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Reforming the justice system, a family court crisis and more

A week in family law

These were the highlights of another bumper week for family law news:

A consultation has been launched by the Ministry of Justice on reforming the justice system “to meet the changing needs and expectations of everyone who uses our courts and tribunals”. The Ministry has publishing a consultation paper entitled Transforming our justice system, alongside a joint statement from the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, and the Senior President of Tribunals on their “shared vision for the future of Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service”. We are told that transformation of the courts and tribunals will be based on three core principles. Firstly, that that the system is just (which is always useful in a justice system), secondly that it is proportionate, for example in terms of cost, and thirdly that it is accessible to all (not quite sure where the abolition of legal aid and extreme hikes in court fees fits into that). As to family courts we have heard most of it before: we are told that help will be given to separating couples to enable them to resolve disputes between themselves, by digitising and simplifying processes and providing more information, and there is also a proposal to simplify the divorce process, and put as much as possible of it online. All in all, the consultation seems to be big on banalities and small on new ideas.

New figures released by the Crown Prosecution Service show that the number of women convicted of domestic violence in England and Wales is at a record high. Whereas in 2006 1,850 women were convicted of perpetrating the offence, that that figure rose to 5,641 in 2015. Campaigners say that the data serves as a reminder that while the majority of domestic abusers are male, women also commit serious abuse and their victims must be considered and supported. Mark Brooks, Chair of the charity ManKind Initiative, commented: “These growth in convictions over the last decade show both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have woken up to the fact that women also commit domestic abuse. Given over 100,000 men report to the police every year as victim of this crime, the number of prosecutions should still be far higher.”

The family courts face a ‘clear and imminent crisis’ caused by the relentless increase in the number of care cases they must handle, according to the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby. In the latest edition of his View from the President’s Chambers he sets out Cafcass’s official figures, which show that in the last ten years care cases have risen from 6,786 to an estimated 14,713 for the current year. He suggests that changes in the way local authorities deal with the issue of child abuse and neglect must be playing a significant role in the increase. As to what can be done, he says that we need to improve the way in which we handle care cases and that we should concentrate on solving underling problems within families, rather than just providing solutions, for example by greater use of Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (‘FDACs’), which seek to help families struggling with drug and alcohol problems. These are good ideas, but I fear that they will do little to prevent the forthcoming crisis.

Still on the subject of FDACs, new research has found that mothers reunited with their children after care proceedings in the FDAC are more likely to stay off drugs and alcohol for longer, and their family life less likely to be disrupted when compared with cases heard in ordinary care proceedings. The researchers say that the London FDAC, which was the first in the country, has reduced the number of children taken into care because of parental substance misuse compared with those in ordinary care proceedings. Commenting on the findings Justice Minister Phillip Lee MP said: “I am delighted to see the positive effects these innovative courts can have on keeping families together. This study shows family drug and alcohol courts successfully tackle substance misuse, and produce better outcomes in care proceedings.” Let us hope that the government provides the necessary resources to extend the use of FDACs.

I suppose I can’t write this post without mentioning the biggest news story of the week, which was the announcement of the forthcoming divorce of Brad Jolie and Angelina Pitt. Or something. Please don’t ask me to comment though, as I have no interest whatsoever in celebrities. In fact, my eyes are now glazing over at the mere thought of them. If, however, you do want the lowdown, Marilyn Stowe has written two posts on the subject, which you can find here and here. Marilyn is obviously made of sterner stuff than I am…

And finally, the most disappointing news story this week must be that the Icelandic government’s apparent offer to pay foreign men $5,000 a month if they married an Icelandic bride was actually a hoax. Pity – I could have done with that extra $5,000 a month…

Have a good weekend.

The blog team at Stowe is a group of writers based across our family law offices who share their advice on the wellbeing and emotional aspects of divorce or separation from personal experience. As well as pieces from our family law solicitors, guest contributors also regularly contribute to share their knowledge.

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