Quite a lot…
Leading charities have warned that domestic violence refuges are being closed across the country in a crisis that they say is putting support for the most vulnerable women and children back 40 years. Specialist safe houses for women and children are being forced to shut by some local authorities because they do not take in male victims. In other areas, refuges are facing closure in favour of preventive work and support in the community, or being replaced with accommodation provided by housing associations. The threat comes from a competitive tendering process being adopted by local authorities, which charities say is weighted towards larger housing associations and businesses and ignores the lessons of four decades about the need to provide specialist, therapeutic support in refuges for women forced to flee for their lives. I have already commented on this issue in this post.
Over 1,200 high street law firms offering legal aid family services could face a £100 million shortfall in fees as publicly funded cases work their way through the family justice system without replacement. The estimate was reached by divorce and separation service LawyerSupportedMediation.com which analysed recently published Legal Aid Agency data to calculate that the Ministry of Justice is on course to reduce its spend on solicitors’ fees by over £100 million compared to 2012/13. Shared across the 1,208 law firms with a government contract for providing family law services, this represents a £90,000 ‘black hole’ that will need to be filled by a corresponding increase in private fees to stave off redundancies and maintain lawyer numbers. The only surprising thing about this story is that this obvious consequence of the legal aid cuts has taken so long to become news.
The Foreign Office has warned expatriates living in the United Arab Emirates that they could face Sharia courts in divorce or child custody cases. The warning comes after a British mother lost custody of her son to her French ex-husband following a Sharia hearing. In February, Afsana Lachaux was given a suspended prison sentence in Dubai after being found guilty of kidnap charges for failing to attend an access meeting between her son and her ex-husband. Ms Lachaux claims she was scared, having been the victim of domestic abuse, which her former partner strongly denies. She told the BBC’s Asian Network that had she known Sharia law could be used by non-Muslims in court cases to decide divorce and child custody, she would not have moved to the UAE. However, it has since been reported that it is misleading to say that all Britons are subject to Sharia law.
The biggest talking-point of the week has been legal aid, or rather the lack of it, following two cases that dealt with the issue. First, as mentioned here in this post, was AB (A Child: Temporary Leave To Remove From Jurisdiction: Expert Evidence), in which His Honour Judge Bellamy, not for the first time, criticised the Legal Aid Agency for resisting the grant of legal aid to cover the cost of an expert’s report that had been ordered by the court. The Agency had argued that the person chosen by the court was not an ‘expert’. However, Judge Bellamy said that it was for the court not the Agency to decide whether a particular witness was qualified to give expert evidence.
The other case was Q v Q, in which the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby stated that if the Legal Aid Agency refused to pay for lawyers to represent the fathers in three contact applications then, as a last resort, the cost would have to be borne by HM Courts and Tribunals Service, the body responsible for the administration of the criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales. For more details of this case, see this post. Of course, whether a judge should be spending public money in this way is a moot point.
Have a good weekend.