It has been a fairly quiet week for family law news. I think perhaps that the possibility of a different kind of divorce – between Scotland and the rest of the UK – has occupied the minds of family lawyers (and many others), rather more than anything else. Still, there have been some gongs-on:
As I mentioned here in this post, data from National Family Mediation (‘NFM’), the largest provider of family mediation in England and Wales, has shown a significant rise in the take-up of its services in the first six months of 2014. Jane Robey, Chief Executive of NFM, said: “Whilst family mediation services nationwide suffered a downturn in 2013 after the government overhauled legal aid, the signs for the profession are positive in the first half of 2014.” She went on: “The picture varies across the country, but in a number of our service areas increases of 30 to 40 per cent in numbers of people attending mediation compared with the same period in 2013 are common.”
NFM has also reported that a government-funded scheme it is organising is successfully diverting separated parents away from courtroom battles and helping them negotiate instead, enabling them to better support their children. The At-Court Mediation project, a year-long pilot launched in March 2014, helps parents who have been separated for more than two years, and who are currently undergoing court processes over child-related issues. Funded by the Department for Work and Pensions, it operates in three pilot areas: Herefordshire, Berkshire and West Yorkshire, providing mediation at family courts, and one-to-one support to reduce conflict between couples.
The Bar Council, which represents barristers in England and Wales, has published a report, based on interviews and a survey of legal practitioners, assessing the impact of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (‘LASPO’) 2012 on our system of justice a year after implementation in April 2013. LASPO, as I’m sure you know, abolished legal aid for most private law family matters.
Nicholas Lavender QC, Chairman of the Bar Council said: “Much of what we feared about LASPO has come to pass. Individuals dealing with life-changing legal issues are denied fair access to justice if they cannot afford it. A rise in self-representation is clogging the courts and creating additional costs to the tax payer, free frontline legal advisors are creaking under the strain, pro bono lawyers cannot cope with the demand, and the safety net the government created for providing legal aid in ‘exceptional cases’ is not fit for purpose.”
The Bar Council said that the increased number of litigants in person, particularly in the family and civil courts, is placing unprecedented pressures on courts and voluntary services. Nearly 90 cent of respondents who work with family courts and 70 per cent of respondents from civil courts reported an increase in self-representation, resulting in cases not being properly presented, which can lead to extra delays, pressures and costs on the court system, as well as litigants not making points or speaking up when they should, so damaging their case. All of which is, I’m afraid, entirely obvious and predictable.
Lastly, domestic violence charity Refuge has teamed up with ITV’s Loose Women to launch a new domestic violence campaign “to highlight the shocking national emergency of domestic violence and offer support and advice”. To mark the launch, Refuge and Loose Women have released the results of a YouGov survey which showed that over one in three British women have experienced domestic violence and that almost two fifths of victims tell no one. Sandra Horley CBE, Chief Executive of Refuge said: “Victims of domestic violence often feel trapped and isolated. They may feel ashamed of what has happened to them, or they may be fearful of speaking out. The results from the survey confirm this – showing that 35 per cent of women reported that they would not want anyone to know if they were experiencing domestic violence.” I wish the campaign well.
Have a good weekend.