Friday, 3 March 2017

Sir Nicholas Wall and the Hampstead Case


"Sir Nicholas Wall, formerly Britain's most senior family law judge, has committed suicide after being diagnosed with dementia, his family has announced."

From Wikipedia here:
The Right Honourable
Sir Nicholas Wall
President of the Family Division
In office
13 April 2010 – 1 December 2012
Nominated byGordon Brown
Appointed byElizabeth II
Preceded bySir Mark Potter
Succeeded bySir James Munby
Personal details
BornNicholas Peter Rathbone Wall
14 March 1945
Died17 February 2017 (aged 71)
Alma materTrinity College, Cambridge

Sir Nicholas Peter Rathbone WallPC (14 March 1945 – 17 February 2017) was an English judge who was President of the Family Division and Head of Family Justice for England and Wales.

Wall was called to the bar (Gray's Inn) in 1969 and was made a Bencher in 1993. He became a Queen's Counsel and was appointed an Assistant Recorder in 1988. He became a Recorder in 1990. 

He was appointed to the Family Division of the High Court on 20 April 1993,[1] receiving the customary knighthood. Wall was a Judge of the Employment Appeal Tribunal (2001–2003) and the Administrative Court (2003–2004). 

He was promoted to the Court of Appeal on 12 January 2004[2] and consequently made a Privy Counsellor.Wall was nominated to be President of the Family Division by the appointments panel, but the Lord ChancellorJack Straw, asked them to reconsider. The panel once again put Wall forward, and he was subsequently appointed to the position on 13 April 2010.[3] 

Wall retired on 1 December 2012 for health reasons. Wall died on 17 February 2017. His family stated that a few years earlier he had been diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia, and had taken his own life. (Further details have not been made public.)

Exerpts from his obituary by Elizabeth Butler Sloss

Printed in the Guardian newspaper on Wednesday 1 March 2017 here:

"Nicholas’s life in the law was largely devoted to the more effective implementation of the Children Act 1989, thereby improving the lot of children whose parents were battling in the family courts. Appointed a high court judge in 1993, he was assigned to the family division, where he made a considerable impact in the thoughtfulness and care with which he decided the difficult and sensitive cases heard there. As president of the division from 1999, I had the opportunity to appreciate his outstanding qualities.
"He was openly critical of poor practice in the administration of family justice and cared deeply about the cases he tried and the issues they involved. His judgments were balanced and understanding of the difficulties faces by families in dispute. Universally popular and greatly respected, he was notably successful in his family division liaison role on the northern circuit from 1996 to 2001, responsible for the allocation of cases and the supervision of family judges in the region.
"As a trial judge, he questioned whether contact should be granted to fathers who were guilty of domestic violence towards mothers, which led to a system-wide reconsideration of contact decisions. In consequence, in 2004 he gave evidence to the Commons constitutional affairs committee on a report, 29 Child Homicides, produced by the organisation Women’s Aid, and submitted his own review to his predecessor as president, Sir Mark Potter. In 2008 the need to consider any issue of domestic violence became a practice direction, a supplement to rules of procedure, which is followed today.
"He was a champion and pioneer of the interdisciplinary approach to family law, and of the importance of recognising the insights of different disciplines, including socio-legal research, child development, attachment theory (concerning the attachment between children and their carers) and research into neuroscience. He advocated openness, frankness and transparency in the family justice process, particularly in child care applications, and strongly supported the work of contact centres for families to meet their children.
"As president he worked towards greater transparency in the family courts and, together with the Society of Editors, issued an invaluable guide, The Family Courts: Media Access and Reporting(2011), for the use of journalists, judges, barristers and solicitors."

Comment in light of the Hampstead Case
Of course those of us familiar with the proceedings in the Hampstead Case, in which the rights of the mother were so obviously ignored and the children were allotted to the father, a father that police reports and previous Court decisions (besides the evidence of the children which was disallowed) proved was violent, irresponsible and dangerous, could have ignored the 'Practice Direction' referred to above, remains a glaring question that has never been satisfactorily answered. 
We do not know whether Sir Nicholas followed the 2014 Hampstead Case or what he thought of the judgement handed down, or the secrecy that surrounded it, or the refusal of the appeal. Nor do we know the circumstances of his premature demise, other than it was "by his own hand".  
If he was aware, he could not have been much amused by it! Perhaps privately, given his attempts to prevent its perverse outcome, it would have added to his distress, as it has distressed millions of others, professional and lay around the world. 
Just this one case of flagrant injustice from the Family Court (and many have been highlighted by journalists and others over the years ) places  Baroness Butler-Sloss's confident tone that things have changed for the better since he retired from the Presidency, in a rather dubious light.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.