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What family lawyers were talking about this week…

Mr Justice Bodey has ruled that a multi-million pound divorce between a wealthy Malaysian couple can be heard in an English court. Laura Ashley boss Khoo Kay Peng and former beauty queen Pauline Chai have already spent £2 million disputing which court should rule how their money is divided. Ms Chai says her husband is worth £440m, something Dr Peng denies. The divorce could be one of England’s most expensive after Mr Justice Bodey said it could be heard in either England or Malaysia.  He said he was “urging the parties with all the strength I can muster” to redouble their efforts “to reach a financial accommodation” and avoid the nightmare of a legal battle in two jurisdictions. I hope for their sakes that they heed those words.

The charity Early Intervention Foundation has claimed that not enough support is being offered to the one in four children experts say will witness domestic violence by the age of eighteen. There are no national rules stating what services children who see violence at home should receive. The Foundation says that this can have “significant consequences” for those children not getting the support they need. The government, meanwhile, says that it has invested £54 million in child psychology therapies.

High Court judge Sir Nicholas Mostyn has called for the abolition of the legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. In a speech to a family law conference Sir Nicholas said that there was no difference between the relationships of married and unmarried couples, and condemned the divorce system that gives special protection to wives. He said that state support for marriage was ‘social engineering’ and that there was no evidence to show a married relationship was more stable than cohabitation. “I do not support two classes of adjudication depending on whether there happens to be a marriage,” he said, “I support the extension of the existing system of judicial equitable distribution to the unmarried, warts and all.” I have to say that I agree with most of what he says, although I am not (yet) sure about complete equality for cohabitants – most proposals for property rights for cohabitants, such as those by the Law Commission, fall short of that.

The government is moving forward with a proposal to introduce a civil protection order for potential victims of female genital mutilation (‘FGM’). The order could include, for example, a requirement for a passport to be surrendered to prevent a girl being taken abroad for FGM. The object of the order would be to strengthen the protection for victims or potential victims of FGM and help prevent FGM from happening in the first place. Victims, potential victims or third parties, including teachers, carers, social workers, local authorities or friends, who believe there is a real risk of FGM taking place will be able to apply to the court for an order. Hopefully, these orders will help reduce the scourge of FGM.

Lastly, Family Justice Minister Simon Hughes has pledged to create a country-wide network of in-court advice centres for unrepresented people. £1.4 million a year of new money provided by the Ministry of Justice will go to the Personal Support Unit, which already assists more than 1,200 litigants a month in eight units across England and Wales. Mr Hughes wants to increase the number of advisers in courts across the country, and link claimants with pro bono lawyers for legal support and even court representation. £1.4 million may sound like a lot of money, but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the £350 million a year that was cut from the legal aid budget when legal aid was abolished for most private law family matters last year. This can surely be no more than another sticking plaster to cover the gaping wound caused by that cut.

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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