A word in support of our family court judges
By Nicola Furmston
Thousands of people involved in family court cases, both professionally and as parties, would be forgiven for wavering confidence in the UK’s family court judges after media coverage of the unutterably sad story of Ellie Butler, killed by her father, after being returned to his care by a senior family judge. Furthermore the judge in question made her faith in Ben Butler’s abilities as a father abundantly clear, leaving concerned social workers and teachers unable to deal with subsequent concerns for Ellie’s safety,
In a BBC interview Sir Mark Hedley, former senior family court judge, explained that the earlier judge made the decision in a situation where there was a single allegation of abuse, in respect of which Ben Butler was exonerated. In such a case it would have been difficult not to return Ellie to her parents. All the available evidence had had to be considered, stakes had been very high and the context had been highly emotional. All judges recognised that their decisions were finely balanced and had potentially serious consequences.
A word in support of our family judges in order to restore confidence to those fathers and mothers with cases currently ongoing: our experience is that the vast majority work tirelessly to make the right decision for children in the face of confusing and conflicting evidence, high emotion and massive funding cuts in the court system. They are, in the main, respected highly by their peers who know from years of family law practice the intelligence, care and integrity they bring to their work. No system will ever be completely infallible but ensuring as best as possible, the safety and welfare of children, will always be our judges’ top priority.
Nicola Furmston is a solicitor and head of the Family team at Barker Gotelee.