Court and legal aid statistics, an inheritance claim and domestic abuse: The last two weeks in family law

The application by the parents of Alfie Evans to the European Court of Human Rights (‘ECHR’) has been declared inadmissible. Alfie has been on ventilation in hospital after becoming seriously ill with a catastrophic and untreatable neurodegenerative condition. His parents were seeking to overturn a decision that the NHS Trust may withdraw life-support from Alfie. However, the ECHR found “that there was no appearance of a violation of the rights and freedoms set out in the European Convention on Human Rights.” This may not, however, be the end of the case, as it has been reported that the Trust will be asking the High Court for guidance as to when life support can be withdrawn.

The Ministry of Justice has published its latest Family Court statistics quarterly bulletin, for October to December 2017. The main points revealed by the bulletin included that there was very little change in the overall number of new cases started in family courts in 2017 compared to 2016, that the number of Public law cases starting in 2017 was up slightly (1%) compared to 2016, and that the number of Private law cases started increased by 5% in 2017 compared to 2016.

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases, has been rated ‘outstanding’ by the government inspectorate Ofsted. Ofsted inspectors found that Cafcass has effective leadership, highly skilled staff and investment in technology and tools that help promote a child-centred approach to practice. It also praised practice focussed on “listening to children, understanding their world and acting on their views”. The last time Cafcass was inspected, in 2014, it only received a ‘good’ rating, and when it was inspected in 2009 it received an ‘inadequate’ rating.

A woman who lived with a man for 42 years, but was left nothing in his will, has been awarded a share of his £1.5 million estate. Joan Thompson, who is aged 79, claimed reasonable financial provision under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975 out of the estate of her late partner, Wynford Hodge, who died on 4 February 2017 in his 90s. The judge granted her one of Hodge’s properties worth £225,000, the court having heard that the property had been purchased with a view to the couple retiring to it. Ms Thompson was also granted £160,000 for her future maintenance and care, and £28,845 to renovate the property.

Quarterly legal aid statistics published by the Ministry of Justice show that the number of cases that went to mediation between October and December 2017 were down by 15 per cent on the same period in 2016, and currently stand at around 1,500, the lowest quarterly number of starts since legal aid was abolished in 2013 (the government intended that mediation should reduce the need for legal aid). Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) during the period were down by 12 per cent compared to the previous year, and currently stand at around a third of the levels they were before legal aid was abolished.

And finally, the National Centre for Domestic Violence (‘NCDV’), which was established to help survivors of domestic violence and abuse obtain protection against an abuser, has said that domestic abuse victims in England have been unable to get emergency court orders stopping their abusers from harming them, as they were refused legal aid due to their means. The NCDV said 6,000 victims were denied free legal representation last year. The NCDV told BBC Radio 5 live Investigates that too many women were turned away because they appeared to own assets or savings that were actually under the control of their abusers. Mark Groves, the NCDV’s chief executive said: “While many people think legal aid is free, it is not, you have to pay a means-tested contribution. Economic abuse victims who don’t control their money may not have this [and] those who have fled the family home may not have the right documentation.”