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----- Original Message -----
Court of Appeal finds CMEC
breaches fathers' Article 6 rights http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed103803
Stephen Lawson http://www.qualitysolicitors.com/fdr/our-team/stephen-lawson, a child support specialist and partner at QualitySolicitors Forshaws Davies Ridgway http://www.qualitysolicitors.com/fdr, and Liverpool barrister Matthew Stockwell http://www.stjohnsbuildings.com/barrister/Matthew_Stockwell/454/22.aspx, from St Johns Buildings http://www.stjohnsbuildings.com/content/Home.aspx, worked with Richard Gordon QC http://www.stjohnsbuildings.com/content/Home.aspx of Brick Court Chambers http://www.brickcourt.co.uk/home/home.asp to bring two test cases before the Court of Appeal.
The heart of the cases, reported as Karoonian v CMEC; Gibbons v CMEC http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed104067  EWCA Civ 1379, related to whether or not the procedure routinely adopted by the Child Maintenance & Enforcement Commission was compliant with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights. It was decided that it did not.
The judgment of the Court, comprising Ward, Richards and Patten LJJ, directs CMEC to review "as a matter of urgency" its current legal procedures for making applications to send parents to prison when they fail to keep up maintenance payments.
In the judgement, Lord Justice Ward condemned the lack of robustness and confusion in the current legal practices as "obnoxious" and "unreasonable" and stated: "the procedures adopted do not comply with the rights to a fair trial and were flawed." The ruling also recommends that suspended sentences should now be limited to a maximum of two years.
Stephen Lawson said:
"I hope this ruling will now end the unjust practice of non-resident parents, usually fathers, being jailed or threatened with jail without the opportunity to defend themselves properly.
"Parents may have heard nothing from the CSA for many years and then suddenly out of the blue they receive a demand for thousands of pounds. Many are simply unable to pay and are met with an application to put them in prison or disqualify them from driving.
"In another recent case, a father was arrested, taken to court and sent to prison all on the same day, with no opportunity to challenge the evidence against him. The CSA has been sending summons notices through the post, often to an old address, so this has led to some parents being tracked down and arrested, knowing nothing of the court proceedings. And the onus has been on the parent to prove why he shouldn't be sent to prison, which reversed the traditional burden of proof.
"The ruling means the burden of proof, the serving of summons notices and disclosure of documents will now be improved to a level similar to criminal proceedings – which is only fair if people are threatened with the ultimate sanction of imprisonment."
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