It’s been a week dominated by bad news stories, I’m afraid.
A consultation on the closure of 91 courts and tribunals in England and Wales has been announced by Courts Minister Shailesh Vara. He said that courts across England and Wales are at present underused, with over a third of all courts and tribunals being empty for more than 50 per cent of their available hearing time last year. The consultation puts forward proposals that aim to reduce this surplus capacity by closing 91 courts and ‘integrating’ 31 others. Mr Vara said that after these changes it will still be the case that over 95 per cent of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car, although I’m not particularly impressed by that assurance.
In more bad news for court users, the Ministry of Justice has announced plans to increase court fees. Under the proposals, the fee for issuing divorce proceedings will increase, from £410 to £550. This is quite remarkable, considering that the Ministry previously stated that £410 is more than it actually costs (a figure of £280 was given in April 2014). Clearly, the intention is that those who seek a divorce should be used to generate additional income for the MoJ, although quite what that income is to be used for, I don’t know. Whatever, I really can’t see how it can possibly be right to penalise those whose marriages have broken down by making them pay such a premium, which amounts to an extra tax.
Moving on, according to the chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee, England’s local authorities are abandoning young people leaving their care. She says that just eight out of 151 local councils know where all their care leavers are living, despite a duty to stay in touch with them. In addition, two-thirds of care leavers’ services have been rated inadequate or requiring improvement by Ofsted. The Local Government Association has responded by saying that the problem is due to the growing number of youngsters entering the care system and increasingly stretched budgets – I suspect that they may have a point.
Along similar lines, new figures obtained by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) show that almost a thousand children in care have attended three or more schools within a single academic year. The CSJ says that the data shows shocking instability for hundreds of vulnerable young people across England. In some local authorities, nearly one in ten children in care moved schools on average once a term or more, with some students attending five schools or more in one academic year. Among students in their critical GCSE year, more than 10 per cent of students in the worst five local authority areas moved schools on average once a term or more, with almost a third of students attending three schools in their GCSE year in Milton Keynes. Alex Burghart, Policy Director of the CSJ, commented that care leaders should want the same outcomes for children in care as they would want for their own children. Sadly, that aspiration is clearly still a long way away.
Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has expressed disappointment at the government’s response to the critical report from the Justice Select Committee on the legal aid cuts.
Resolution chair Jo Edwards commented:
“We’re disappointed to see the bullish and unapologetic response from Government to the criticism rightly levelled at the Ministry of Justice by the Justice Select Committee report on LASPO. The response fails to acknowledge at all the seriousness of the problems caused by the legal aid cuts and the very significant impact on families struggling with separation … While there have been some welcome concessions recently, such as widening the domestic violence evidence requirements, much more needs to be done, quickly, to protect access to justice for the vulnerable.”
And finally, bad news for an ex-wife who refused to vacate her former matrimonial home so that it could be sold, as ordered by the court. Therese St Clair Marshall has failed to have the order overturned in the Court of Appeal. Lord Justice MacFarlane said that the order had to be enforced so that it was respected, and so that the couple could move on. Every family lawyer knows how hard it can be for some to move on after divorce, but it has to be done, and let’s hope this couple are now able to do so.
Don’t have a bad weekend.