A week in family law – a domestic abuse call for evidence, a worrying development, and a new Lord Chancellor

Family Law | 26 Jul 2019 0

Stowe Services

As the Trinity law term draws to a close and the summer vacation beckons, the legal news begins to dry up. I have, however, I have found three stories of interest:

The biggest family law story came from the Ministry of Justice, which announced that: “survivors of domestic abuse and other harmful conduct are being invited to share their experiences of how well the family courts protects them and their children in private family law proceedings.” The press release went on: “A Government call for evidence, launched today (19 July 2019), is part of a three-month project overseen by a panel of experts, aimed at throwing a spotlight on how the family courts manage the safety and well-being of children when there is a risk of domestic abuse. Responding directly to concerns raised recently including in the Government’s Domestic Abuse Consultation, the review will also consider the use of ‘barring orders’- court orders which can prevent abusive parents from making further court applications that often serve to simply re-traumatise their victims. Crucially, it will also examine what the risk is to children and parents in continuing to have a relationship with a parent with a history of abusive behaviour, including where continuing contact between the parents is required by court orders.” Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice Paul Maynard MP is quoted as saying: “Domestic abuse destroys lives, which is why survivors and their children must have every confidence that they will be protected in the family courts. Just this week we introduced legislation that will ban abusers from cross-examining their victims in the family courts, and throughout our review we will be engaging with victims across the country to make sure we are doing all we can to protect them further. The review – ordered by ministers in May – will also consider the level of encouragement victims are given to raise concerns, the standard of domestic abuse information shared with courts, as well as looking to better understand the different types of coercive control.” The call for evidence ends on the 26th of August. It will be interesting to see the results.

I found the second story on BBC News, and it makes worrying reading. A freedom of information request by the Corporation has revealed that thousands of knives and sharp objects are being confiscated annually at London family courts. Ministry of Justice data revealed that in 2018-19 eighty-six knives with blades longer than 3in (8cm) were seized, a big rise from just 18 a year earlier, along with almost 4,000 shorter blades. Unsurprisingly, the report tells us that “HM Courts and Tribunals Service said it treated security “extremely seriously””. However, the report points out that during a lecture in May, the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane said the judiciary “do not believe that most, indeed any, of these knives were necessarily being brought in for use in the court building. It simply seems to be a facet of everyday life in 2019 for some members of the population.” I’m not sure whether, if I were still practising (and I did often appear in London courts), I would be reassured by that.

And lastly, you may not have noticed, but we are now blessed with a new Prime Minister. The new man has in turn given his pool of ministers quite a stir. One of those leaving their post (albeit voluntarily) was the Lord Chancellor (or Secretary of State for Justice) David Gauke. He has been replaced by Robert Buckland QC MP, who previously held the positions of Minister of State at the Ministry of Justice, from May 2019 to July 2019, and Solicitor General, from July 2014 to May 2019. Now, David Gauke will I’m sure be missed by many with an interest in family law. He was, in particular, very keen on the much-need introduction of no-fault divorce. Will Mr Buckland be so enthusiastic? I don’t know, but I note with a little concern that he voted against the introduction of marriage for same-sex couples. Let us hope that he takes a rather more enlightened view towards divorce reform.

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.

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