Crime Versus Family
Managing Partner Stephen Hopwood who heads our Family team takes a look at what happens when decisions in the Criminal court can affect Family Law Cases.
One of the common ways in which the Criminal and Family Law departments work together is in respect of criminal allegations against a parent. A parent can be charged with an offence against another parent or children. This rightly causes intervention by both the Criminal and Family Law legal systems.
The danger to all concerned is that the focus appears then to be in the criminal law proceedings. The way society has geared people’s thinking is that if the police are involved and if a criminal conviction could follow, then that is by far the most serious of the sets of proceedings. Again because of the way the law is geared, a very high burden of proof is necessary to convict somebody in a criminal court. Often somebody can have a result in the Criminal court which may provide some relief. However, what we see in practice is that once the focus has shifted from the Criminal proceedings there still remains a victim who maintains there has been a series of offences and also a party who may feel vindicated in that the Criminal court insists that they have not. It is perhaps less well known that the Family Law courts do not then just accept the decision of the Criminal court. There is a wide potential for findings of fact and evidence to be given in Family Law cases to decide if a parent is safe to spend time with their children. The burden of proof is lower and the focus is different. Whereas in the Criminal court the focus is on punishment and finding guilt, in the Family court the focus is on the safety of children. This often comes as a surprise to the victim and a shock to the perpetrator.
It is also another good example of why the fragmentation of the profession into narrow specialisms with firms dedicated to those specialisms is not always a good thing. The interaction between the departments at McCormicks is absolutely vital to obtain good results for clients.