Grandparent power holds court

A recent Court of Appeal decision has given hope to many grandparents fighting for closer contact with their grand children following the break-up of the children's parents.

Solicitor Colin Dearmar and counsel Jane Hoyal, both family law specialists involved in the case of Re S & C (minors), view the decision as one which maybe of benefit to thousands of grandparents who are striving to maintain contact with their grandchildren.

In the past, grandparents have received a raw deal at the hands of the courts. A case file showing the high number of failures to win court battles led to the formation of the Grandparents Federation, a pressure group set up in 1987 to fight for the recognition of the importance of grandparents in the upbringing of their grandchildren. Since then, it has fought a dignified campaign to win greater legal rights.

In the recent case, the grandfather of a three-year-old boy managed to successfully challenge the decision of Croydon County Court to refuse him leave to apply for contact with his grandson.

The father of the boy in question had been jailed for sexual offences. The grandfather wished to retain contact with his grandson, but to apply for contact under the provisions of the Children Act he needed leave of the court.

The County Court judge refused leave, but Lords Justices Staughton, Thorpe and Henry in the Court of Appeal reversed his decision, paving the way for the grandfather to return to court to renew his fight to stay in touch with his grandson.

In giving the judgment, former Family Division judge Lord Justice Thorpe gave hope to many other grandparents. He emphasised that if a grandparent could demonstrate an arguable case for any form of contact order, however limited, then he or she should be entitled to go on with an application.

The case comes in the wake of Re M, an application by a grandmother for access, in which Lord Justice Ward said that frivolous or vexatious cases should be dismissed, but went on to rule that when there was a "good arguable case", it should be allowed to go on.

Dearmar, who is a social-worker-turned-solicitor at specialist family firm Hornby Ackroyd & Levy, views the latest ruling as highly significant for grandparents.

"It was important that the court was able to be proactive in making sure grandparents can have an opportunity to play a part in their grandchildren's lives," he said. "It recognises that children not only have parents, but also grandparents, who can help in their up-bringing. I view these recent cases as a significant legal shift and a recognition of the role grandparents have."

Counsel Jane Hoyal said there were thousands of children who were the product of broken marriages and had lost contact with their grandparents and, as a result, had missed out on an important degree of family stability. "This latest decision must be viewed as a significant step in the right direction," she said. "I think it can be seen as confirmation by the courts of the importance of three, rather than two generations in family life."