The Department for Education has released the latest statistics for adopted children in England. These show that 5,050 children were adopted between April 2013 and March 2014, up from the 4,010 children adopted the previous year. Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan, said: “Today’s figures show a significant and sustained rise in the number of adoptions – an increase of 26 per cent in the last 12 months. This means thousands more of our most vulnerable children are finding the loving and permanent homes they so desperately need. We also promised to remove delay and frustration from the process for both children and adopters. Today’s figures show that we are delivering on that promise. The system is working more quickly, as well as providing more support to families after an adoption has taken place.” All of which is, I suppose, good news, although whether it means that we now have a ‘world class adoption system’, as the government maintains, is another matter.
The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has dismissed 180 divorce petitions issued in England and Wales after a widespread fraud was uncovered. A firm based in Italy was charging up to £3,700 to arrange the divorces, using 137 different county courts to cover their tracks. Police found an accommodation address in Maidenhead, Berkshire, was used by 179 couples as proof of residency, in order to give the courts in this country jurisdiction to deal with the divorces. The Italian couples involved were prepared to pay the firm in an attempt to circumvent the slow-moving Italian judicial system, where couples have to live apart for three years before divorcing. Quite a remarkable story, and congratulations to the clerk at Burnley County Court who first discovered the scam.
Incidentally it has been pointed out that, in the course of his judgment in the Italian fraud case, the President indicated that the courts service is proceeding to centralise the handling of divorce petitions. He said that he anticipates “that by this time next year there will be fewer than twenty, possibly as few as a dozen, places at which a divorce petition can be issued.” Clearly, the President’s desire for change is unabated.
New national standards designed to raise the quality of expert witness evidence in family court cases and speed up proceedings became law on the first of October. Changes to the family court rules will mean only qualified, experienced and recognised professionals will be able to give evidence as expert witnesses in family proceedings relating to children. Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes said: “We have put children at the heart of the family justice system, reducing delays that can have a harmful impact on them. The new national standards for expert witnesses will make sure that only top quality evidence is presented, as and when the judge deems it necessary. They will help us to make sure cases are resolved as quickly as possible and on the basis of rigorous advice.” Of course, cases would be resolved more quickly if legal aid had not been abolished last year.
Our busy President was back in court this morning to deliver an important judgment on the issue of surrogacy. In X (A Child) (Surrogacy: Time Limit) he decided, in the particular circumstances of the case, that a parental order could be made in favour of the parents who commissioned the surrogacy, despite the fact that they applied for the order well beyond the six month time limit set by parliament in section 54(3) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008. Now, I have no doubt that the order was the best thing for the child concerned, but I have to say that I am a little uneasy at a court blithely ignoring a clear statutory time limit in this way.
Lastly, I could not end without mentioning the subject that has been on the lips of most lawyers, and that certainly includes family lawyers, this week: human rights. I do not propose to get into the discussion here. All I do propose to do is repeat a suggestion that has been made elsewhere: before coming to a decision on the issue of human rights, please read this speech on the subject by Lord Bingham back in 2009. At least then, whatever your views, you will be better informed.
Have a good weekend.