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A week in family law: Divorce centre plans and more

Friday the 13th… unlucky for those wishing to issue divorce proceedings?

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has reported that it has recently met with HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) about current and future moves to central divorce centres. According to Resolution (and confirmed by HMCTS), the current plan is that the North East centre (Durham, Bradford (and Harrogate) and Doncaster) was operational from November 2014, the Wales centre (Neath & Port Talbot, Newport (Gwent) and Wrexham) was operational from January 2015, the North West centre at Liverpool will be operational from February 2015, the Midlands centre at Nottingham and Stoke-on-Trent will be operational from February 2015, the South West centre at Southampton will be operational from April 2015 and the London and South East centre at Bury St Edmunds will be operational from October 2015. Whether all of this is actually going to create a better system, I have my doubts.

Moving on, the Ministry of Justice has announced that Elizabeth Isaacs QC, Helen Morris and Sara McIlroy have been appointed by the Lord Chancellor, in consultation with the President of the Family Division, to be members of the Family Justice Council (FJC) for 3 years from 2 March 2015. The FJC was established in July 2004 to promote an inter-disciplinary approach to family justice as an advisory non-departmental public body. It is chaired by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby. The FJC encourages greater understanding and co-operation between the different agencies in the family justice system and its membership is multi-disciplinary.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for January 2015. In that month Cafcass received a total of 887 care applications, which is almost the same as those received in January 2014 and brings the recent increases to an end. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,843 new private law cases, which is a 15 per cent decrease on January 2014 levels and continues the downward trend.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that an estimated 1.4 million women and 700,000 men have suffered domestic abuse in the last year, despite a long-term decline in violent crime generally. The ONS data also reveals a link between poverty and domestic abuse, with women living in the poorest households more than three times more likely to be victims than those in higher income families. According to the ONS, 4.9 million women, or 28 per cent, and 2.4 million men, or nearly 15 per cent, have experienced some form of domestic abuse since the age of 16. I’ve seen figures like this before, but that doesn’t make them any the less appalling.

And finally, Lord Justice Aikens has suggested that the legal aid cuts may have been a false economy, as the lack of representation of parties at court has meant that judges are having to spend their time doing things that legal representatives would normally do, such as finding relevant documents and researching the law. “Money may have been saved from the legal aid funds”, he said, “but an equal amount of expense, if not more, has been incurred in terms of the costs of judges’ and court time. The result is that there is, in fact, no economy at all.” Once again, an entirely foreseeable consequence of the legal aid cuts – strange that it was apparently not foreseen by those responsible for the cuts.

I trust that the rest of your Friday the 13th will not be too unlucky, and hope that you 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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