Medical treatment, divorce statistics and more

Family Law|June 23rd 2017

A week in family law

Lord Thomas, the Lord Chief Justice, has criticised the thinking behind attempts to make courts financially self-sufficient. In a speech at the Palace of Westminster he insisted that courts are not ‘a provider of consumer services’. He said that “the characterisation of the courts as being service providers akin to a utility like water supply, of litigants exercising their constitutional right of access to the courts to vindicate their rights, to being consumers who, like any other consumer, must pay for the service they receive” illustrates the lack of understanding of the centrality of justice to the functioning of our society. “What has been needed,” he said, “is an understanding by all that the judicial branch is just that: a branch of State, and, crucially, the branch that with Parliament secures the rule of law. As such it cannot be confused with, or referred to as, a provider of consumer services. Equally, there cannot but be a proper recognition that it should be funded properly by the State, just as Parliament is properly funded, so that the State can discharge its constitutional function effectively, efficiently and equally.” A very timely message.

The daughter of a brain-damaged woman is seeking judicial permission to end her mother’s treatment, so that she be allowed to die. The woman, who is in her 70s, has been in a minimally conscious state since she fell and hit her head. Her doctors say that her condition is “not at the severe end of the spectrum”, and that life-support treatment should continue. Mr Justice Hayden, sitting in the Court of Protection, has been asked by the NHS Trust to decide what is in the woman’s best interests. One medic thought that she had recently indicated what radio station she wanted to listen to, but her daughter suspected that they were mistaken. Mr Justice Hayden told lawyers that the case strayed into “extremely controversial territory”. Looks like an extremely tough case to decide.

Along not dissimilar lines, the Supreme Court has directed that doctors should continue providing life-support treatment to terminally-ill baby Charlie Gard for another three weeks, in order to give judges at the European Court of Human Rights time to analyse the case. It was notable that the Supreme Court urged the European Court to do everything in their power to address the application within the three week time period, saying that it “would feel the gravest difficulty if asked to act yet further against Charlie’s best interests by directing an even longer extension of the stay of the earlier order that treatment could be withdrawn.”

Statistics published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown that the divorce rate is continuing to fall. This is not, however, quite the good news for the marriage supporting crowd that it seems, as the ONS has said that the fall in divorces between 2003 and 2009 is consistent with a decline in the number of marriages over the same period, and that the decrease in marriages may be due to the increasing number of couples choosing to cohabit rather than enter into marriage.

One of the few pieces of legislation that made it into the Queen’s Speech was a draft Domestic Violence and Abuse Bill. The Bill aims to protect victims of domestic violence and abuse, by such measures as the establishment of a new Domestic Violence and Abuse Commissioner, who will (amongst other things) stand up for victims, raise public awareness, and hold the justice system to account in tackling domestic abuse. There will also be a clear definition of domestic abuse in law, and sentences that reflect “the devastating life-long impact that abuse can have on the child.” Sounds all very good, although it is not clear to me exactly how the Commissioner is to hold the justice system to account. Are judges who impose lenient sentences on perpetrators of domestic violence to be disciplined in some way? Or is this just another piece of spin, to satisfy readers of the Daily Mail?

And finally, I had some difficulty deciding which story to end with this week. It could have been the one about pregnant Indian women being told to avoid lust (wasn’t that what got them into their state in the first place?), or the one about women still doing the majority of housework (I would say “not in my household”, but I’m not as quick at ducking as I used to be). In the end, though, I thought I’d go with the important piece of public information telling us that pictures of puppies, kittens and other cute animals make marriages happier. I have to say that I strongly disagree with this. As a quick look at any social media stream will tell you, pictures of puppies, kittens and other cute animals make EVERYONE happier.

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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