16 Jul Tech abuse, home working and email applications – June family law news update
Domestic abuse charity launches tech safety website
Refuge, the domestic abuse charity, has launched anew website, RefugeTechSafety.org, with dedicated resources for survivors, after seeing an increase in the number of referrals of complex cases of tech abuse.
Refuge says that between April 2020 and May 2021, it saw on average a 97% increase in the number of complex tech abuse cases requiring specialist tech support, when compared to the first three months of 2020. In the last five months this number has jumped to an average of 118% more complex tech abuse cases compared to before March 2020.
Complex tech abuse cases supported by Refuge’s Tech Abuse Team often involve perpetrators using multiple accounts and devices to abuse, control and monitor their partners. The technology harnessed can range from everyday devices such as mobile phones and social media accounts, to sophisticated, malicious software.
Ruth Davison, Refuge Chief Executive Officer, said:
“Refuge is thrilled to be launching www.RefugeTechSafety.org, created together with survivors, to empower women and children to use technology safely. In the past year, many of us will have turned to technology to keep in touch with loved ones and to connect with the world
“However, at Refuge we’re aware that perpetrators of domestic abuse often use technology as a tool of abuse – this can force survivors offline and further isolate them from their support networks. In the past year, we’ve seen growing numbers of complex tech abuse cases that require our specialist support.”
For more information about domestic abuse, and what you can do to protect yourself, see this page.
Resolution surveys it members regarding effect of pandemic
Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has been surveying its members regarding the effect of the pandemic.
One survey, of over 1,200 family law practitioners, showed that one in four were contemplating leaving family law, due to the impact of lockdown on working practices and wellbeing.
Those surveyed said that a combination of long working hours, heavy workloads, client expectations and working in isolation had stretched them to the limit.
The survey found that as many as 57% of practitioners work more than eight extra hours during the week – an additional working day each week. Almost all (88%) needed to work during annual leave and 64% of practitioners said they usually or always feel fatigued during the working day.
Juliet Harvey, National Chair of Resolution, said: “It’s clear lockdown has taken its toll on the collective wellbeing of family justice professionals and if the profession is to recover, we need to ensure practitioner wellbeing is a top priority.
“The fact that a quarter of family professionals are actively considering leaving the sector should be of concern to everyone. If firms fail to embrace flexible working and better wellbeing support, I fear we could lose the next generation of family practitioners.”
Meanwhile, another survey has suggested that the majority of family lawyers expect to continue to work from home after the Covid-19 pandemic is over.
The survey, on future working arrangements, was carried out by Resolution during its annual conference. Early findings from the survey suggested that at least half of the organisation’s members expect to continue to work from home, at least halfof the time.
Court of Appeal highlights problems with email applications
The Court of Appeal has allowed an appeal in a child care case against an order that was made in a rapid exchange of email correspondence.
Lord Justice Peter Jackson said that the appeal illustrated the problems that can arise “when this convenient but relatively informal means of communication is used as a means of making applications and orders”.
The case concerned four young children who have not been cared for by their mother since last year. The eldest child, who is now five, moved to a maternal uncle and aunt in January 2020 and the younger three followed in August 2020.
The local authority started proceedings in September 2020. The main issue is whether the children can return to their mother, or whether they should remain with their uncle and aunt.
The mother has extremely low cognitive functioning and difficulties with reading and retaining information. A cognitive assessment in November 2020 assessed her memory, reading level and comprehension skills at the 9-year-old level.
In the light of this, the local authority issued an application seeking a psychological assessment of the mother. The application was granted, but the mother missed two appointments for the assessment, the latter after her mother died.
The children’s solicitor emailed the court, requesting that the direction for an assessment be discharged. The mother’s solicitor then emailed the court, referring to the bereavement and opposing the discharge of the direction. An hour later, however, the judge ordered that the assessment be discharged.
The mother appealed. Allowing the appeal, the Court of Appeal found that the order was wrong and unjust for serious procedural irregularity.
Lord Justice Jackson said: “The fact that an application is made by email or decided without a hearing does not mean that it should receive less careful scrutiny. On the contrary, a judge considering an application on the papers must be alert to ensure that the rules and orders of the court have been followed and that the process is as procedurally fair as if the parties were present in person.”