A new Cafcass Chief, a divorce referendum and forced marriage: The last week in family law

Cafcass, the organisation that looks after the interests of
children involved in family proceedings, has announced that its new Chief
Executive, to replace Anthony Douglas when he retires in the autumn, will be
Jacky Tiotto. Ms Tiotto, who is currently Director of Children’s Services at
the London Borough of Bexley, commented: “Being offered the opportunity to lead
Cafcass as their new Chief Executive is a complete privilege. I will take great
care to do it well so that the lives and futures of children, young people,
families and carers continue to be the greatest priority for all of us working
to support them. The protection of children, the needs and experiences of families
and the responsibilities of the State in this regard are issues of huge
importance to our society and for me personally. Cafcass negotiates these
issues on behalf of children within the family courts on a daily basis. The
demand and complexity of the work cannot be underestimated and I am delighted
to be able to lead the organisation and to learn from its work as we continue
to give a loud and authentic voice to the children who need and deserve our
help.” Meanwhile, Cafcass’ Chair of the Board, Edward Timpson CBE, said: “We
are delighted to have Jacky joining Cafcass as our new Chief Executive. Jacky
was an exceptional candidate and has a wealth of experience from across many
different areas of children’s services. Her unique insights, proven leadership
and deep understanding of children and families will be vital to Cafcass as we
continue to drive forward in our mission to provide an outstanding service for
every child.”

People in the Republic of Ireland have voted overwhelmingly
to liberalise their divorce laws. The Irish constitution currently states that
spouses must be separated for four of the previous five years before they can
get divorced. However, in a referendum held last Friday 82.1% of voters backed
a change to that law. The Irish parliament will now decide a new separation period
before divorce is allowed, the Irish government having indicated prior to the
referendum that it believed a two-year separation was long enough. Irish Justice
Minister Charlie Flanagan said: “The Government wants to ensure that the
process for obtaining a divorce is fair, dignified and humane, and allows both
parties to move forward with their lives within a reasonable timeframe. It is
therefore my intention to reduce the living apart period to a minimum of two out
of the preceding three years and to do so by way of ordinary legislation, which
I will bring forward as soon as possible.” Josepha Madigan, the Irish Culture
Minister who previously proposed a liberalisation of the law in 2016,
commented: “I think it’s an emphatic, unequivocal result, and, even though we
have a very low marital breakdown in Ireland, it just demonstrates the amount
of people who stand in solidarity with them.”

And finally, the number of forced marriage cases dealt with
by the Forced Marriage Unit (‘FMU’) jumped to a record high last year. New
figures released by the FMU reveal that they dealt with 1,764 cases in 2018, a
jump of 47% over the year before. The FMU is a joint Foreign and Commonwealth
Office and Home Office unit which leads on the government’s forced marriage
policy, outreach and casework. It operates both inside the UK (where support is
provided to any individual) and overseas (where consular assistance is provided
to British nationals, including dual nationals). The Home Office said that the
sharp increase in cases does not “necessarily represent” a spike in prevalence,
but rather a greater awareness of forced marriage being a crime, and an
improved data recording process. Of the cases dealt with by the FMU in 2018,
75% involved female victims and 17% involved male victims, with the sex of the
victim being unknown in the remaining cases. Where the age was known, 17.7% of
cases involved victims aged 15 years old or less, and a further 14.9% involved
16 and 17 year olds.