Children’s rights, Cafcass figures and more

Family Law|January 13th 2017

A week in family law

Perhaps it has something to do with the time of year, but there haven’t been an awful lot of family law stories of importance this week. Still, I have come up with the following.

The continuing saga of the problem of alleged perpetrators of domestic violence cross-examining their alleged victims in court reached Parliament this week when Labour MP Peter Kyle raised the issue in the House of Commons. Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald confirmed that ministers wanted a ban on cross-examination by perpetrators, and are prepared to introduce the necessary primary legislation to make the change. Let us just hope that in the rush to satisfy the media demand for the change they remember that the alleged abuser has rights too, and may just be innocent.

Also debated in Parliament this week was the Children and Social Work Bill. The Bill, which would allow local authorities to apply to set aside children’s rights and checks on care to try out innovative ways of working, has been described as “a bonfire of child protection rights” by its opponents, which include the British Association of Social Workers, the Care Leavers’ Association, Women’s Aid, Liberty and the National Association of People Abused in Childhood. The Magistrates Association is also concerned about the Bill, warning that it could threaten the rights of children.

An unsurprising piece of news this week was that nearly three million UK couples are missing out on the government’s ill-starred marriage tax break, the half-hearted attempt to promote marriage. The news has led HM Revenue and Customs to launch a new campaign aimed at encouraging more couples to apply for the break. As reported here, the campaign will attempt to raise awareness and enthusiasm by pointing out that claims can be backdated to the previous year, increasing the available tax discount to £432. A fair sum, but hardly enough to encourage people to marry or to remain married, as the government optimistically hopes.

Now, I don’t normally comment upon celebrity divorces, but I was pleased to read that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have agreed to settle the remainder of their divorce in private. The whole thing was getting pretty messy, which may suit the popular media, but just because someone is a celebrity doesn’t make their private life public property especially where, as here, children are involved.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for the month of December 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,068 care applications, which is a three per cent decrease compared to those received in December 2015. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,938 new private law cases, which is just a one per cent increase on December 2015 levels. A little good news at last, particularly on the care figures, but we will obviously have to see whether it continues.

There has been another small piece of good news this week. As was reported here last week, there were fears that domestic violence refuges in Sunderland would have to close, due to withdrawal of local authority funding. However, Sunderland City Council has now confirmed that it will continue to provide funding for domestic violence refuges in the city. Let us hope that they keep to their word.

And finally, one piece of news that clearly was of great importance, at least to divorce lawyers. Research by a dating website told us that last Monday was the day that people are most likely to begin an affair. Two reasons given for this were a desire for something new in the New Year, and spending so much time with partners and families over the holiday period, which created a “greater desire for freedom”. Either way, there is also the small matter of finding someone with whom to have an affair, assuming you didn’t know them already…

Have a good 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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