A WEEK IN FAMILY LAW
Much to the disappointment of lawyers HM Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has announced that it is resurrecting the idea of flexible operating hours for courts. The idea will be piloted over six months in six different courts, testing various court opening and closing times, from 8am in the morning until 8pm in the evening. The pilots, which will begin in the autumn, will take place at Blackfriars Crown Court, Brentford County Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Newcastle Crown Court and Sheffield Magistrates’ Court. HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said: “The pilots will explore how we can use our buildings better, and give court users more options when they need to come to court, by sitting different cases at different times. Because the different slots would be for different cases, lawyers and judges wouldn’t have longer days in court – they would have similar hours, but at different times.” Clearly, we both need fewer courts and more court time. A great piece of joined-up thinking from HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice.
Baroness Hale will succeed Lord Neuberger as President of the UK Supreme Court when Lord Neuberger retires in September, it has been announced. Lady Hale will be the first female president of the Supreme Court, having been the first female Law Lord in 2004. In October 2009 she became the first female Justice of The Supreme Court, and was appointed Deputy President of The Supreme Court in 2013. Meanwhile, three new Supreme Court justices have been appointed, including Lady Justice Black, who is the new Head of International Family Justice. Lady Justice Black was appointed a High Court Judge in 1999, assigned to the Family Division, and has been a Court of Appeal judge since 2010.
“It is impossible for any of us to comprehend or even begin to imagine the agony to which Charlie’s parents have been subjected in recent weeks and months as they have had to come to terms with the decision that they have now made.” So said Mr Justice Francis, after the parents of Charlie Gard decided to end their legal challenge to take their son to the US for experimental treatment. The court had previously ruled that doctors could stop providing Charlie with life-support treatment, but the case recently returned to court when fresh evidence regarding the treatment became available. However, Charlie’s parents ended the case after a US doctor told them it was now too late to treat his rare genetic condition.
Back with the Supreme Court, there were a couple of important decisions handed down this week.
Firstly, a wife has won an appeal against a decision that the court did not have jurisdiction to hear her application to vary an undertaking that she gave in a consent order in 2010. In the undertaking she promised to secure the release of her husband from the mortgage on the former matrimonial home, by the 30th of September 2012, failing which it was to be to be sold. In 2011 she applied to vary the undertaking so that the husband would be released from the mortgage or the property sold in default when their youngest child attained the age of 18 in 2019, but the court said it could not deal with the application, as the matter was final. The Supreme Court disagreed, and the application has now been remitted for hearing. It will be very interesting to know the outcome.
The second decision did not relate to family matters, at least not directly. It was the important decision that the huge increase in fees for employment tribunal cases introduced in 2013 was unlawful. The fee increases, which clearly prevented many people from enforcing their employment rights, have been quashed, and the government is going to have to reimburse some £32 million. An excellent result for access to justice, and perhaps a warning about future fee increases in other areas of law, including family.
And finally, my favourite story this week was the one about predicting divorce on the wedding day. It reminded me of the time when I worked opposite a Register Office. I used to tell my secretary to nip out and give the bride and groom my card. Well, a good lawyer should always be alert to a business opportunity…
Have a good weekend.