A week in family law: election pledges, domestic abuse and support for LiPs

Family Law|November 29th 2019

Conservative election pledges and family law

At the risk of causing readers to switch channels to another blog, I will begin with the General Election. I mentioned here last week the election pledges regarding family law contained in the manifestos of the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

Since then the Conservatives have published their manifesto. Somewhat worryingly, and unlike the manifestos of the other two main parties, it says nothing about introducing no-fault divorce. However, Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland confirmed in a tweet that the Conservatives intend to re-introduce the Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which will bring in a system of no-fault divorce, in the next parliamentary session.

I can hear the sighs of relief amongst the family lawyer community. The manifesto does, however, confirm that if elected the Tories will also proceed with reforming the law on domestic abuse, including introducing measures to prevent the cross-examination of survivors by their alleged abusers.

That, however, is as far as the good news goes. The Conservative manifesto is silent both upon the introduction of basic rights for cohabiting couples (as is the Labour Party manifesto) and upon the restoration of some measure of legal aid, which is favoured both by the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats.

Sadly, it appears that whatever the result of the General Election, the campaign for cohabitees’ rights will have to continue. For a summary of how the present law fails cohabitees, see this post, written this week by Stowe Family Law Partner Graham Coy, who is based in the firm’s Chancery Lane office in London.

Domestic abuse prevalence and trends

The latest statistical release for domestic abuse prevalence and trends in England and Wales, for the year ending March 2019, has been published by the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’). The release sets out the prevalence, long-term trends and types of domestic abuse experienced by adults in England and Wales, based on findings from the Crime Survey for England and Wales, and police recorded crime.

The main points included that, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales for the year ending March 2019, an estimated 5.7% of adults (2.4 million) experienced domestic abuse in the last year. This figure indicates that there was no significant change in the prevalence of domestic abuse experienced in the last year compared with the year ending March 2018, although the number is still shocking.

Meanwhile, the police recorded a total of 1,316,800 domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes in the year ending March 2019, and of these, 746,219 were recorded as domestic abuse-related crimes, an increase of 24% from the previous year. As the Crime Survey showed no change, it is thought that the increase in police recorded crime may reflect improved recording by the police, and increased reporting by victims.

You can find the full ONS statistical release here.

Support for LiPs

And finally, the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has called upon lawyers to help fund a support scheme for litigants in person (‘LiPs’). The call came just days after the Support Through Court charity, which was formerly known as the Personal Support Unit, and which provides free support and guidance to LiPs, confirmed that it was closing four of its offices in court buildings around the country.

The Law Society Gazette reported that last week Sir Andrew told a Personal Support Unit conference (not sure why this was not a ‘Support Through Court’ conference) that it seemed reasonable ‘to invite each of the main private client family law firms and barristers’ chambers to consider making a modest annual contribution’ to ensure Support Through Court services are available to every litigant in person in every court centre. Incredible that it has come to this, in a country which until only a few years ago boasted a system which, on paper at least, offered equal access to justice for all.

Have a good weekend.

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If you would like any advice on divorce or other family law issues please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist divorce lawyers here. 

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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