(Nearly) a week in family law: brief, but eventful

Family Law|Industry News | 24 Mar 2016 0

OK, not quite a week with the bank holiday tomorrow, but eventful nevertheless, and that’s not including the scandalous divorce fee increase that was introduced on Monday (which I mentioned here last Friday).

The second reading of Richard Bacon MP’s No Fault Divorce Bill will now take place in the next session of Parliament, which commences on the 18th of May. The Bill was due to have its second reading debate on the 11th of March, but the motion was not moved and there are no available days fixed for the second reading of Private Members’ Bills before the end of the current parliamentary session. According to its preamble, the Bill will “make provision for the dissolution of a marriage or civil partnership when each party has separately made a declaration that the marriage or civil partnership has irretrievably broken down without a requirement by either party to satisfy the Court of any other facts”. As it is only a Private Members’ Bill I don’t give it much possibility of making it into law, but one can hope…

Sheikh Walid Juffali, a Saudi billionaire, has lost his appeal against the dismissal of his application to strike out his wife’s claim against him under Part III of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984, on the basis that he was entitled to diplomatic immunity. His wife Christina Estrada is seeking a share of Juffali’s estimated £4 billion fortune, but Juffali claims that his diplomatic status as St Lucia’s representative on the International Maritime Organisation means that he has “general immunity” from being sued in the British courts. However, last month Mr Justice Hayden described the diplomatic immunity defence as “spurious”, and refused to strike out the claim. Juffali appealed, and his appeal was supported by the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, who said that the decision meant that British diplomats could be hauled before the courts of any country in which they are serving and their position “scrutinised, and their status unjustifiably curtailed”. The Court of Appeal, however, has held that Mr Justice Hayden was entitled to conclude on the facts that Juffali was not entitled to immunity because he is permanently resident in the UK and the claim does not relate to any official acts performed by him in the exercise of his functions. Accordingly, the appeal was dismissed – a decision with which I fully agree, although as Marilyn Stowe has said on Twitter, we can probably expect a further appeal to the Supreme Court.

Madonna, who is in dispute with her ex-husband Guy Ritchie over where their 15-year-old son Rocco should live, has been granted permission to withdraw her application for his summary return to the United States. Proceedings have been taking place in both New York and London, but Madonna recently requested London’s High Court to bring the English proceedings to a close. Granting the application Mr Justice MacDonald made a plea to the parents “to seek, and to find an amicable resolution to the dispute between them.” The case will now return to New York, where last December the court ruled that Rocco should be returned to his mother’s custody. For more detail and some very sensible words about the whole affair, see this post by Marilyn Stowe.

The association of family lawyers Resolution has written to the Legal Aid Agency calling for it to delay the introduction of compulsory use of the online Client and Cost Management System (‘CCMS’), which is due to take place from the 1st of April. CCMS permits access to civil legal aid, but Resolution claims that a survey of users it has carried out shows that the system keeps breaking down. Chair of Resolution’s legal aid committee Elspeth Thomson said: “We have had an overwhelming response from legal aid lawyers on the ground, who are working with some of the most vulnerable members of society to help them get access to justice. They are telling us that CCMS is not working as it should or, on some days, working at all.” So even if you are lucky enough to still have legal aid available for your case, you may not be able to access it. Wonderful.

And finally, some free advice for any divorce lawyer thinking about opening a branch office in the Philippines: don’t bother. The Philippines, one of only two countries in the world that don’t allow divorce, looks unlikely to change that any time soon, with the four leading candidates for the forthcoming Presidential election all coming out against the legalisation of divorce. Seriously, one can only imagine the social problems that such a stance must cause – hopefully, the people of the Philippines will be blessed with more enlightened candidates in a future election.

Have a great Easter holiday weekend.

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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