A week in family law: domestic violence, civil partnerships and more

Family Law|Industry News|January 22nd 2016

Sadly, the agenda this week was dominated by domestic violence, including violence against children.

A new method of analysing crime statistics by researchers at Lancaster University has found that violent crime in England and Wales is increasing, and that the rate of domestic violence has been increasing since 2009, coinciding with the start of the economic crisis. The research contradicts the official view that violent crime has been decreasing. The researchers compared trends based on the number of victims, capped crimes, and all reported crimes. Their new methodology rejected ‘capping’, a technique used by official methods of estimating violent crime whereby the yearly number of violent crimes against any one individual is capped at five, despite around 5 per cent of victims reporting a greater number than this. Capping is a widely used to reduce year-to-year volatility when examining change over time, but the method can introduce significant bias. The researchers used a new method to manage volatility, through an alternative statistical technique of three year moving averages, resulting in the same level of volatility but without introducing the bias caused by capping. The most interesting thing in all of this, I think, is the correlation between the new figures and the economic crisis, demonstrating a link between domestic violence and financial hardship.

A study by Oxford University has estimated that of all same-sex couples who had formed a civil partnership in England and Wales by mid-2015, just one in eight had converted their partnership to a same-sex marriage by that time. The study also showed that there was no rush for same-sex marriages compared with the numbers wanting civil partnerships. During the first half of 2015, 5,300 couples converted their civil partnership to a marriage, twice the number of same-sex couples who were marrying without first having had a civil partnership (2,500). Almost 15,000 couples entered civil partnerships in the first full year (2006), with numbers declining to around 6,000 each year thereafter, falling further after March 2014, when same-sex marriages were introduced. Perhaps, despite the introduction of same-sex marriage, there is still a demand for civil partnership.

Thirteen-month-old Poppi Worthington was sexually assaulted by her father shortly before her sudden death, a judge has confirmed. Poppi was pronounced dead when she was taken to hospital in December 2012, after being found with serious injuries at her home in Barrow. Her father, Paul Worthington, was arrested and questioned on suspicion of sexual assault but was never charged with any offence and denied any wrongdoing. In the course of care proceedings in relation to other children in the family in 2014, High Court judge Mr Justice Peter Jackson found that Mr Worthington had sexually assaulted Poppi. Mr Worthington appealed against those findings and Mr Justice Jackson reconsidered them at a further hearing last November and December. In a judgment published this week he confirmed his earlier findings.

Women’s Aid, the national charity working to end domestic abuse against women and children, has launched a major new campaign, ‘Child First’, which calls on the family courts and the Government “to put the safety of children back at the heart of all decisions made by the family court judiciary.” The campaign is accompanied by a new report, Nineteen Child Homicides, which tells the stories of the cases of nineteen children, all of whom were intentionally killed by a parent who was also a known perpetrator of domestic abuse. These killings, say Women’s Aid, were made possible through unsafe child contact arrangements, over half of which were ordered through the courts. Women’s Aid say that further avoidable child deaths must be prevented by putting children first in the family courts.

Finally, something from last week that I did not come across until this week. The House of Commons Library has published a briefing paper on the rise of the self-represented litigant in civil and family cases in England and Wales (you can download the paper here). Unsurprisingly, the paper tells us that the proportion of litigants in person (‘LiPs’) appearing before the civil and family courts has increased since the abolition of legal aid. It also says that reliable data on LiPs are scarce and the National Audit Office (‘NAO’) has been critical of the limitations of the Ministry of Justice’s data, most of which concerns LiPs in the family courts. The NAO has reported a 22 per cent increase in cases involving contact with children and a 30 per cent increase across all family court cases (including those that remain eligible for civil legal aid) in which neither party had legal representation.

On that rather depressing note I will bid you a good weekend.

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.

Comment(1)

  1. Stitchedup says:

    Women’s Aid keep resurrecting the same old tripe so it really shouldn’t even make the news or set any agenda. The agenda should be set by facts and the facts John are that more children are killed whilst in the care of the mother than when in the care of the father.

    Regarding the purported increase in Domestic Abuse Crime….. what can we conclude form this??? Given the definition of domestic abuse in now absurdly broad we could perhaps conclude that much of the so called abuse does not amount to genuine violence?? Perhaps we can conclude that the domestic abuse card is being played more and more often by women to get the upper hand in divorce and separation or to secure Legal Aid???Perhaps we can conclude that Ex-Parte Non-Mols and the like do not work?? Perhaps we can conclude that organisations like Women’s Aid and indeed certain legal professionals have created Domestic Abuse hysteria in this country?? Perhaps we can conclude that the Police are simply being overwhelmed by the number of petty allegations they are having to deal with?? Perhaps we can conclude that the CPS are choosing to prosecute any and all allegations?? I could go on and on…….

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