About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Monday, 30 June 2008

Celebrity separations keep family law in the news

Two high profile separations, one definite and the other rumoured, have kept family lawyers in the headlines over the past week.

The definite split is that of Matt Lucas, star of Little Britain and Shooting Stars, from his civil partner of two years, Kevin McGee. This story is likely to be followed closely in the next few months as they are the first high profile civil partnership to split and observers are already speculating as to any settlement. It is thought that Matt Lucas has hired Mishcon de Reya. Most of the dailies have covered the story so here's a link to just one on The Independent website.

The other rumoured pending divorce is that of Madonna and the film director Guy Ritchie, of Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels fame. This time is is rumoured that Fiona Shackleton, of Payne Hicks Beach, has been instructed by Madonna to reprise the role she performed for Sir Paul McCartney. The couple have been married since 2000 and first stab at the estimated wealth of Madonna is £300m. Quite surprisingly it is thought that no pre-marital agreement was signed. Again the story has been covered in all the nationals so this time here's a link to The Telegraph website.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Local authorities & the PLO

Family practitioners in private practice may be well advised to make sure that the local authorities they regularly deal with are clued up about the PLO. I have just been in a case where the pre-birth conference minutes showed that the putative father in the case had no idea that he would be entitled to public funding (because he thought it would be means tested) (which misapprehension was not corrected) and from the recorded conversation it was obvious that no one present appreciated the significance of the pre-action letter in terms of securing public funding. A legal adviser was present at the meeting but did not contribute to the discussion. You may want to consider making sure that accurate information about the the entitlement to public funding is made available to all CPC chairs.

Permission to revoke placement orders & oppose adoption

Just to let you know that I have just updated my article on 4 Brick Court's website on the topic of revoking placement orders & opposing adoption to take account of a couple of cases this year on revoking placement orders.

Monday, 16 June 2008

That fee increase

I am grateful to the Cafcass Google Group for drawing my attention to the remarks in a recent BBC broadcast, of Bridget Prentice MP commenting on the raising of court fees in care cases. She was asked why the government had disregarded the numerous views opposing the increase and referred to the institutional bodies such as the Local Government Association and the ADCS as 'accepting' that the changes would not place children at risk. She also commented that 'it must be right to resolve matters without going to court in the first place'. This small sentence is bristling with worrying implications. Does the government think that local authorities bring care proceedings because they have nothing better to do? How does this square with the number of applications which are granted by the court? Will this fuel the tendency which I have at least anecdotally noticed of some local authorities putting pressure on parents to agree to s 20 accommodation (or we will have to take the matter to court)? How many dead children will it be before there is an acknowledgment that any financial disincentive to issue proceedings aimed at child protection is a bad thing?

Here finally is the response to consultation (pdf file). The majority of responses were against the fee increase. It seems to argue that it is long-standing policy to charge fees for public sector services to any user of the service for good policy reasons so it is a policy that should be implemented in care cases regardless of the statutory obligations of the uses. However, it has never been the policy to do so in criminal cases to users such as the CPC so it should not be the policy now.

"In short, the principles of fee-charging policy apply equally to public sector bodies as to other users. Nor is it relevant whether the public body can be said to be acting pursuant of a specific statutory duty or its more general objectives. Indeed, it is axiomatic that court proceedings generally are, or should only be, brought in pursuit of some important objective, whether public policy or access to justice for an individual user. The significance of the issues at stake does not in itself provide a basis for differences in fee policy.
It has long been the case that fees are not charged at all to bring criminal proceedings. So the principles of the Fees & Charges Guide do not apply. There are no plans to change this policy."

Or am I missing something?

News roundup

Apologies dear readers, every so often I disappear into a black hole of work and am all consumed by the trying business of cases being tried. So time for a catch up.

The DCSF has published its White Paper on Joint Birth Registration which is available here as a pdf file. The White Paper proposes that birth registration should be a legal requirement in England & Wales for unmarried fathers unless this is decided by the registrar to be impossible, impracticable or unreasonable. Mothers have a new right to insist that the unmarried father acknowledge his responsibilities to his child by registering on the birth certificate. Unmarried fathers will have a new right to insist that they are registered. In very difficult circumstances there is no compulsion on either parent to register but reasonable efforts are to be made to discover and register the father’s name, alongside the mother’s. A series of non-legislative measures to promote and support joint birth registration. These include a duty on maternity staff and registrars to engage with both parents on the subject of the father’s birth registration.

