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A holiday season in family law: legal aid cuts, domestic violence deaths and civil partnerships for all

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One might reasonably expect the holiday season in family law to provide some much-needed relief from the continual torrent of family law news.

However, anyone with such an expectation will have been sorely disappointed this holiday season just gone. Three major stories broke between Christmas and the New Year, all of which made the national media.

Justice cuts causing “serious difficulty”

The first story came from the BBC, where Lady Hale, who will retire as President of the Supreme Court on the 10th of January, guest-edited Radio 4’s Today programme on the 27th of December. In the course of the programme she had a few things to say about cuts to the justice system including, of course, the legal aid cuts of 2013, which removed legal aid from most private law family matters.

She said:

“I don’t think that anybody who has anything to do with the justice system of England and Wales could fail to be concerned about the problems which the reduction in resources in several directions has caused for the system as a whole.”

She went on to explain that the problem was particularly evident in family courts, saying:

“It’s unreasonable to expect a husband and wife or mother and father who are in crisis in their personal relationship to make their own arrangements without help.” She said that in such family dispute cases “there may be an imbalance in resources because of the lack of access”.

Echoing what many others have said, she suggested that additional resources would allow many disputes to be resolved at an early stage, without the need for the parties to go to court or stretch their finances:

“It is that lack of initial advice and help which is a serious difficulty.”

I’m sure all family lawyers would agree.

Domestic violence kills 15 times as many as terrorism in Britain

Yes, that was a pretty sobering, if not entirely surprising, headline that appeared in a certain national newspaper on the 28th of December. The story tells us that the statistic came from figures obtained from ‘official sources’ by victims’ rights campaigners. The figures show that there were 1,870 domestic murders in England and Wales between 2000 and 2018, compared with 126 killings that were terrorism-related.

In addition, we are told, campaigners say that an estimated 400 victims of domestic violence take their own lives each year.

The campaigners are calling for the police to be given more money to deal with the problem. Harry Fletcher, a spokesman for the Victims’ Rights Campaign, is quoted as saying:

“Police funding and support services for victims of domestic abuse have been severely cut since 2010. Over the last 18 years 126 people have been killed by terror in England and Wales whilst over 1,800, mainly women, have been killed by partners. This is outrageous. It is essential that the new government gives priority to preventing and investigating domestic abuse. Budgets must be protected and ring-fenced in the future. The police must be given the resources to find and prosecute the thousands of alleged perpetrators who are at large in the community on the police wanted list.”

Civil partnerships for all

And finally, the first opposite-sex civil partnership ceremonies have taken place.

Amongst the couples tying the civil partnership knot on the 31st of December, the first possible day was Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who took their campaign for civil partnerships to be extended to opposite-sex couples all the way to the Supreme Court in 2018. Their success there led directly to the law change.

Ms Steinfeld is quoted as saying that their “personal wish” to form a civil partnership came from a “desire to formalise our relationship in a more modern way, with a focus on equality, and mutual respect”.

She also suggested that legal recognition be given to other kinds of caring relationships, including those between friends, siblings and co-parents. I’m not quite sure how that would work, but meanwhile, it will be fascinating to see how popular civil partnership is, and whether it will become a common alternative to marriage.

What a holiday season in family law 2019 turned out to be.

Have a good weekend.

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If you would like any advice on a family law issue, you can find further articles here or please do contact our Client Care Team to speak to one of our specialist family 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, with his content now supporting our divorce lawyers and child custody lawyers

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