The (Ghanaian) family ties that bind
When considering access to justice, it is important that each member of a family which is involved in legal proceedings has proper representation. Partner Kate Hammond recently acted pro bono for a Ghanaian couple who found themselves far from home in the English family court when they volunteered to provide long term care for a toddler who was their second cousin.
The little boy was of dual British and Ghanaian nationality and had been in foster care since shortly after his birth as his parents both have significant mental health problems. Over this period of fourteen months, a strong and loving bond had developed with the foster carer who put herself forward as long term carer for the child.
However, the boy’s family preferred that he should stay within their extended family – even though the keenest and most suitable relatives live in Ghana. This view was supported by the local authority – the London Borough of Enfield.
Following a judgment by Jackson LJ – A, Re (A Child) 2018 EWCA Civ 2240 – permitting the local authority’s appeal against the order of the first instance Judge granting a Special Guardianship Order to the foster carer, the case was reviewed by Her Honour Judge Robertshaw in December 2018.
Mr and Mrs H, who had come over to London from Ghana, had also developed a strong bond with the little boy but they had no knowledge of the British legal system.
‘A special guardianship order, is like adoption for family members in that it transfers parental responsibility for the child, but it also differs in that there is no separation from the birth family. This is important when it is hoped that family members will continue to remain in contact.’
‘It was an issue of equality of arms’, said Kate Hammond, explaining why she had decided to act pro bono. ‘This couple spoke little English and were not eligible for legal aid to cover any legal costs.’
Mr & Mrs H were represented in court by Monifa Walters-Thompson, who also acted pro bono.
As in any family law case, the paramount consideration is the welfare of the child, and having considered the pros and cons of each option, the judge found that ‘the welfare balance rests heavily in favour of the family placement with Mr & Mrs H, and I can find no welfare imperative that necessitates A being placed away from his natural family… A has his whole life ahead of him and this should be a life with Mr & Mrs H.’
For more information on Special Guardianship Orders, or any aspect of family law, please contact Kate Hammond on 020 7426 0400 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.