A week in family law: court fees, contact centres and more

Family Law|Industry News | 23 Jan 2015 0

It’s been another mercifully quiet week for family law news. Here are the highlights:

Broken Rainbow, the LGBT domestic violence charity, has said that its helpline may have to close, after it failed to secure government funding. The helpline can currently only afford to have one person manning it at a time, meaning callers often cannot get through and may be discouraged from trying again. The helpline is particularly important, as LGBT people are said to be twice as likely to experience domestic abuse, and half of all victims say they don’t know where to access support.

The government has dropped its proposal to increase the divorce application fee from £410 to £750, following an adverse reaction to a consultation on the issue. The reasons why respondents to the consultation criticised the proposal included that it was wrong in principle to seek to increase the cost of court proceedings associated with the breakdown of a family relationship, that the fee was excessive and would deter people from seeking a divorce and that it could result in people being trapped in unhappy or violent marriages. The government is, however, still proposing to increase court fees for other civil proceedings, a proposal that we should continue to oppose.

Forty child contact centres have closed in the last eighteen months across England and Wales, according to the National Association for Child Contact Centres (‘NACCC’), and the pace of closures is accelerating. The association says that the number of parents accessing the family courts to resolve their problems has halved due to the legal aid cuts, and that as a result they are not receiving advice from solicitors who are likely to refer them to the centres. Last year 9,000 children used a centre, compared with 15,000 in 2013, and referrals from solicitors halved over the same period. The NACCC has launched a publicity campaign to inform people that they can access its centres without having to go through the legal system. I hope it succeeds, as child contact centres are an essential resource.

A magistrate serving in the Family Court has been suspended, after he objected to a gay couple being permitted to adopt a child. Richard Page – a Christian father of two – insisted during an adoption case that it would be better for a child to be placed “with a mother and father” than with their prospective parents, who are gay. He made the comments in a closed-doors meeting with other magistrates, who reported him to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office.

The JCIO said in a statement:

“The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice have issued Mr Richard Page JP, a Magistrate assigned to the Central Kent Bench with a reprimand. Mr Page, whilst sitting in the Family Court, was found to have been influenced by his religious beliefs and not by the evidence. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice considered this amounted to serious misconduct and that Mr Page should have recused himself from the matter.”

The High Court has rejected a legal challenge over the lawfulness of government changes to legal aid for domestic violence victims. In Rights of Women, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor And Secretary of State for Justice the Rights of Women charity applied for judicial review to quash the regulations that set out what evidence victims of domestic violence have to provide to get legal aid for family cases, which they say are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. The claim was dismissed by the Divisional Court.

And finally, spare a thought for Pauline Chai, the wife of multimillionaire Malaysian businessman Khoo Kay Peng, who told a court she needed £85,000 of her husband’s money each month to pay for holidays and chauffeurs. Unfortunately for her Mrs Justice Roberts did not agree, and awarded her a mere £45,000 per month. Life can be hard.

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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