The constant outpouring of news from the Government doesn’t even stop at the weekend any more. Last Sunday the Department for Work & Pensions issued a press release announcing another ten projects that will receive funding “to help separated couples resolve grievances and agree financial and parenting arrangements”. The release told us that: “The projects, worth £3.4m, will test new ways for separated parents to overcome conflicts that may have become entrenched over many years, as part of a £10m investment through the Innovation Fund.” It all sounds very impressive but it’s less than one hundredth of the sum that was cut from the legal aid budget – as I’ve said before, nothing more than another sticking plaster that will do little to cover the gaping wound left by the abolition of legal aid.
On similar lines, Monday brought the news that the Ministry of Justice is aware of the huge drop in mediation referrals since the abolition of legal aid, and is “working with the Family Mediation Council and legal profession to address it”. I mentioned this issue in my first post here. I’m sure the Family Mediation Council are eager to stop mediators from going out of business, but quite what the legal profession can do I’m not sure – after all, the abolition of legal aid has ‘taken them out of the loop’. Still, there is a grim sense of amusement watching the Government scrabble to resolve the obvious consequences of their ill thought-out policies. Not that that will give any succour to the victims of this particular debacle.
As was reported here, an adoption agency has been criticised for advertising children in local newspapers. Now, I know that there is a backlog of children waiting to be adopted, but I tend to agree with other family lawyers that this does seem somewhat distasteful, to say the least. I have not seen the original adverts, but I understand that they included ‘unblurred’ photographs of the children, unlike the images included in reports of the story in national newspapers. If so, this not only treats them as if they were second-hand goods, it also has legal implications regarding identification of the children. Hopefully, the media interest in this particular issue will do some good and discourage any further advertising along such lines.
The announcement by Equalities Minister Maria Miller that the first same-sex weddings can take place from the 29th of March next year, rather earlier than expected, was welcomed in many quarters. Ms Miller also said that she was “working hard” to ensure that those who wanted to convert civil partnerships into marriages would be able to do so before the end of next year. On that point, I suspect that the take-up of civil partnerships after next March is likely to be minimal. If so, then one has to wonder whether there will be a continued place for them.
Also welcome was the news from Cafcass that the number of both care applications and private law children’s cases has fallen. After a period of sustained increases in both, this will hopefully bring some relief to an over-stretched system.
On Thursday the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (‘FCO’) issued a press release informing us that the number of parental child abduction and custody cases has more than doubled over the last decade, with almost two children being abducted abroad each day, according to new figures released by the FCO and charity, Reunite. This doesn’t come as a surprise, given the increasingly international nature of family life. It is, however, a worry, particularly as child abduction cases can be the most difficult and emotive cases to deal with, and not just for the parties involved.
And that’s it for another week. Please don’t let any government press releases spoil your weekend.
Image by Chris Potter via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence
John Bolch is a family law commentator