Cafcass figures, McKenzie friends, and more

Family Law|September 22nd 2017

A week in family law

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for August 2017, and the news was again mixed. In that month the service received a total of 1,241 care applications, which is a 1.5 per cent decrease compared with those received in August 2016, giving further much-needed relief to the pressure on the system. As to private law demand, the news was not so good: Cafcass received a total of 3,718 new private law cases, which is an eight per cent increase on August 2016 levels. So it is starting to look like the increase in care applications may have finally plateaued (hopefully), but still the increase in private law cases continues. As I mentioned here yesterday, the Lord Chief Justice had some things to say about the increased workload of the family courts, when he gave evidence to the House of Commons’ Justice Select Committee last week.

The Judiciary is to reconsider a ban on the charging of fees by McKenzie Friends, after a consultation on the plans received ‘large numbers of responses’. Law Society president Joe Egan optimistically commented:

“We welcomed the original report, particularly the proposed prohibition through court rules of the recovery of fees as a workable alternative to seeking and enforcing an outright ban. The “number of responses” seems scarcely to explain why it has taken the best part of two years to follow up what was a very good report, but we take the announcement as a sign of progress and look forward to hearing more.”

Hmm.

The problems that McKenzie friends can cause was highlighted this week in the case LFL v LSL, where a McKenzie friend was refused rights of audience to represent the husband, and then proceeded to interrupt the hearing on a number of occasions. On the second day of the hearing there was an outburst from her, during which she would not leave the court and threatened complaints against the district judge, the solicitor for the wife and criminal sanctions against the wife. The district judge decided that her conduct disrupted the proceedings and excluded her from the courtroom for the rest of the hearing.

A family court judge has questioned a local authority’s decision to spend money on care proceedings in relation to the second child born to a vulnerable mother, rather than offer her therapy. The comments were made by His Honour Judge Wildblood in A Local Authority v The Mother & Another, which he described as “a desperately sad case” where, for the second time in six months, the mother faced the loss to adoption of a child that she is said to have loved deeply. Whilst this is not my area of law, I suspect that the President of the Family Division would be interested in Judge Wildblood’s comments, particularly as he is eager to reduce the number of care applications going to court, as referred to above.

David Williams QC has been appointed a Justice of the High Court with effect from 2 October 2017, consequential to the elevation of Sir Andrew Moylan to the Court of Appeal. The Honourable Mr Justice Williams will be assigned to the Family Division. I have a look at one of his cases, along with one each of the cases of our other two newly appointed High Court Family Division judges Gwynneth Knowles QC and Jonathan Cohen QC, in this post.

Government figures obtained by Shadow Justice Minister Gloria De Piero show that the number of legal aid providers across England and Wales has fallen by 20 per cent in the last five years. This is obviously bad news, but my only surprise is that the figure is not more than 20 per cent. Still, that is 20 per cent who are surely never coming back, and no doubt there will be more to follow in the coming years. I know that it is already becoming difficult to find a legal aid lawyer in many areas of the country, and that is only going to get worse. Legal aid was once a service to be proud of, one of the pillars of the welfare state. Now it seems that the government is happy for the large proportion of the population that once relied on that pillar to fend for themselves. The Labour Party-backed Bach Commission report, published today, recommends that all matters concerning children should be brought back into the scope of legal aid, and that with respect to representation at court, some areas of family and immigration law should also be brought back into scope, but whether that will ever happen I very much doubt.

And finally, this week’s essential research finding is that less attractive husbands are the key to happy relationships. Well, I wouldn’t know anything about that…

Have a good weekend.

Author: John Bolch

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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