A bit of an up and down week.
A pretty disappointing story to begin with: Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has carried out a survey of its members to mark the one-year anniversary of the family justice reforms, including the establishment of the Family Court. In the survey nearly half of the Resolution members polled (40 per cent) said that children and financial cases were taking longer since the reforms were introduced. The chair of Resolution, Jo Edwards, said that there simply weren’t enough judges available to deal with the volume of work, and that the problem was exacerbated by the huge increase in the number of litigants in person over the past two years since the legal aid cuts. That is true, but even so not exactly a ringing endorsement of the much-heralded Family Court.
On the subject of legal aid, a small piece of good news: The High Court has found that the Legal Aid Agency’s current operation of the Exceptional Case Funding scheme, which was meant to act as a ‘safety net’ to mitigate the effects of the cuts, is unlawful. I can’t honestly say I’m surprised – the legal aid reforms were rushed through with such a lack of thought as to their implications that such a situation was almost inevitable. Whether this small victory will mean that a greater number of applications for exceptional funding will succeed, we will have to wait and see.
The latest figures from Cafcass for care applications and private law demand, for June 2015, make interesting reading. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1,104 care applications, a 25 per ent increase compared to those received in June 2014 and more than in any previous month. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,466 new private law cases, which is a 33 per cent increase on June 2014 levels, continuing the upward trend of recent months.
The Court of Appeal has dismissed an appeal by a husband who was ordered to hand his ex-wife all their assets, including a property and savings of more than £300,000. Essam Aly left his wife Enas in 2011, moved to Bahrain and has not paid a penny in maintenance or child support since 2012. Out of the reach of the Child Support Agency and the courts in this country, it was feared that he would never again contribute payments to support her or their two children. Accordingly, a family court judge ordered that the family’s entire £550,000 fortune should go to Mrs Aly. As Marilyn Stowe has said here, the ruling may seem harsh but that does not mean that it is fundamentally unfair. Indeed, as Marilyn also said, the case may provide a ray of light for those whose spouses have moved abroad, putting them out of the reach of the law in this country.
Lastly, in an interesting development, His Honour Judge John Altman, Senior Designated Family Judge for London at the Central Family Court, has launched the ‘Family Solutions Court’ (‘FSC’), an initiative aimed at early resolution of family disputes. Based in Holborn, the FSC comprises a contact centre, a ‘pro bono’ scheme, mediation and Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMS’), the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Personal Support Unit and the Separated Parents Information Programme (‘SPIPS’). Judge Altman hopes that the FSC will reduce the number of contested hearings necessary in many private law applications to the court, and create a structure for those families who need help in managing their disputes around the living arrangements for their children. I wish it well, although I have always felt that there are only so many cases that can be resolved without contested hearings, and no matter what is offered, I suspect that that number is unlikely to change significantly. To put it the other way, if it’s going to settle, then it will settle anyway.
Have a good weekend.