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Financial remedy courts, domestic abuse, legal aid and more

A week in family law

A new specialist court to deal with financial remedy cases is to be piloted in three areas, the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has announced. The Financial Remedies Court will be piloted in London, the West Midlands and South-East Wales. The President hopes that the pilots will begin next February, and envisages that further pilots will follow quite shortly thereafter, on a rolling programme. He says that the basic concept is that there will be a number of regional hubs at which both the administration and the judicial leadership for the relevant hub area are based. Each hub area will have a lead judge, who must be a judge with real experience/expertise in financial remedy work. Hearings will be conducted at the regional hub and also at a number of Financial Remedies Hearing Centres within the hub area. Initially the courts will deal with ancillary relief cases, i.e. financial remedy claims within divorce/civil partnership dissolution/nullity/judicial separation proceedings, but in due course this will be extended to all types of family financial remedy cases. Only ‘ticketed’ judges will sit in the courts, and all district judges and circuit judges currently in post who do this work will be ‘grandfathered’ in.

The new courts appear to have been generally welcomed by family lawyers, with some saying that they should lead to ‘greater predictability’ in outcomes of financial remedy claims. My main concern is that they may mean more travelling for litigants, who could have different aspects of their cases being dealt with by several different courts. Oh, and contrary to reports in certain newspapers that one would expect would get their facts right, the courts will not be only for the super-wealthy.

Moving on, the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has announced that victims of domestic violence will get more support in taking abusive former partners to court. Currently legal aid is available to victims of domestic abuse, so long as they can provide evidence of abuse within the previous five years. The MoJ says that the five year time limit will be scrapped, while the range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse will be widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers. These changes will come into effect from January.

Commenting on the changes Dominic Raab, the Minister of State for Courts and Justice, said:

“We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases. These changes make sure that vulnerable women and children get legal support, so their voice is properly heard in court.”

Excellent news, but we shouldn’t get too carried away…

Mr Rabb and his colleagues at the MoJ may have listened to those complaining about the hurdles that victims of domestic abuse have to go through to get legal aid, but clearly they have not taken heed of those campaigning for the introduction (or should I say ‘reintroduction’?) of funding to provide litigants, or prospective litigants, with access to early legal advice. Ensuring access to early advice seems to me to be an excellent idea, which could in the long run lead to far more cases being settled, thereby relieving the enormous strain on the courts, and even saving the taxpayer money. Mr Rabb, however, disagrees, saying that this assertion is not backed up by the evidence. Whilst I am not at all surprised by the stance taken by the MoJ (the government seems determined that there should be no return of legal aid, even in a limited form, to those areas from which it was removed) it is nevertheless disappointing that the idea seems to have been dismissed out of hand. Surely, it was worth more thorough consideration?

And finally, in a week that’s been a little slow for important family law news in this hemisphere, I would like to end by celebrating a piece of good news from the antipodes. A big well-done to the Australian Parliament, which voted yesterday to allow same-sex marriage. I would also like to congratulate Nick and Sarah Jensen of Canberra on the continuation of their marriage, they being the couple who were so opposed to gay marriage that they had promised to get divorced if it was legalised. Thankfully, they have now backtracked on that promise. A victory for common sense all round.

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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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