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Cryptographic currencies, domestic violence sentencing guidelines and more

A week in family law

Cryptographic currencies such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Litecoin, are very much in the news these days, and they are now being talked about in a family law context. The BBC has reported that they are starting to become an issue in divorce settlements, raising the possibility that they could be used by parties to hide their wealth, because of their anonymous nature. The BBC says that tracing undisclosed digital currency could prove difficult, possibly necessitating the appointment of a digital forensic expert to analyse data when it is suspected someone is trying to hide money in cryptocurrency, and there could also be difficulties in valuing any holdings, and in preventing the holder from disposing of them. If cryptocurrencies are a mystery to you, then I strongly suggest you read this explanatory post by Victoria Clarke, a solicitor in Stowe Family Law’s Esher office.

The Local Government Association (LGA) has warned that half of children who are assessed as “in need of extra help” by council child protection teams have experienced or witnessed domestic violence. The LGA has previously said that a child is being referred to council children’s services every 49 seconds on a daily basis, and that councils started more than 500 child protection investigations every day last year, up from 200 a decade ago. The LGA says that this means councils are increasingly being forced to prioritise spending for children at immediate risk of harm, rather than on earlier support services that can help families to address harmful behaviours and support children and young people to recover from earlier experiences. The LGA is calling for the Government to adequately fund children’s services so councils are able to support children who are in the highest level of need and invest in early intervention initiatives that provide support for children experiencing domestic violence; and to increase the number of Independent Domestic Violence Advisers in hospital settings, as charities such as Safe Lives have advocated – currently, only around 10 per cent of hospitals have access to these practitioners who can spot abuse early, track behavioural red warning flags, and help victims get the support they need.

This week we have had yet another of those awful removal of life support from a seriously ill child cases. This week it was the turn of poor Alfie Evans, who is in a semi-vegetative state and has a degenerative neurological condition that has never been definitively diagnosed by doctors. The NHS Trust for the hospital treating Alfie, Alder Hey in Liverpool, applied to the court for a declaration that continued ventilatory support was not in Alfie’s best interests, and that in the circumstances it was not lawful that such treatment continue. The application was strongly opposed by Alfie’s parents, who wished to take him to an Italian children’s hospital for specialist help. However, Mr Justice Hayden ruled in favour of the Trust, after accepting medical evidence that indicated further treatment would be futile, would compromise Alfie’s future dignity and would fail to respect his autonomy. He said:

“Alfie’s need now is for good quality palliative care. By this I mean care which will keep him as comfortable as possible at the last stage of his life. He requires peace, quiet and privacy in order that he may conclude his life, as he has lived it, with dignity.”

You can read Mr Justice Hayden’s judgment here. I understand that the family intends to appeal.

And finally, the Sentencing Council, which is responsible for developing sentencing guidelines and monitoring their use, has issued new guidelines to deal with offences involving domestic abuse. The guidelines, which will apply to all offenders aged 16 and older sentenced on or after 24 May 2018, emphasise that the fact an offence took place in a domestic context makes it more serious, and are therefore likely to result in tougher sentences for offenders. The guidelines will also extend domestic abuse to include non-physical forms, such as threats on social media. As someone who began practising back in the days when the police would fob off domestic violence victims with a cursory “sorry, we don’t do domestics”, it is quite remarkable that soon domestic violence incidents may actually be treated more seriously than similar crimes committed in a non-domestic context. A very welcome turn-around.

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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