Divorce reform, a legal aid review and Cafcass figures: The last week in family law

It has been reported that the Justice Secretary, David Gauke, has confirmed that he will introduce legislation enacting the no-fault divorce in the next session of Parliament. Nigel Shepherd, former chairman of the family law organisation Resolution, which has long campaigned for the introduction of no-fault divorce, said he was pleased that the government are so firmly behind it, adding: “Our members, and the families they work with, will be delighted that after years of campaigning, we are now so close to ending the ‘blame game’ that many divorcing couples are currently forced to play.”

Meanwhile, new research published by the Nuffield Foundation
and undertaken by Professor Liz Trinder at the University of Exeter reinforces
the case for reform of the overly complex divorce system in England and Wales.
The research found that the current system can fuel conflict and disadvantages
people who represent themselves, and those alleging abuse as grounds for
divorce. It recommended that the proposed notification period of six months
should begin before decree nisi, to avoid people being subject to unpredictable
variations in processing times; that the ability to defend a divorce should be
removed; and that the significant minority (14%) of cases in which one party
does not respond to the divorce petition needs to be addressed. Professor
Trinder said: “This new research reinforces the case for divorce law reform
along the lines proposed by the Ministry of Justice. The current system is
complex, confusing and creates unnecessary conflict. The proposal to allow
divorce only after a ‘cooling off’ period will help families focus on the
future, not on an unhelpful ‘blame game’. Our new research also finds that the
Ministry of Justice is right to propose removing the outdated right to defend a
divorce.”

The Government has published its review of the effects of
the legal aid cuts introduced in 2013 by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and
Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’). The review concedes that LASPO was
“not entirely successful at discouraging unnecessary and adversarial litigation
at public expense”, and that there is “limited quantitative evidence to
demonstrate” that money saved by cutting legal aid simply transferred costs to
other departments. To deal with the problems identified by the review the Government
has announced a ‘Legal Support Action Plan’, including “An investment of up to
£5 million in developing innovative technologies and testing new methods of
delivering support”. An additional £3 million will also be invested over the
next two years to support those representing themselves through the court
system. Legal aid will also be restored for a few limited cases involving children.
Justice Minister Lucy Frazer, commented: “Legal aid will continue to play an
important role and we are committed to ensuring people can access the help they
need into the future. However, in seeking to bolster legal aid as a key part of
helping people with a diverse range of problems, we are clear that there is
much to do aside from legal aid, so we are emphasising the need for new
technologies and new ideas to catch people early, before their problems
escalate to the courtroom.” Resolution, the association of family lawyers, called
the review “a welcome first step”, but said that more must be done to reverse
the damage caused by the cuts.

And finally, the latest figures for care applications and
private law demand, for January 2019, have been published by the Children and
Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that
looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings. In that
month the service received a total of 1,051 new care applications. This figure
is 10.2% (120 applications) lower than January 2018. As to private law demand,
Cafcass received a total of 3,636 new cases during January 2019. This is 3.6%
(127 cases) higher than January 2018, and third highest January on record.