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A week in family law – Cafcass figures, domestic abuse and Calderbank offers

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The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for June 2019, have been published by Cafcass, and once again the picture of a long-term downward trend in care cases, and a long-term upward trend in private law cases continues. In that month the service received 1,021 care applications, which is 5.1% (55 applications) lower than June 2018. As to private law demand, Cafcass received 3,715 new cases during June 2019. This is 9.5% higher than June 2018.

The government’s ‘landmark’ Domestic Abuse Bill has been introduced to Parliament, “signalling a major step forward in transforming the response to this crime.” The Bill, says the government’s news release, “is the most comprehensive package ever presented to Parliament to tackle domestic abuse, both supporting victims and bringing perpetrators to justice.” Measures in the Bill include: introducing the first ever statutory government definition of domestic abuse, which will include economic abuse; establishing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner to champion victims and survivors; introducing new Domestic Abuse Protection Notices and Domestic Abuse Protection Orders to further protect victims and place restrictions on the actions of offenders; prohibiting the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts; and providing automatic eligibility for special measures to support more victims to give evidence in the criminal courts. Minister for Crime, Safeguarding and Vulnerability, Victoria Atkins commented: “Having spoken to survivors of domestic abuse, I have been both shocked by their stories and moved by their resilience and strength. As a government, we must do all we can to support those who have suffered this horrendous abuse. The Domestic Abuse Bill goes further than ever before and recognises the complex nature of domestic abuse, while putting the needs of victims at the forefront.”

A consultation has been launched in relation to the treatment of ‘Calderbank’ offers when determining issues relating to costs. As I explained here back in 2015, a Calderbank offer (named after a 1975 case of that name) is a proposal that is made ‘without prejudice save as to costs’. This means that if the proposal is not beaten by the other party then the maker of the proposal can show the proposal to the court (proposals headed ‘without prejudice’ only cannot be shown to the court, unless the proposal is accepted) and request the court to order the other party to pay their costs from the date of the offer, on the basis that those costs would not have been incurred if the offer had been accepted. Calderbank offers were abolished when new costs rules were introduced in 2006, but many lament their passing, saying that they encouraged parties to engage in reasonable negotiations. The consultation is seeking views upon whether they should be reintroduced.

And finally, the National Rural Crime Network has published a report looking at the issue of domestic abuse in rural areas, following an 18-month intensive research project. The Network says that the report reveals “a shocking picture of domestic abuse in rural Britain with hidden victims – isolated, unsupported and unprotected – who are being failed by the system, services and those around them.” Key findings include that abuse lasts, on average, 25 per cent longer in the most rural areas, that the policing response is largely inadequate, that rurality and isolation are deliberately used as weapons by abusers, and that traditional, patriarchal communities control and subjugate women. In a foreword to the report Julia Mulligan, Chair of the National Rural Crime Network & Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, said: “Far from the peaceful idyll most people have in their mind when conjuring up the countryside, this report bears the souls and scars of domestic abuse victims, who all too often are lost to support, policing and criminal justice services. Hidden under our noses. Hidden by abusers who like to keep it that way. A scale of abuse hitherto unseen.” She went on: “This report must surely be a catalyst to help us better protect the women, children and men in rural communities who suffer daily at the hands of calculating, manipulating, controlling and violent abusers.” Let us hope that it is.

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.

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