A week in family law
With the Easter break it has naturally been a quiet week for family law news, but that gives me the opportunity to comment upon a few stories that I wouldn’t normally mention.
The government of the Falkland Islands has passed legislation legalising gay marriage. What’s more, they have also introduced civil partnerships for all, including straight couples, making their law more ‘progressive’ than it is here in England and Wales. Perhaps the most interesting part of this story, and the most encouraging for proponents of civil partnerships for all over here, is that 94 per cent of those who responded to a consultation on the issue were in favour of the measure. Food for thought for our next government, perhaps?
Still on the subject of equality, the National Union of Teachers has called for children of all ages to be taught about issues involving the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. I agree entirely. Education is the best way to deal with matters relating to discrimination and abuse, and surely if our children are taught these things more of them will grow up realising that everyone in society should be treated with equal respect, irrespective of their sexual orientation.
A member of the New Zealand parliament has proposed a bill to make it more difficult for teenagers to marry. As in this country, the current law allows people aged 16 or over to get married, but requires those under 18 to have the permission of their parents. However MP Jo Hayes believes this allows teenagers to be forced into marriage against their wishes. To address the issue, she proposes an amendment to the marriage law to provide that 16 and 17 year olds would have to obtain the permission of a Family Court Judge before they could marry. An interesting idea to combat the scourge of forced marriage, although I’m not sure that it is the best way to address the problem.
In a story that will come as no surprise to many, academic research has found that ‘professional’ McKenzie friends associated with fathers’ rights groups play on their “uncertainty and sense of victimhood” to attract business. Dr Angela Melville, senior lecturer at Flinders Law School in Adelaide, Australia, who carried out the research, also found that some McKenzie friends suggested that lawyers were unscrupulous, only interested in fees rather than progressing a case, that they were more concerned with the interests of fathers rather than the children, and that some “draw on misogynistic discourses that women are vindictive manipulators, who make up false allegations in order to block fathers from fully realising their rights over children.” Dr Melville suggests that the problem of ‘bad’ McKenzie friends could be lessened by extending the pool of non-lawyer providers of legal assistance, for example having law students work as McKenzie friends under the supervision of a qualified lawyer, and having greater regulation of McKenzie friends. Well, I am in favour of the latter, but in the end those who cannot afford the help of a qualified lawyer will always get a second-class service, unless legal aid is restored.
And finally, you may not have noticed, but there was a small piece of news this week that could have a bearing on the future of family law. Apparently Theresa May has called a general election. Now this is not normally something in which I would take much interest, but I have just taken on the mantle of Leader of the Sensible Party, which seeks election on a programme of reform of the family justice system. We are the first major party to publish our manifesto, to which we have given the catchy title Family law can be better. You can find details of our policies in the manifesto. All I will say here is: vote sensibly, vote Sensible!
Have a good weekend.