A committal to prison, family law reforms and more

Family Law|March 23rd 2018

A WEEK IN FAMILY LAW

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for February 2018. In that month the service received a total of 1,201 care applications. This figure represents a four per cent increase in comparison with February 2017, and is the second highest monthly total for a February on record. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,154 new private law cases. This is a 5.4 per cent decrease compared with those received in February 2017. For the current financial year, new private law cases are running about five per cent ahead of last year. So the figures continue to fluctuate, but the overall trend is still upwards. No wonder I hear so many reports that the system is at breaking point.

“Orders of the court and the rule of law must be observed.” So said His Honour Judge Wildblood, whilst committing an 83 year-old man to prison for fourteen months for failing to comply with orders relating to the transfer of a company to his ex-wife. The court ordered the transfer in June 2015, and the husband gave an undertaking to the court to take the necessary steps to render the transfer effective. However, he delayed the transfer without justification, and then stripped out all of the management records of the company, thereby making it impossible for the wife to manage the company efficiently or effectively. Judge Wildblood made orders requiring the husband to provide the wife with the information and documentation she needed to run the company, but the husband failed to comply with the orders, despite clear warnings of the consequences. As Judge Wildblood said, no one wants to see an 83 year-old man facing a committal application, but he was left with no option but to commit the husband to prison.

Meanwhile, Mr Justice Keehan has revealed that Herefordshire County Council kept a 9 year-old boy in care for the whole of his life, without the approval of a court. In a damning judgment he accused the council of “dreadful failures” for keeping 14 children in care for “wholly inappropriate” periods of time without court approval, including another boy who had been kept in care between the ages of eight and 16. The children were all taken into care under section 20 of the Children Act orders, which are intended to be used as an interim voluntary arrangement between a parent and a local authority when there is a short-term issue with a child’s welfare. The local authority must seek the court’s approval if it believes a child should be looked after in the longer term. Mr Justice Keehan commented that he had “never before encountered two cases where a local authority has so seriously and serially failed to address the needs of the children in its care and so seriously misused, indeed abused, the provisions of section 20 of the Children Act”. Shocking stuff.

The parents of Alfie Evans, who has a degenerative neurological condition, have been refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court against the decision that the NHS Trust may withdraw life-support from Alfie. In a written ruling published on Tuesday, a panel of Supreme Court justices, headed by the President Lady Hale, found that the proposed appeal was unarguable and so, notwithstanding their “profound sympathy for the agonising situation in which they find themselves”, they refused permission for the parents to appeal. I understand that Alfie’s parents are seeking to take the case to the European Court of Human Rights.

And finally, the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has called for a number of reforms to the family justice system. In a speech to the Law School at the University of Edinburgh he set out “a few of the parts of family law most pressingly in need of statutory reform”, including the law on divorce (i.e. the introduction of no-fault divorce), giving proper rights to cohabitants, and reform of the law relating to financial remedies on divorce (although he did not specify how that might be reformed). He also called for family courts to become ‘problem-solving’ courts, dealing with the underlying issues behind the disputes that they deal with. Sir James may only have a few months left of his tenure as President, but he clearly does not intend to go quietly!

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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