It’s been a busy week in family law again. Dominating the headlines was the release of the quarterly statistics for legal aid which saw a 21% increase in applications via the domestic abuse gateway. John Bolch discusses this and more…
Quarterly statistics for the Family Court, for the period January to March 2018, have been published by the Ministry of Justice. Amongst the main points were that 63,100 new cases were started in family courts in that period, down 4% on January to March 2017 due to falls in adoption, financial remedy, private law children and matrimonial cases; that the number of private law children applications and disposals were down 5% and 7% respectively compared to the same period of 2017; and that there were 27,401 divorce petitions made during the period, down 4% on the previous year. However, the average time for divorces to reach Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute was up 3 weeks (to 27 weeks) and 2 weeks (to 51 weeks) respectively over the same period. So, fewer cases but cases taking longer. One would have logically expected that if there were fewer cases for the courts to deal with then cases would be dealt with more quickly. Another indication, perhaps, that the ‘centralisation’ of the divorce process into a few divorce centres may not have led to the improved efficiencies that some had hoped.
The Ministry of Justice has also published quarterly statistics for legal aid. These showed, amongst other things, that in January to March 2018 applications for legal aid via the domestic violence and child abuse gateway increased by 21% compared to the same period in 2017. As I explained in this post, the reason for this is not that more people are ‘manufacturing’ false allegations of domestic abuse so that they can get legal aid. Rather, it is due to the fact that in January the government relaxed somewhat the requirements for applicants for legal aid to produce evidence of the abuse, thereby making it easier for domestic abuse victims to get legal aid.
Notwithstanding this, the fathers’ rights group Families Need Fathers has claimed that “thousands” of parents are falsely stating that they have been the victims of domestic abuse, in order to obtain legal aid and stop estranged partners from seeing their children. The group says it suspects that solicitors’ firms are talking parents into seeking non-molestation orders because it enables them to qualify for legal aid, from which both the legal profession and the complainant could benefit.
A spokesman for the charity said: “We’re getting a lot of people coming to us talking about false allegations, whether it’s grossly exaggerating events or even completely fabricating them. And yet the impact of the order can take a parent down a path that can be very difficult to return from.” As I also said in my post, I’m sure this does happen – it is an almost inevitable consequence of a system that requires there to be domestic abuse before legal aid is granted. However, whether the numbers are quite as high as suggested is another matter. I note, for example, that Katie Ghose, chief executive of the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid, says that they “are not aware of any cases where mothers have falsely applied for non-molestation orders.” Hmm. It’s almost as if each ‘side’ in the debate is only seeing what it wants to see…
And finally, the Ministry of Justice, which has obviously had a busy week, has admitted that it overcharged for a number of different court fees, including fees for Court of Protection proceedings. Oops. In a written statement to Parliament justice minister Lucy Frazer QC said that she was laying before Parliament legislation reducing court fees for certain proceedings in the civil courts and the Court of Protection in England and Wales and that as a result, claimants bringing these proceedings will pay less to access the courts. The reduction to the fees follows a thorough and detailed review undertaken by officials in the Ministry of Justice into the cost of these proceedings. The review identified a number of cases where the fees charged were above full cost recovery levels. The Ministry is, therefore, taking action to reduce those fees, and will also be establishing a refund scheme to reimburse people the amounts they have been over-charged.
Have a good weekend. Oh, and come on England!