Not a lot of family law news, but then it has been a short week…
An appeal by the Lord Chancellor against an order that Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service (HMCTS) pay the cost of an advocate cross-examining a child on behalf of an unrepresented father has been allowed by the Court of Appeal, which held that the court had no power to order HMCTS to provide the funding. However, the Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson suggested a change in the law should be considered to make public funding available to appoint a lawyer where cross-examination is required in certain cases. Hopefully, the government will act upon this suggestion.
The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has banned a former nightclub bouncer indefinitely from acting as a McKenzie friend in any family proceedings. Nigel Baggaley, who admitted having no relevant training or professional qualifications, swore at ushers and phoned clerks to say he was ‘coming for’ an opposing barrister. He was also found to have ‘faced up’ to a barrister in a court corridor, with the lawyer fearing he was about to be physically attacked or head-butted. The case demonstrates the difficulties faced by impecunious litigants in finding good legal assistance since legal aid was abolished for most private law family matters in 2013.
According to the Department for Education (DfE), children awaiting adoption could soon benefit from being placed with a family far quicker under a new approach that will open up a greater number of potential adopters for every child. This week’s Queen’s Speech included specific new powers that will require councils to combine their adoption functions if they fail to join together services under their own steam within the next two years. At the moment, says the DfE, adoption is happening at too small and localised a scale. With councils working together, it is believed that the choice of potential matches for a child would increase significantly, giving children a far better chance of quickly finding a permanent family. Councils will be encouraged to identify their own regional approach that would see authorities uniting their adoption services under one system or outsourcing the delivery of their adoption functions into a single regional agency. The new powers, contained in the Schools and Adoption Bill, would only be used if councils failed to take action quickly enough. It all sounds marvellous, although it does seem a little like trying to make things better without actually providing more resources.
A loophole that could prevent some former spouses from benefitting under a pension attachment order could soon be closed. Since April it has been possible for pension holders to withdraw all of their pension as a lump sum, which would make pension attachment orders worthless. However, a spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions has said that rules may be changed to ensure that pension attachment orders are honoured. Hopefully this will happen soon, although obviously the problem should have been spotted before April.
Lastly, HMCTS has stated that 40 per cent of divorce petitions have to be returned to solicitors’ firms for correction, because of drafting or procedural errors. Examples of the reasons for petitions being returned are failure to enclose issue fees, lack of signature and missing or incorrect details. A cynic might say that petitions are returned for petty reasons, as a way of reducing the workload of the courts. I, however, couldn’t possibly suggest such a thing.
Have a good weekend.