John Bolch on what family lawyers were talking about this week…

Family Law|Industry News | 16 May 2014 0

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Quite a lot, actually…

A High Court judge has ruled that a 13-year-old girl is capable of making her own decision about whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. At a hearing in March which has only just been reported, an NHS Trust asked Mr Justice Mostyn to decide whether the teenager had the mental capacity to understand the options open to her. After hearing evidence from a psychiatrist who had interviewed her, the judge concluded that she did. He said that it would now be up to her to decide what to do. Her intention at the time of the hearing was to have a termination.

Divorce lawyers have reported a surge of interest in pre-nuptial agreements, according to a story that appeared in The Telegraph. One law firm apparently reported a 50 per cent rise in inquiries about the agreements, which allow couples to decide in advance how they would divide up their assets upon divorce. The increased interest follows a report from the Law Commission that recommended the introduction of a form of marital agreement, as part of a wider overhaul of the divorce system.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for April 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 797 care applications, representing a 13 per cent decrease compared to those received in April 2013. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,267 new private law cases, which is a 24 per cent decrease on April 2013 levels. Cafcass has also released statistics which show the number of care applications received per 10,000 child population – the rate of care applications – by each local authority in England with children’s services responsibilities. The figures show that the rate of application rose from 5.9 in 2008-09 to 9.7 in 2012-13, a rise of 64 per cent, but that it has dropped to 9.2 in 2013-14, which is lower than 2012-13 levels but still higher than 2011-12 levels.

In a written submission to MPs, the Judicial Executive Board, which represents senior judges, has criticised the impact of the recent legal aid cuts. The Board said that the cuts have led to a large increase in unrepresented claimants, outbreaks of courtroom violence, extra litigation and increased costs. They said that the apparent saving of cost by a reduction in the legal aid budget needed to be viewed in context, as it often it simply leads to increased costs elsewhere in the court system. For example, the lack of representation has meant that cases which may never have been brought or been compromised at an early stage are now often fully contested, requiring significantly more judicial involvement and causing consequential delays. All of which should have been pretty obvious to the Government prior to making the cuts.

New guidelines are to be introduced for prosecutors handling cases of domestic abuse among the elderly and teenagers. The guidance, which is intended to help prosecutors in England and Wales decide when to bring charges against perpetrators of domestic abuse, is yet to come into force. The Crown Prosecution Service says the intensity of abuse may be greater among pensioners because they may feel less able to escape or to get help as they are dependent on their abuser.

Finally, the Supreme Court has allowed an appeal by Lithuanian grandparents against the refusal of an application for a declaration that their grandchild was being wrongfully retained by his mother in Northern Ireland, in breach of their rights of custody. The case hinged upon the meaning of the term ‘rights of custody’, as a child is wrongfully removed or retained in a country under the Hague Convention if such removal or retention is in breach of ‘rights of custody’. At the time that the mother removed the child from their care, the grandparents only had informal rights (termed ‘inchoate rights’) in respect of the child, rather than a court order. The Supreme Court held by a majority that such rights should continue to be recognised as rights of custody under the Convention, provided that certain conditions applied. Those conditions did apply to the situation of the grandparents, so the court ordered that the child be returned to Lithuania forthwith.

And with that, I bid you 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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