What family lawyers were talking about this week

Family Law|Industry News | 25 Jul 2014 0

It’s been a strange week for news, with quite a lot of ‘peripheral’ stories, but few that have been of real interest. Still, there have been some items worthy of a conversation:

Research has indicated that legal aid contributes to significant public savings, contrary to what the government would have us believe. The Low Commission, which earlier this year published its report on a future strategy for social welfare advice in light of legal aid cuts, has now published a major follow up report on the economic value of social welfare advice. The report finds that legal aid not only pays for itself, but it also makes a significant contribution to families/ households, to local area economics, and also contributes to significant public savings. Different studies done in the UK, US, Canada and Australia have all demonstrated similar findings that for every pound or dollar invested, there’s a multiple of 10 in the savings produced by, for example, keeping people in their homes with jobs and incomes intact rather than having to utilise expensive crisis and emergency services. You couldn’t make it up…

In the first case to successfully use the 1996 Hague Convention on parental responsibility between England and Russia, two boys, who were kept in Russia by their father in breach of a family court order, have been returned to their mother in London. Rachael Neustadt, from Hendon, said Ilya Neustadt took their two sons on holiday in December 2012 then refused to hand them back to her. She began legal action and a High Court judge ordered that Mr Neustadt return the children to England, but he failed to comply. Ms Neustadt went on to win a landmark ruling in Moscow City Appeal Court in November. The Russian court said that her sons had been illegally kept in Russia in breach of the UK High Court order. All of which is excellent news.

Continuing the Russian theme, a Russian couple have finally got divorced, at least in this country. In May the President of the Family Division ruled in the case Solovyev v Solovyeva that the divorce process that they went through at the Russian Consulate in London could not be recognised under English law. The husband therefore proceeded with his English divorce petition, which was subsequently heard by the President. The President granted the divorce and also agreed to the husband’s request that the decree absolute be expedited, removing the bar to the husband’s new fiancée coming to this country. Another happy ending!

Meanwhile, a mother has been given permission by the court to take her daughter to China for a holiday. In JXN (A Child) the father had opposed the mother’s application for permission as he feared that the mother, who was formerly a Chinese citizen, would not return the child to this country, particularly as China is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on Child Abduction. However, Mr Justice Baker found that the risk of the mother breaching an order to return the child was negligible, as he was satisfied that she was telling the truth when she said that she said that she did not intend to abduct the child and that she and the child were British citizens and were going to live here. I’ve often thought about this type of case that I wouldn’t like to be responsible for making the decision in case it goes wrong – although I’m sure Mr Justice Baker knows what he is doing!

Lastly, Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has announced that from the age of ten, children and young people involved in all family court hearings in England and Wales will have access to judges to make their views and feelings known. Speaking at the Family Justice Young People’s Board, he said: “Children and young people must by law have their views heard before decisions are made about their future, and where decisions are made that will impact them. At the moment, it is still too often that their views are not heard. Our commitment to giving children the chance to speak to a judge and make clear their views means children will not only be seen in family courts but they will have their own voice heard. This will put them firmly at the heart of the Family Justice System.” The courts do, of course, already ensure that the views of children are heard and taken into account – sounds to me like just another example of the Government doing something that it claims will make a difference, when in fact it will change little or nothing.

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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