A week in family law: Council failures, early advice, court statistics and more

Family|Family Law|December 14th 2018

Herefordshire District Council has been criticised by Mr Justice Keehan for failures in two separate public law cases. The case BT v GT, concerned twins who were born in 2010. It had been intended that they would be kept together, but due to what Mr Justice Keehan described as the “incompetence and serial failings of the local authority”, and the “egregious behaviour of some of its former staff”, they had to be adopted in two separate homes. The council admitted that they had breached the children’s human rights, and will pay damages to them. The case A & B concerned two half-sisters, who are both now grown up. Mr Justice Keehan said that the council’s care and care planning in relation to them over the last ten years or so had been “woeful”. Interim care orders had been made in relation to the pair in 2003, when they were aged four and three respectively. Full care orders were eventually made in 2008, but neither child was ever placed for adoption, as had been planned, and the children were split apart into separate foster placements. Again, the council conceded that the serial failures in the care provided, or not provided, to the children amounted to breaches of their human rights. Mr Justice Keehan urged the council to reach an agreement to pay them damages for those breaches. All pretty appalling stuff.

In its response to the Ministry of Justice’s consultation on reform of the legal requirements for divorce, The Law Society has urged the government to reintroduce legal aid for early advice for separating couples. Christina Blacklaws the President of the Society said that cuts to legal aid had failed to recognise that solicitors providing early advice were a significant source of referrals to mediation, thereby avoiding costly court hearings. She went on: “We believe that without early advice from a solicitor, many people do not know that the option of mediation exists, or how to access it. Reforms to divorce law need to come at the same time as the reintroduction of legal aid for early advice … Family law is one area where early advice actually saves money. It can help resolve problems sooner and prevent some legal issues from escalating into costly court cases.” Agreed – I set out in this post on Monday three typical family law scenarios in which early advice could greatly help litigants.

The latest quarterly family court statistics, for the period July to September 2018, have been published by the Ministry of Justice. The statistics show an increase in the number of cases started and a decrease in number of cases disposed of. 66,118 new cases were started, up 1% on the equivalent quarter in 2017, and driven by a 7% rise in matrimonial cases started. However, there were decreases in new financial remedy (9%), public law (5%), domestic violence (4%), and adoption (4%) cases started. There were 52,427 case disposals, down 7% on the equivalent quarter of 2017, due to decreases in matrimonial (15%), adoption (15%), private law (4%) and financial remedy (1%) cases reaching final a disposal. Over the same period, domestic violence and public law disposals were up 11% and 1% respectively. So all in all, a bit of a mixed bag.

And finally, I could not end without mentioning an exchange I came across on Twitter this week between a court user by the name of Dominic Teagle and HM Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’). Mr Teagle reported that the roof is leaking at Stratford Magistrates’ Court, only to receive this response from HMCTS: “Hi Dom, we’ve made some investigations and there are no reports of a leak at Stratford. The Building Champion at Stratford is happy to discuss this matter with you.” Yes, you did read that correctly: Stratford Magistrates’ Court has a ‘Building Champion’. Now, I am all for the courts appointing a member of their staff to check that the court building is in a proper state of repair, but why on Earth have they been designated the ‘Building Champion’? Did they have to win a competition to get the job? Or maybe, like some sort of real-world superhero, they have to promise to champion the cause of ‘truth, justice, and the buildings in which justice is dispensed’? The other obvious thing I like about HMCTS’s response to a report of a leaking roof is that they deny that there have been any reports of a leaking roof. With logic like that, you know that our courts are in safe hands.

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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