Yesterday I wrote here of all the bad things that have happened in family law in 2016 (or at least many of them). Now I shall endeavour to end this two-part review of the year on a more positive note, by the rather more onerous task of recalling all of the good things that have happened in the last twelve months. Inevitably, this post is going to be rather shorter than yesterday’s effort!
One of the seemingly few successes in the family justice system has been the Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (FDACs). The first FDAC was set up in London in 2008, and FDACs have since spread around England. As the name suggests, they specialise in troubled families with drug and alcohol problems, working to try to help them avoid having their children taken into to the care system. In March it was reported that the courts saved the taxpayer money and in September research was published indicating that those mothers they succeed in reuniting with their children stay away from drugs and alcohol for longer and maintain more stable family lives, when compared with those involved in routine family court proceedings. Good news.
Still in the public law arena, statistics released by the Ministry of Justice in June showed that nearly two-thirds of all care proceedings were being completed within the 26 week time limit introduced by the Children and Families Act 2014. A notable success, the significance of which was shown in November, when research was published indicating that shorter family court proceedings are improving the stability of care placements.
Moving on, one of the worst things that has happened in family law in recent years was, of course, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), which abolished legal aid for most private law matters in 2013. Now, I am probably clutching at straws here but in December Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced that the government would shortly be going ahead with a review of the effects of LASPO. Is it too much to hope that the review will make the government see the error its ways and reinstate legal aid for private law family matters? Probably.
There was a small victory this year for those opposed to the legal aid cuts. When the government made an exception to the cuts for victims of domestic violence it imposed a rule that the victims must produce evidence of the violence that was no more than two years old. In February the Court of Appeal ruled that that requirement was invalid. In April the Legal Aid Agency responded to that ruling by increasing the time limit for evidence to five years. Sure enough, figures released in December by the Ministry of Justice and Legal Aid Agency showed that domestic violence legal aid applications had risen by 26 per cent between July and September, compared with the same period last year.
The family justice system has not abandoned those who cannot afford proper legal advice. For example, in April the Family Justice Council published a guide to sorting out finances on divorce, “designed to help Litigants in Person (LiPs) who may be confronting the seemingly daunting prospect of negotiating their own agreements in the context of divorce and family breakdown” (the guide may be found here). An excellent initiative, providing LiPs with invaluable, and above all reliable, advice.
Still on the subject of domestic violence, in March the government unveiled an £80 million plan to tackle domestic abuse and violence. It’s not quite as good as it looks, as the money is to be spread over four years, but it is still to be welcomed.
In December the Office for National Statistics published its latest statistical bulletin for divorces in England and Wales, for the year 2014. The headline finding was that the divorce rate is continuing to fall. I suppose that many may consider that to be a good thing, although it is not necessarily a cause for celebration.
Remaining with the subject of divorce, in November Resolution, the association of family lawyers, lobbied MPs for the introduction of no fault divorce. Now, I am a big supporter of no fault divorce, and I hope that this pressure on MPs will bear fruit, although I won’t be holding my breath. For the sake of balance I should say that Marilyn Stowe is not so enthusiastic, considering that there are far more pressing matters to attend to at this time than no fault divorce. She may be right, but I still hope that the powers that be are capable of dealing with more than one thing at a time.
Lastly, another area ripe for reform is enforcement of financial orders. The Law Commission’s report on the subject has therefore been welcomed by family lawyers, although once again whether parliament will find the time to enact the Commission’s recommendations, we will have to wait and see.
Well, that’s about all I can come up with on the ‘good’ side of 2016, and on occasions I have probably been scraping the barrel. Still, I hope I have concluded this review of the year on a reasonably positive note. Whatever, let us hope that 2017 is better than 2016!
Photo by Ignas Kukenys via Flickr under a Creative Commons licence.