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What family lawyers were talking about this week… by John Bolch

The week began with more depressing news for supporters of mediation. Data from the Ministry of Justice showed that in October 2013 only 707 publicly-funded UK mediations were started, compared to 1281 in October 2012. This represents a reduction of 45 per cent, the second highest year-on-year monthly fall since changes to public funding were introduced in April 2013. Further, between April and October 2013, the total number of UK mediation starts fell by over a third compared to the same period in 2012. It is becoming ever-clearer that mediation is not the universal solution to the abolition of legal aid the Government would have us believe.

The Daily Mail reported that, in response to a call from Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith for ideas on how to keep families together, the Marriage Foundation has, unsurprisingly, recommended that the state should do more to encourage marriage, including instituting a drive to to persuade couples to marry rather than simply live together, in order to help combat high break-up rates among cohabitees. We have, of course, been here many times before, always forgetting that the ‘type’ of couples who marry are the type who are more likely to stay together, and that the act of signing a marriage certificate will not make a jot of difference to the longevity of a relationship. Still, I suspect it was music to the ears of IDS…

The Ministry of Justice’s proposals to increase court fees have been condemned as “not fit for purpose” by an internal government review. The MoJ had planned to increase fees in family and other court proceedings, including increasing the fee for filing a divorce petition from £410 to £750, which is around three times the cost of the proceedings. The Regulatory Policy Committee, an independent advisory body, has issued a “scathing analysis” of the plans, and it will be interesting to see how the MoJ responds.

The President of the Family Division continues to be busy, this week handing down judgment in Re Ramet, an application to commit a father to prison for contempt of court. The father had assaulted the mother and a court clerk in the courtroom, while the judge was giving her judgment in a long-running contact dispute. The father subsequently pleaded guilty to offences of assault occasioning actual bodily harm (the attack on the mother) and common assault (the attack on the court clerk), and was sentenced to 20 months’ imprisonment for assault occasioning actual bodily harm and to four months concurrent for the common assault. The President had to deal with the issue of sentencing the father for contempt of court. He found that the conduct complained of in the contempt summons was the same conduct as had been the subject of the criminal proceedings. Accordingly, as the father could not be punished twice for the same conduct, the President did not impose any additional sentence.

Finally, what do you do when you are aggrieved at losing contact with your children? Why, you blame it on your ex-wife’s solicitor, of course. That is what fathers’ rights activist Tim Line did, according to this report, also in the Daily Mail. Mr Line, however, went further, setting up a website harassing his ex’s solicitor. For his troubles, he has received a four week suspended prison sentence and a restraining order.

Have a good weekend.

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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