On 15th May 2014, over 80 Napo Family Court Section members gathered from all over England for the 2014 Conference.
Dr Elizabeth Yardley (Reader in Criminology and Director of the Centre for Applied Criminology at Birmingham University) described her fascinating research into family annihilation. This included a detailed study of 71 cases between 1980 and 2012. 50 cases involved male perpetrators with an average age of 38.5 years who were mostly employed and covered a wide range of occupations. Most had attempted suicide after killing and their victims were predominantly their biological children. The average age profile of the child was 6.1 years. In half of the cases the ex-partner was also killed. There has been a significant increase in number of cases over time with a high number of killings committed at the weekend, mainly in the home with family break-up being the main reported motive. Dr Yardley identified four personality types – the “self-righteous”, the “Disappointed” the “Anomic” and the “Paranoid”. This research is clearly of considerable interest and benefit to members working in private law in assessing risk of harm.
Jabbar Sardar, Human Resources Director and Daryl Maitland, HR Business partner at Cafcass spoke of the developments in staff health and welfare over the last five years, championing the Health and Wellbeing plan( tailored in accordance with a survey of staff wishes and needs), the Medicash scheme, Cycle to Work scheme, Employee Assistance Programme, shopping discounts and occupational health provision. Sickness absence rates are significantly reduced in Cafcass. In 2009-2010, 50% of staff took no sick leave. This figure has increased to 58%. 21% of staff have less than 5 days sick leave per year.
A new initiative to develop staff engagement has begun with the development of a resilience testing tool under the guidance of Robertson Cooper (found by Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health at Lancaster University). Staff can complete the 20 minutes survey to help in identifying from where they draw their resilience which can be discussed with their manager in Performance, Learning Review meetings if they wish. To date 250 staff have taken this up. Two other tools have been developed – the leadership Impact tool – a self-help and reflective tool for managers to identify strengths, areas of risk and the impact of their leadership style on those they supervise. A third snapshot survey tool measures wellbeing and resilience.
Emma Hopkins-Jones and Clare Linden, solicitors from Napo’s partnership law firm Simpson Millar gave extremely informative presentations covering the latest changes affecting private and public law work:
- The new Child Arrangements Programme with attendance at a Mediation Information Advice Meeting as mandatory before an application can be made . Where one party is legally aided, their certificate will cover both parties’ attendance. New (lengthy)Child Arrangements Orders with new language (Shall live with and shall spend time with/ have indirect contact with… )and a new process with 26 weeks to complete.
- Litigants in Person are increasing . Ministry of Justice data shows that between April and September 2013 45% of parties involved with private law proceedings were unrepresented. There are an increased number of hearings which take longer and are more expensive for the privately paying clients. (Please note that Napo is seeking your updated views and comments about the impact of the increase in Litigants in Person on our work. Please ask for the questionnaire)
- Domestic Violence cases. Many victims are struggling to meet the strict evidence requirements set by the Legal Aid agency. Very few seem to meet the very high bar for “Exceptional Case Funding”.
In the public law field, legal fees are to be reduced by a further 10% and experts fees reduced by 20%. We examined the blurred lines between private and public law often where there are no care proceedings but extended family members are advised to apply for a Private Law Order. Some Local Authorities are funding some private law applications in which parents may not be entitled to representation and get little or no advice. This will have implications for Cafcass work.
Emma and Clare ran a workshop in the afternoon where there was closer examination of the issues presented in their morning presentation. Further workshops were run on “surviving Cafcass”, “Introduction of Pre-Proceedings Work/Public Law” and “Implacable Hostility/Vexations Litigants”.
Report from Nicki Kenny
If you have ideas about what next year’s conference should cover, please contact Andy Stanton or Tony Mercer, co-chairs of Napo Family Court Committee or contact the Family Court Section co-chairs – Nicki Kenney and Steve Hornby.