A week in family law: No-fault divorce, Sharia courts and more

Family Law|Industry News|December 11th 2015

Another mixed bag from the (sometimes crazy) world of family law this week:

Richard Bacon MP’s No Fault Divorce Bill, intended to introduce an option of no-fault divorce, is to receive a second reading on the 22nd of January. The Bill’s second reading had been scheduled for the 4th of December, but MPs did not have the opportunity to debate it on that day. Meanwhile Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has urged MPs to support the principle of no fault divorce, if they are serious about reducing family conflict and the ongoing impact of divorce. Resolution chair Jo Edwards commented: “Removing the blame from divorce, as proposed in Richard Bacon’s bill, would help couples who both wish to bring their relationship to a dignified conclusion and move on with their lives without the need for accusatory mud-slinging. This outdated system needs urgent revision – a civilised society deserves a civilised divorce process.” Quite.

According to a Dutch academic who gained unprecedented access to Islamic divorce hearings, Sharia courts in Britain are locking women into “marital captivity” and doing nothing to officially report domestic violence. Machteld Zee, a legal scholar at Leiden University in the Netherlands, secured access to the courts, attending 15 hours of hearings involving more than a dozen cases. She said that judges at the courts “uphold the theory and practice of the strong hold men have over women”, and set out to frustrate women whose husbands do not want them to leave. The findings, which are to be unveiled in Parliament next month, are based on the most detailed and informed analysis of the workings of British sharia courts ever undertaken by an independent researcher. Ms Zee concluded that: “There are, in fact, two separate legal orders functioning [in the UK], of which one currently operates in the ‘shadow of the law’.” These ‘courts’ clearly breach the three critical points about ADR – let us hope that Parliament bites the bullet to deal with them.

A report by the Centre for Justice Innovation is calling for greater use of specialist courts, including those focusing on domestic abuse. Under the latest model being piloted in the US, the same judge sits in both criminal and civil aspects of any domestic abuse case to ensure judicial continuity and faster processing of trials. The report recommends piloting new “one judge, one family” problem-solving domestic abuse courts, under which the judge would hear criminal, civil and family cases under the same roof. Offenders would be monitored by the judge throughout their sentence and victims given the opportunity to have their voices heard. The report is being considered by the Ministry of Justice, and Justice Secretary Michael Gove has indicated his enthusiasm for these ‘problem-solving courts’. Sounds interesting.

A report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has found that the police need to better understand honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation in order to provide victims with the best possible service and encourage those affected to come forward. The report, ‘The depths of dishonour: Hidden voices and shameful crimes‘, examines the approach of police forces in England and Wales in relation to the protection of people from harm caused by honour-based violence, forced marriage and female genital mutilation, and at supporting victims of these offences. Hopefully, the report will lead to the police improving their response to these awful crimes.

The latest figures from Cafcass for care applications and private law demand, for November 2015, have been published. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1,020 care applications, a 15% increase compared to those received in November 2014. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,462 new private law cases, which is a 12% increase on November 2014 levels. The figures keep going up.

And finally, the “new research but I’ve no idea what they’re going to do with it” story this week informs us that women with degrees have longer marriages. Maybe the Marriage Foundation could press for compulsory tertiary education for women…

Have a good weekend.

Photo by Jon Hathaway via Flickr

Author: John Bolch

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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