What family lawyers were talking about this week…

Family Law|Industry News | 11 Jul 2014 2

The Home Office is considering plans to include mothers’ names on marriage certificates in England and Wales. There is at present no legal requirement or space on the certificate for mothers’ names – the certificates only require the names and occupations of the fathers of the bride and groom. However, more than one hundred MPs from all parties are calling for the “offensive and outdated” law to be changed so that women are not written out of history. For what it’s worth, I agree.

The High Court has rejected a move by hedge fund tycoon Sir Christopher Hohn to prevent the media from publishing details from hearings relating to the financial settlement following his divorce. In a test case that is said to significantly expand the media’s ability to report on matrimonial hearings, Mrs Justice Roberts has permitted everything conducted in a private hearing to be published for the first time, save for financial information relating to the couple’s personal or business affairs. Those financial matters that have already been published can be re-reported. Jamie-Cooper Hohn, the American wife of Sir Christopher, is seeking hundreds of millions of pounds in what could be the largest divorce award ever made by a British court.

Citizens Advice has reported that nine out of ten of its offices are finding it difficult to refer people to the specialist legal advice they need since the cuts to legal aid came into effect last year. The charity says it is now extremely hard to get legal aid for issues such as housing, relationship breakdown or employment disputes, either because people have to meet very stringent criteria to obtain legal aid or because legal aid is now simply not available, such as for private law children disputes. All of which was entirely foreseeable when legal aid was cut. Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy has shared this evidence with the House of Commons Justice Select Committee inquiry into the impact of changes to civil legal aid and called for a Government strategy on funding of advice, to ensure that people can access the right level of advice, at the right time, in the right way for them.

The Select Committee has also been warned of the dangers of untrained, uninsured and unregulated professional McKenzie friends, who have emerged to fill the gap as people are left without access to proper legal advice and representation. Jenny Beck, co-chair of the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group told the committee that McKenzie friends give only the ‘illusion of equality of arms’ while Bar Council chair Nicholas Lavender QC said judges need to be stricter in not allowing paid McKenzie friends to speak in court. MPs expressed concern at the growing phenomenon, with Conservative MP Steve Brine calling it the ‘cult of the amateur’ and Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn describing it as a ‘dangerous scenario’. Yes, and also entirely foreseeable.

Finally, Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for June 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 866 care applications, representing a 2 per cent increase compared to those received in June 2013. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,651 new private law cases, which is a large 37 per cent decrease on June 2013 levels, continuing to reflect the effect of the abolition of legal aid in April 2013.

Hopefully, you are not in the position of needing legal aid to help with your family law dispute, but even if you are do 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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    1. paul apreda says:

      I wonder why it is that for all the faults ascribed to Cafcass at least they are able to publish both Public + Private Law statistics in the following month while Cafcass Cymru / Welsh Govt regard the equivalent data as restricted for internal use only

    2. Andrew says:

      Well, Paul, you see, in Wales they understand that if you tell people things they will know them, and then where would we all be.

      Try FoIA.

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