Latest Covid-19 developments
Latest Covid-19 developments
We have already written here about how the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown is affecting family law – see here for information as to where you can find information on a range of family problems, and here for guidance for separated parents during lockdown.
Obviously, this is a rapidly-developing subject, and we thought it would be useful to update readers with some of the latest developments.
The UK has recently suffered particularly badly with the Covid-19 virus. Some other countries have fared better. We all want to keep our children safe, and in these circumstances taking a child to a ‘safer’ country may be a tempting option for a parent. OK, with many borders closed and few flights available, it may not be an option currently, but international movement is likely to return before this pandemic is over.
However, a recent case has given an indication as to how the courts are likely to view the actions of a parent who takes their child to a ‘safer’ country, without the agreement of the other parent.
In the case the parents were both Greek, but the father came to London in 2017 and in January 2018 the mother and their eleven year old child followed. The child’s residence was therefore established in London.
On the 20th of March last, three days before the national lockdown, the mother unilaterally removed the child to her mother’s home on the island of Paros, in the belief that she and the child would be much safer from the virus there.
The father took court proceedings, seeking an order that the mother return the child to this country.
Considering the father’s application, Mr Justice Mostyn said that whilst the mother’s view may have been valid, it being common knowledge that Greece has a much lower rate of infection and mortality than this country, that did not justify, in the slightest, what was a wrongful removal of the child from the place of his habitual residence and, more importantly, from his father.
It is clear from this that the English courts are likely to take a dim view of a parent removing a child to another country without the agreement of the other parent, even if it is true that the child may be safer from the virus in the other country.
As we reported here back in March, many family court cases are now being heard remotely, due to the Covid-19 lockdown. However, the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has said that remote hearings will not be appropriate in all cases.
Sir Andrew made his comments in a care proceedings case which concerned a seven year old girl, and in which the main issue is a series of allegations made by the local authority, all aimed at establishing that the girl has been caused significant harm by her mother, as a result of fabricated or induced illness.
Sir Andrew said that a 15-day remote final hearing of the case, which had been due to start on the 20th of April, could not “properly or fairly be conducted” without the mother’s physical presence before a judge in a courtroom.
He went on: “Given the wealth of factual detail that is to be placed before the court in relation to this mother’s actions over the last three or four years, for her to have a full real-time ability to instruct her legal team throughout the hearing, not just by a phone call at the end of each witness’s evidence, seems to me to be a prerequisite for her to be able to take an effective part in a fair process at the trial of issues such as this.”
Sir Andrew therefore ordered that the hearing should be re-listed, once the current restrictions have been lifted. Obviously, this could entail a considerable delay, which is of course something that the court will usually attempt to avoid in children cases.
Increased incidence of domestic abuse during the lockdown, and the difficulty of victims escaping the abuse, remains a major concern.
To help this situation, Boots pharmacies are now offering ‘safe space’ for domestic abuse victims. Those needing help can ask staff at the counter to use the consultation room, where they will be able to contact services for help and advice.
In another development Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick has announced £76 million extra funding to support survivors of domestic abuse, (amongst others) during the pandemic. Mr Jenrick said: ”It is essential that the most vulnerable people in our communities continue to get the vital support they need during this pandemic. This multi-million-pound package is a boost for charities working on front line to provide often lifesaving support or services at this unprecedented time. This includes essential support for domestic abuse victims, living in fear in the place where they should feel most safe – their home.”
A change to the rules will also mean that those fleeing domestic abuse and facing homelessness as a result will be automatically considered as priority by their council for housing, thereby ensuring that more survivors of domestic abuse have access to a safe home.
This post, as with the others that we have written here about how the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown is affecting family law, is of course just for informational purposes. If you require advice about your own case then we can help. To find out more, and to get started with one of our specialist lawyers, click here.