The DCSF has also announced that young people are to be given the chance to stay on in their foster families beyond the age of 18, thanks to a new £5 million Government pilot programme.

The Social Care Institute for Excellence has published a Resource guide on the children of prisoners: maintaining family ties .

The Law Commission has announced its intention to examine the question of the enforceability of marital agreements in property disputes & intestacy law. See also the Guardian's comments on pre-nuptial agreements and this story in the Times .

The Home Affairs select committee has published its report on Domestic Violence, Forced Marriage and Honour-Based Violence. Download the report in pdf format here . The Times also published a story on so-called honour violence .

The NSPCC has published its report concluding that Asian children's needs are being sidelined as cultural misunderstandings and 'political correctness' hinder the authorities from protecting them from the effects of domestic violence: see here .

The Children's Rights Alliance for England's submission to the UN Committee on the rights of the child makes 152 recommendations. The report is endorsed by over 100 non-governmental organisations. It is highly critical of the UK suggesting, for example, that over 30 pieces of legislation since 2002 breach the human rights of children. The summary is here as a pdf file. Recommendations include that a children's human rights unit should be established within DCSF.

Ryder J has spoken out about family justice and the courts being out of touch according to the Times . I will comment on this in more detail in a separate post.

A former foster parent has been jailed for 12 years for the abuse of three children according to the Mail .

The Mail also reports on a Catholic adoption agency said to be defying the law in relation to the potential placement of children with homosexual couples.

Monday, 9 June 2008

Controversy in France over annulled marriage

A political and social controversy is raging in France after the courts annulled a marriage on the grounds that the wife had lied about her virginity to her husband, a Muslim convert. The issue has sparked a debate about the courts there introducing sharia law by the back door.

Marcel Berlins has written a piece explaining the background to the case on The Guardian website

More senior women judges required say Lady Justice Arden

The Times last week carried a report of a speech by Lady Justice Arden bemoaning the lack of diversity among the senior judiciary. In the speech, given to the Association of Women Solicitors, she stated that while progress had been made at district and circuit level, "it is important that women should also be appointed to the High Court.” She pointed out that only one woman had been chosen for the High Court bench compared with 29 men and, as one woman High Court judge, Joyanne Bracewell, had died during that time, levels of women judges had not increased since October 2005, which was “extremely disappointing”.

She added,
“There are far fewer woman judges in England and Wales than in many other
jurisdictions throughout the world. Even in developing countries, there are many
more women judges than we have in this country.”

She then called on women solicitors to "press" the JAC for change,
“We have never before had the opportunity to contribute to, and help fashion,
the appointments process as we do now. We must utilise that advantage.”

The full story can be found on The Times website

Wednesday, 4 June 2008

Joint Birth Registration & Parental Responsibility

The Government have published a White Paper on Joint Birth Registration following responses received from its Green Paper on the subject last June. The new law will form part of the Welfare Reform Bill in the Autumn and proposes changes to make joint birth registration a legal requirement for all unmarried parents.
This is part of the Government's proposal to promote child welfare and parental responsibility where 45,000 children born each year are sole registered. The Government believes that in 45% of these cases the father has regular contact with the child. In Australia where there is similar legislation sole registration accounts for 3% of registered births.
The Times reports that under the new system the mother will be asked by the registrar to name the father and "the registrar will be obliged to pursue him until he signs." The father can take a DNA test if paternity is disputed and will be fined if he fails to co-operate. There is concern from Union of which most registrar's are a member, that adequate resources will not be provided to registrars to achieve this. There will be very little that the registrar will be able to do other than fining fathers who fail to respond to their requests. Under the new changes fathers will be able to registrar by post and will not need to go to the Registry Office as they have under the present legislation.
The new law will also give fathers the right to insist that they are registered and to have parental responsibility. In these circumstances fathers will be able to take a DNA test if paternity is disputed.
As the piece in The Times says there is nothing that can be done when the mother does not want to name the father. In cases where this is the case or the mother does not know who the father is the registrar will be able to use their discretion to make sole registrations where it is "impossible, impracticable or unreasonable" to obtain both names.