources and judicial concern. Based on the evidence provided from the four recent cases that I have cited, I fear that the same cannot be said of potentially intractable contact cases.’

Here is a link to Re J:

MacFarlane LJ’s words also chime with those of Sir James Munby in Re C, (Re C (care proceedings: disclosure of local authority’s decision making process) [2002] EWHC 1379 (Fam) at 150)

‘…it must never be forgotten that, with the State’s abandonment of the right to impose capital sentences, orders of the kind which judges of this Division are typically invited to make in public law proceedings are amongst the most drastic that any judge in any jurisdiction is ever empowered to make.’

In this case too there was a recognition of the pain grief and stress caused when a parent loses a child by an order of the state. However, there is simply not the same degree of empathy to analogous situations in private law.

But perhaps most telling are the words that are implied by MacFarlane LJ addressing a gathering of social workers on these subjects in the first place. That is, why on earth does this issue need highlighting at a conference of our children’s guardians, after all they are represent the pick of the children’s social work crop and have a special status in our family courts. Isn’t it obvious to any reasonably emotionally intelligent adult that the severance of a parent / child relationship is emotionally disastrous regardless of who wields the shears?

Surely, these social workers are not that out of touch with their respective client groups.

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