A week in family law
Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for September 2017, and the news was once again mixed. In that month the service received a total of 1,109 care applications, which is a significant 10% decrease compared with those received in September 2016, giving further much-needed relief to the pressure on the system. As to private law demand, the news was not quite so good: Cafcass received a total of 3,637 new private law cases, which is a four per cent increase on September 2016 levels. Still, at least the private law graph is flattening.
The effect of the Cafcass care applications figures in recent times was demonstrated by the Local Government Association (LGA), which held its National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth. The LGA said official figures show the total number of looked after children reached a new high of 72,670 in 2016/17 – up from 70,440 the year before, and that ninety children a day entered care last year. Just think about that for a moment: ninety children a day. Really brings home the scale of the problem. The LGA said that the figures highlight the urgent need for the Chancellor to use his Autumn Statement next month to address the £2 billion funding gap facing children’s services by 2020, and Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas told the conference that:
“The care system has to gear up for higher numbers. This needs new investment, new ideas and most of all the next generation of staff and carers to be recruited, motivated and supported.”
Whether new investment will be forthcoming, we will have to wait and see, although I won’t be holding my breath.
Retiring High Court judge Mr Justice Bodey, one of the country’s most senior family court judges, has warned about the impact of the legal aid cuts, and said it was “shaming” to preside over cases in which individuals are forced to represent themselves. Giving his valedictory speech at a ceremony to mark his retirement, Mr Justice Bodey explained how he sometimes had to help litigants in person by cross-examining witnesses on their behalf. He told his audience, which included the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby:
“I find it shaming that in this country, with its fine record of justice and fairness, that I should be presiding over such cases.”
It is quite remarkable to hear such a senior judge speak in these terms. Of course, the real shame lies with the government that implemented the cuts. The Ministry of Justice is reviewing the impact of the cuts, and is expected to report next spring, but I would be extremely surprised if there is to be any significant U-turn.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published statistics for the number of divorces in England and Wales in 2016. Amongst the main points were that there were 106,959 divorces of opposite-sex couples in 2016, an increase of 5.8 per cent compared with 2015, and there were 112 divorces of same-sex couples in 2016, of which 78 per cent were among female couples.
An ONS commenter said:
“Although the number of divorces of opposite-sex couples in England and Wales increased by 5.8 per cent in 2016 compared with 2015, the number remains 30 per cent lower than the most recent peak in 2003; divorce rates for men and women have seen similar changes.”
And, never shy to promote the cause of no-fault divorce Resolution Chairman Nigel Shepherd said:
“Behind these statistics, there are tens of thousands of couples who are currently discouraged by the current system from taking a non-confrontational approach to divorce. For many separating couples, the need to apportion blame on the divorce petition can introduce unnecessary conflict, which adds to the stress and heartache for the couple themselves and, crucially, any children they may have. For decades, ‘unreasonable behaviour’ has been the most common reason for divorce among opposite-sex couples, yet many are forced into playing this ‘blame game’ by our archaic divorce laws. That’s why we have repeatedly called on government to legislate for no-fault divorce, and will continue to do so.”
And finally, some good news: the Government has announced that the much-praised Family Drug and Alcohol Court (FDAC) and partner local authorities are to receive £6.2 million over seven years through a social impact bond, to support its work within the family court system. FDAC aims to help families whose children are subject to care proceedings due to parental substance misuse and domestic violence in the home. Let us hope that this funding is sufficient to enable it to keep going.
Have a good weekend.