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A week in family law: The Supreme Court, the Law Commission and more

Another Friday the 13th. Bad luck for those who didn’t sort out their financial settlement when they got divorced years ago?

The Government has marked International Women’s Day, as it has every year since 2011, by publishing a progress report in respect of its campaign to end violence against women and girls. The report details the Government’s achievements in the area of domestic violence, but unsurprisingly makes no mention of its failures, in particular how it has made it much harder for victims to obtain legal aid.

The parliament of Latvia has formally complained to the House of Commons that children of Latvian descent are being illegally and forcibly adopted by British families. The complaint was contained in a Latvian parliamentary letter sent last month to John Bercow MP, the Speaker of the Commons. It states that there is “insufficient cross-border cooperation in relation to the UK’s national procedure of placing Latvian citizens up for adoption without parental consent” and that the Latvians were aware of “several cases in which UK authorities have acknowledged that obligations [to inform other countries] … stipulated by international treaties and EU legislation have not been fulfilled”. A serious allegation, highlighting the tension that can arise between differing jurisdictions.

A consultation paper on the enforcement of family financial orders in England and Wales has been published by the Law Commission. The Commission has been told that enforcement proceedings are “hopelessly complex and procedurally tortuous”, and is seeking views on options for reform that would simplify and clarify the law and make it easier for the courts, practitioners and the public to use. I certainly agree with that “hopelessly complex and procedurally tortuous” assessment – and if it is difficult for lawyers, how hard must it be for the increasing numbers of people who have to use our courts without the benefit of a lawyer? Hopefully, the Commission will come up with recommendations that lead to a marked improvement.

The latest figures published by Cafcass for care applications and private law demand, for February 2015, show a continued increase in the former and decrease in the latter. In that month Cafcass received a total of 954 care applications, a 7 per cent increase compared to those received in February 2014, and as to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,992 new private law cases, which is a 13 per cent decrease on February 2014 levels.

The biggest story of the week was, of course, the Supreme Court’s decision in Wyatt v Vince. I’m not going to say much about it myself, as an awful lot has already been said about it elsewhere (although not always entirely accurate). Suffice to say that I feel that it was probably the right decision, but it did have very unusual facts and its importance as a precedent is therefore likely to be limited, although it does of course stand as a reminder that financial settlements should be finalised at the time of the divorce. It should also be remembered that Ms Wyatt is only likely to receive a modest sum, at most – she will not be receiving a substantial part of the fortune that Mr Vince amassed after the divorce.

Lastly, the Commons Justice select Committee has published its report into the impact of the changes to legal aid brought in under Part 1 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012. The report criticised the changes, saying that they harmed access to justice, causing enormous strain on the family courts and poorer outcomes for those going through the justice system. Who would have guessed?

Have a safe Friday the 13th and 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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