Judge apologises for eight-month delay in producing written ruling on FGM case

The most senior family court judge in England and Wales has apologised after taking nearly eight months to produce a written ruling on a case involving Home Office ministers and a girl feared to be at risk of female genital mutilation.

Sir Andrew McFarlane (pictured), president of the Family Division of the High Court, blamed the “inordinate delay” on “pressure of other work”.

He had analysed evidence at a hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London in late January and news of the decision he had made emerged at a follow-up hearing in early March.

But he did not hand down a written ruling, explaining the reasoning behind his decision, until this week.

The case centred on an asylum-seeker, who has links to Sudan, and her daughter.

A family court judge had concluded that the girl would be at risk of female genital mutilation if taken to Sudan.

But Home Office officials had rejected the woman’s asylum application and ordered her deportation.

She had then failed to persuade immigration tribunals to overturn that decision.

Social services bosses at Suffolk County Council, who have responsibility for the girl’s welfare had begun High Court litigation, and wanted to know whether a judge could bar a home secretary from deporting the girl’s mother.

Sir Andrew concluded that a judge could not make such an order.

Family court litigation centred on the girl is continuing.

Another judge based in the Family Division of the High Court, Mr Justice Newton, is analysing a number of issues relating to her welfare.

Sir Andrew said the delay in the publication of his judgment had not “held up” that litigation.

He also said he had asked ministers to “restrain enforcement” of immigration decisions until the litigation being overseen by Mr Justice Newton had ended.

Lawyers say the girl and her mother, who judges say cannot be identified, are still in England.

“I can only apologise to all concerned with this case for the inordinate delay that has preceded the handing down of this judgment,” said Sir Andrew, in his written ruling on the case.

“The delay has been caused by the pressure of other work in the intervening period.”

– Late last year, Sir Andrew raised concern about the workload of family court judges, and staff. He said, in a speech to specialist lawyers, that there had been an “unprecedented” rise in the number of cases coming into family courts in recent years.

The judge told the annual conference of the Association of Lawyers for Children in Bristol in November: “I am genuinely concerned about the long-term well-being of all those who are over-working at this high and unsustainable level.”

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