Lord Justice Ward called the situation a 'public scandal', and Jacqui Gilliatt indicates another: the Children & Adoption Act 2006 was passed nearly two years ago and would provide the courts with significant new powers in relation to contact orders, but there appears to have been no word from the Government for the last year as to when the relevant provisions will be implemented.
Would the Act have made any difference to the outcome of the case in which Lord Justice Ward was sitting? This seems unlikely to me. The Act includes various provisions, including enforcement orders (essentially requiring the parent in breach of the contact order to do community service), the power to order one parent to pay the other compensation for any financial loss caused by the breach, and the ability of the court to request a CAFCASS officer to monitor compliance with contact orders without the parents' consent, but would such powers have helped the court here? The problem, of course, as pointed out by Lord Justice Ward, is that in the end the welfare of the child is always paramount, and it would often be too distressing for a child to force them to have contact with a parent against whom their mind has been completely poisoned.
So, do I think that the Act is a waste of time? Certainly not. I'm sure that the additional tools that it will provide will assist the courts in many cases, and help to ensure that a considerably higher proportion of its orders are complied with. All of which, of course, is subject to the caveat that the Government actually implements it.
* * *Update: The Ministry of Justice has now published a consultation paper seeking views on draft court rules and forms to support the implementation of the remaining provisions of the Act. Thanks, as so often, to Current Awareness for this.