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Here is our comment on Karen Woodall’s blog. We are writing a comprehensive rebuttal to the Cafcass Report. The report, which was commissioned by Cafcass (Cymru) from Cardiff University, is attempting to sweep the phenomenon of parental alienation under the carpet after having ignored it for more than a decade. Old wine is frantically being decanted into new skins but sadly, for all those people who have conspired to avoid protecting children from the scourge of parental alienation, you cannot rewrite history no matter how furiously you try.

Hi Karen

Turn the clock back to the year 2000 when the Sturge and Glasser Report spoke of Parental Alienation / implacable hosility in literally the same breath as domestic violence. In the seminal joined case of Re L, V, M and H (Children) [2000] EWCA Civ 194  the court of appeal also considered a case where Parental Alienation had been alleged in Re M but the court of appeal supported the decision of the judge at first instance to reject the evidence of the jointly appointed expert. Unusually, but not out of character for a lady who made a few irrational shouts from the bench, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss also agreed with the judge at first instance’s finding that the court welfare officer’s view that the child had suffered ‘…emotional abuse…’ was ‘…unsubstantiated…’. Nonetheless the Court of appeal freely acknowledged that:

‘There is, of course, no doubt that some parents, particularly mothers, are responsible for alienating their children from their fathers without good reason and thereby creating this sometimes insoluble problem.’

Sturge and Glasser rejected the “syndrome’ adjunct to parental alienation, the appeal court agreed with them and senior judges Munby J and Wall confirmed their decision 3 and 4 years later. Therefore, the argument has NOT been about whether PA / implacable hostility exists because the phenomenon will have been known for 200 years this year. It has been about what we call it and as HHJ Stephen Wildblood said, ‘Is it a syndrome?…WHO CARES.’ Therefore, for Cafcass and the Welsh assembly to be banging on about the ‘syndrome’ 18 years after the argument was buried is disingenuous and a mischaracterisation of reality. Personally, I believe that when things are dead they should be left alone. It is not very nice to dig up dead things and play with them.

However, the equivalence and equality of approach between domestic violence and parental alienation / implacable hostility appeared to end rather abruptly after the court of appeal’s judgment. For example, in 2004 Cafcass produced their first domestic violence framework in a timely manner within just 4 years of the Re L joined cases and the Sturge and Glasser Report, yet Cafcass (Cymru) and Cafcass did not get around to even commissioning a literature and caselaw review of Parental Alienation / implacable hostility and begin to form an evidence base for addressing the problem for at least another 13 years in 2017. Indeed, the ‘knowledge bite’ that formed the learning resource for their staff until very recently was actually put together by their librarian and amounted to only a few sides of A4. The progress and interest shown by Cafcass towards their statutory duty to safeguard children from the emotionally abusive effects of parental alienation have been both glacial and shameful. I do not level this accusation lightly or without good reason. For anyone that thinks I am being harsh I would invite them to follow these instructions:

– take a look at the FOI requests on the voice of the child blog here, . FOI requests, for information about the take up rates of their employees for training in PA and emotional abuse, eventually showed that the attitude of their staff towards these topics was antipathetic and disinterested. There was far more enthusiasm towards infomation about claiming expenses.

– watch Athony Douglas’ response when he hears the disclosures about the appalling attitudes and lack of professionalism that the data revealed: (from 11’ 00” is the best bit). Anthony Douglas reveals that there is also antipathy within his ranks to the phenomenon of Parental Alienation. This is unbelievable when one considers that there are important judgments concerning the acknowledgement of the phenomenon of implacable hostility / alienation dating back to 1983.  Indeed this year marks the bicentennial of the first known case featuring alienating behaviours in 1818. 

As recently as 2013, in spite of the long history of caselaw concerning implacable hostility and parental alienation, Wales most senior social worker, Albert Heaney, spoke on behalf of the family justice network (which includes the CEO of Cafcass (Cymru) and claimed that, ‘there is a lack of general support, both in academic and legal sectors for this concept’. The network also includes Wales most senior family judges but their input is restricted to being ‘observers’ of the proceedings owing to their judicial oath and strict rules concerning judicial independence. The Terms of reference for the network also confines the input of the judges to being mere ‘observers’. The FJN’s pearl of wisdom was brought to us 10 years after former president of the family division, Wall J, described parental alienation as ‘…a well recognised phenomenon’ ; 9 years after another president of the family division cited Wall J’s example and 4 years after HHJ Bellamy stated, ‘The concept of alienation as a feature of some high conflict parental disputes may today be regarded as mainstream.’ Between 2003 and Albert Heaney’s pronouncement in May 2014 there were over 30 reported cases featuring implacable hostility or parental alienation. Only 9 months beforehand the court of appeal heard Re A and the incoming president of the Family Division remarked. 

‘Drawing matters together, whilst I do not conclude that the outcome ordered by the judge is, of itself, wrong and therefore to be set aside, I am sufficiently concerned about the process of these proceedings as a whole, which I have held has violated the Art 8 rights of both M and her father, and also by the deficits in the judge’s analysis which I have now identified, to conclude, in the words of CPR, r 52(11)(3), that the outcome is ‘unjust because of a serious procedural or other irregularity’. For the previous systemic failure to end in a hearing which itself was highly unsatisfactory and where the judge has failed to conduct a sufficiently thorough analysis, makes it almost inevitable that this court will consider that it has a duty to intervene with the aim of establishing an effective and full rehearing.’ 

Sadly, even an intractable case, where the proceedings were conducted so fecklessly and hopelessly inneffectively, would appear to have failed to grab the attention of the family justice network and its members.

Intractable hostility does not appear to have made it onto the FJN aganda again until 2017. I cannot say exactly when in 2017 because the minutes of their meetings are no longer published. So much for transparency! Cafcass appear to have hijacked the committee and continue to do so. Yet again the number of reported cases involving PA / Implacable hostility continued to grow unabated and unrecognised by Cafcass.

The Sturge and Glasser Report also gives us good authority for the futility of altenative dispute resolution where a parent is implacably opposed to contact. 

‘ The term ‘implacable’ is used here to describe the intensity and unchanging nature of the hostility and the fact that any amount of mediation is unlikely to result in an alteration in the hostility felt by the parent.’

By ignoring and effectively failing to properly even acknowledge the existance of parental alienation / implacable hostility – for 14 years (if we regard Wall J ’s pronouncement as acknowledgment) and 17 years (if we accept the Sturge and Glasser report as confirming the existance of these dynamics in the court of appeal) – we believe that Cafcass and Cafcass (Cymru) have failed and continue to fail miserably in their statutory duty to safeguard children from an increasingly well known and ever more common dynamic which is emotionally abusive.

The report commissioned by Cafcass (Cymru) from Cardiff University is a hopelessly inadequate, hurriedly cobbled together and cringeworthy response to a problem that has been ignored and unceremoniously swept under the carpet until very recently.

To plead with these fanatical ideologists and apologists is patently wrong and simply not warrented. Rather, they should be explaining to the electorate why they have consistently failed to treat a burgeoning body of primary evidence in the form of case law with the urgency and respect it so rightly deserves. Those who could have challenged them earlier should now also hang their heads in absolute shame because they have prolonged the abuse and pain of children needlessly.

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