MIAMs, courts and more

Family Law|July 7th 2017

A week in family law

My first story is actually from last week, but I omitted to mention it in my weekly review post last Friday, and I wanted to make a quick comment about it. It is the important story of a paid McKenzie friend who was denied permission to appeal against an order excluding him from representing a mother in family proceedings relating to two children. Her Honour Judge Carol Atkinson said that the McKenzie friend had a ‘fundamental misunderstanding’ of the limitations of his role, which he had described as ‘quasi-solicitorial’.” As she explained, there is of course no such thing as ‘almost’ a solicitor – you are either a solicitor, or you aren’t. She concluded by saying that ‘professional’ McKenzie friends should be “mindful of the dangers of becoming an irritant hindering the process rather than giving the assistance that the courts have been used to in the past.” Quite. The case clearly highlights that some professional McKenzie friends see themselves as equivalent to qualified (and regulated) lawyers, which of course they are not. As I said here only recently, it is important that the public know the difference, and if the McKenzie friend suggests there is little or no difference, then that is obviously a matter of great concern.

Meanwhile, the latest batch of national statistics has been churned out by the government, for the first quarter of this year. They included legal aid statistics and Family Court statistics.

The legal aid statistics revealed, amongst other things, that mediation information and assessment meetings (MIAMs) were down by five per cent compared to the same period last year, and currently stand at around half of the levels they were at prior to the abolition of legal aid for most private law family matters in 2013. The number of MIAMs fell sharply after the abolition of legal aid, and numbers have fluctuated since then. Before the abolition, over 80 per cent of referrals to publicly funded MIAMs were made by solicitors holding a legal aid contract. After abolition this dropped to less than ten per cent. Other sources of referral have increased, but not by enough to compensate for the loss in legal aid solicitor referrals. I’m sure I’ve said it before, but I still find it painfully ironic that the government’s flagship policy of promoting mediation to ‘replace’ legal aid has floundered due to the lack of solicitors referring clients to mediation. Wonderful foresight.

As for the latest family court statistics, the main points included that 65,714 new cases were started, up four per cent on January to March 2016; that the average time for a care or supervision case to reach first disposal was 28 weeks, up slightly on the same quarter in 2016, and at its highest level since mid-2015; and that the number of private law applications increased by 11 per cent compared to the equivalent quarter in 2016, whilst the number of disposals increased two per cent over the same period. I don’t suppose that these figures made great reading for the government either…

A joint report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate on the police and Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) response to harassment and stalking has found that victims of stalking and harassment are frequently failed by the police and CPS, thanks to poor reporting, regional inconsistencies and a general failure to grasp the true nature of the issue. This is particularly depressing, coming just days after the case of Helen Pearson hit the headlines. Ms Pearson suffered neck and face wounds when her neighbour Joseph Willis attacked her with scissors in 2013. She had made 125 reports to Devon and Cornwall Police about Willis’ stalking before the attack. The force said its “investigation and victim care did not meet the high standards we expect”, but Ms Pearson said the apology “didn’t do anything” for her and said she was still suffering every day because of what happened to her. The report has made various recommendations. Let us hope that they lead to an improvement, as the police really are (or should be) the best protection available to victims.

And finally, if you want to remarry why not bypass the whole messy divorce thing and simply forge your spouse’s death certificate? That, it appears, is what a certain resourceful husband did in India, Sadly for him, his ‘first’ wife got wind of the second marriage, and now the local constabulary want to have a word with him…

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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