Cafcass figures, legal aid reforms and more: a week in family law

Family Law|Industry News|April 22nd 2016

Another week, another mixed bag of family law stories:

Following on from the news last week that applications for care orders had hit an all-time high, new figures published by Cafcass show that 68 per cent of local authorities in England had an increase in the rate of care applications during 2015-16. It is therefore not surprising that in a related news story a senior local authority lawyer has warned of the pressures that the increase in the number of care applications is putting upon social workers and child care lawyers.

Graham Cole, Principal Solicitor (Social Services) at Luton Borough Council, said:

“Local authorities face severe financial restrictions for the foreseeable future. Retention and recruitment of social workers and legal staff remains a serious problem. Those pressures are being exacerbated by the statutory requirement to complete care cases within 26 weeks and demands imposed by the judiciary to meet this statutory deadline.”

Quite where all of this is going to end, I daren’t think.

The High Court has decided that a Muslim father cannot circumcise his sons. The man had applied for a specific issue order for the court’s permission to allow his two sons, aged six and four, to be circumcised, notwithstanding the fact that the mother did not consent to the procedure. He argued that circumcision would be in accordance with his “Muslim practice and religious beliefs”, and in the boys’ best interests. The mother, who does not intend to bring the boys up in the Islamic faith, considered circumcision to be an unnecessary medical procedure which carries with it certain risks for the boys. Hearing the case, Mrs Justice Roberts concluded that it was better to defer a decision until the point where each of the boys is mature enough make their individual choice, and therefore refused to make an order. A very sensible outcome.

In another blow for the government’s legal aid reforms the Supreme Court has ruled that the proposal to impose a residence test for applicants for legal aid is ‘ultra vires’, i.e. beyond the powers of the legislation under which it was proposed to introduce the test. The test had been intended to ensure that all applicants for legal aid have an established link to the UK. The Supreme Court’s decision means that if the proposal is to become law it will have to be set out in a bill and subjected to full debate in parliament. As I said here, the decision just proves what we already knew about the legal aid reforms: that they are ill thought-out, and also rushed through without proper consideration of their consequences.

The Court of Appeal has rejected a wife’s bid for a larger settlement following her Australian divorce. The former wife of a leading barrister had claimed that she was pressured into an “unfair” divorce settlement when she was granted £72,500 of the shared assets in 2009. She told the Court of Appeal that she is “in a predicament of real need” with £50,000 in debts, and has been relying on state benefits, whereas her former husband enjoys a life of luxury, living in the former matrimonial home in Fulham, which she believes to be worth £1.6 million. However, Lady Justice Black agreed with the husband’s argument that he had honoured the settlement in full. She said that the court was not there to “provide a top-up for every foreign divorce”, and in any event there was nothing to show that the settlement was unfair. The claim was therefore dismissed.

And finally, my favourite story this week was of the divorced man who turned a tattoo of his wife into the devil. This is an excellent way to deal with the embarrassment of having your loathed ex’s image permanently affixed to your person, and is surely a service that should be offered by all good divorce lawyers.

Have 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.

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