Family Law has been making headlines this week with runaway mother Rebecca Minnock being accused of “Manipulating the press”. Ms. Minnock disappeared with her three year old son after a District Judge in the Family Courts concluded that the child should reside with his father under a “lived with” Child Arrangements Order.
Such decisions are not taken lightly by any Judge at any level of the judiciary and such a draconian order would only have been made after an examination of expert evidence in the case such as a report from the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass) or local authority and after hearing from both parents. The actions of Ms. Minnock were wholly inappropriate, the correct procedure would have been to seek leave to appeal the Judges decision. Who knows whether Ms Minnock was legally represented, as in such cases under the Children Act, the initial hurdle facing parents of little or limited financial means is that there is no public funding available for such applications and parents on little or no income have to scrape together whatever funds they have available to pay for a solicitor, or alternatively represent themselves.
In such a situation and if Ms Minnock was legally represented one would have hoped that she would have been advised as to the possibility and prospect of success in lodging an appeal.
If Ms Minnock did not have the benefit of such advice, having not being able to access public funding, it could be argued that her rights to access to justice were impinged. Indeed, if this is the case, the cost of funding representation during the course of the proceedings would have been far less then the costs incurred in the last couple of weeks in having the child returned.
In any event Ms. Minnock wrongly took matters in her own hands and such actions cannot be condoned. The Judge dealing with her apparent breach of orders will have to punish her in such a way that demonstrates this course of action is wholly unacceptable and puts the child at risk of suffering significant harm. At the same time the Judge will also consider the need of the child to have an effective relationship with both parents going forward and to what degree and frequency “contact” occurs.