Online forms, court fees and more: a week in family law

Family Law|Industry News|January 29th 2016

I suppose the highlight of this week was the appearance of the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby (not to mention Lord Dyson and Sir Ernest Ryder) before the House of Commons Justice Committee, but there were also several other interesting things going on in the world of family law:

The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has apologised for an error in an online form used in divorce proceedings. Shortly before Christmas an error was identified in an online version of Form E, the form used to enable people to disclose financial information during divorce and similar proceedings. The error meant that the automatic calculator in the form calculated the wrong total for an individual’s net assets by failing to deduct certain liabilities. The investigation found that 3,638 cases contained the faulty calculator version of Form E with an incorrect figure for net assets figure in the summary table. Of that figure, 1,403 cases are still live, allowing the Courts Service to intervene immediately to clearly flag these cases to the courts, in order to avoid the error affecting the final orders in those cases. As to the remaining 2,235 files, the Courts Service has been instructed to write to all parties setting out what happened and explaining that if people think they have been affected by the error then they can apply to the court to vary or set aside their order. All of which does not auger well for future forays into online services by the MoJ (for more of which, see below).

A mother suspected of shaking her eight-month-old daughter, causing a head injury, may eventually be allowed to resume caring for the child, Mr Justice Hayden has ruled. Expert medical evidence as to the cause of the injury was inconclusive, with an accidental or unknown cause not ruled out, but Mr Justice Hayden found that the most likely explanation was that the mother had shaken her in a “momentary loss of control”. He found that the otherwise loving and dedicated mother was “plainly exhausted” after weeks of badly disrupted sleep, caring for the child with her partner working night shifts, while she herself had recently gone back to work after maternity leave. In the light of this, he concluded that the local authority had been wrong to rule out the possibility of the girl, and her five-week-old sibling, ever being brought up by their parents. I suspect that the mother’s circumstances may resonate with many tired new parents – let us hope that this story has a happy ending.

A survey by the domestic violence charity Rights of Women has found that 40 per cent of victims of domestic violence still do not have the required forms of evidence to access legal aid.

Emma Scott, Director of Rights of Women, has said:

“Our research has consistently shown that nearly half of women affected by domestic violence do not have the required forms of evidence to apply for family law legal aid and that more than half of those women tell us that they take no legal action as a result. This leaves them at risk of further violence and even death.”

A pretty damning indictment of the government’s legal aid policy.

And finally, on to that Justice Committee meeting. The three senior judges appeared before the Committee to discuss the subject of courts’ and tribunals’ fees and charges. They condemned government plans to raise court fees, and Sir James gave his views as to the impact of raising the fee on issuing a divorce petition from £410 to £550 (i.e. not much impact). Sir James also spoke of other matters, including the proposed new system for ‘paperless’ online divorce. Sir James said that he was disappointed with the progress that has been made, saying that the ability to deliver such a system was a question upon which the jury was still out, and that he still had no clear answer to such basic questions as what would be the overall timeline for implementing the system if it can be delivered. All of which bodes even less well for the MoJ’s efforts to go online.

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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