A relocation, Cafcass figures and legal aid cuts: The last week in family law

The High Court has ruled that a father can relocate with his two teenaged sons to Switzerland. The boys, aged 15 and 13, were living in England with their mother but both expressed a clear wish to live with their father in Switzerland. Very unusually the father, despite being successful, was ordered to pay £150,000 towards the mother’s costs. As Mr Justice Peter Jackson said: “the father has “succeeded” in the narrow sense that his application has been granted. In this case, frankly, I do not think that anybody has succeeded.” He found that the mother was entitled to a ‘substantial contribution’ towards her costs, to reflect the fact that the father’s conduct had substantially contributed to the way in which the dispute, which cost the family nearly £1 million, had to be resolved.

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for September 2017, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,109 care applications, which is a 10% decrease compared with those received in September 2016. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,637 new private law cases, which is a 4% increase on September 2016 levels.

On the subject of the rising number of children in care, Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas has told the Local Government Association’s National Children and Adult Services Conference in Bournemouth that: “The care system has to gear up for higher numbers. This needs new investment, new ideas and most of all the next generation of staff and carers to be recruited, motivated and supported.” The Association said that ninety children a day entered care last year, with a record number of children now in the care system. It said that the figures highlight the urgent need for the Chancellor to use his Autumn Statement next month to address the £2 billion funding gap facing children’s services by 2020. Cllr Richard Watts, Chair of the Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “If nothing is done to address this funding gap crucial services that many children and families across the country desperately rely on will be put at risk.”

One of the most senior family court judges has warned about the impact of legal aid cuts, and said it was “shaming” to preside over cases in which individuals are forced to represent themselves. Speaking at a ceremony to mark his retirement, Mr Justice Bodey explained how he sometimes had to help litigants in person by cross-examining witnesses on their behalf. He told his audience, which included the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, the most senior family court judge in England and Wales: “I find it shaming that in this country, with its fine record of justice and fairness, that I should be presiding over such cases.” The Ministry of Justice is due to review the impact of the cuts, but is not expected to report until next spring.

And finally, Mr Justice Baker has been appointed as the Senior Family Liaison Judge, with immediate effect. This appointment has been made by the President of the Family Division, following consultation with the Lord Chief Justice. This is in addition to Mr Justice Baker’s role as the Family Division Liaison Judge for the Western Circuit. The Hon Mr Justice Baker was called to the Bar, Middle Temple, in 1978 and became a QC in 2001.  He was appointed a Recorder in 1999 and a High Court Judge, of the Family Division, in 2009. He has been a Family Division Liaison Judge on the Western Circuit since 2011. Family Division Liaison Judges are responsible for the deployment of the judiciary and allocation of cases on their Circuit. They also have a responsibility for general supervision of judges on their circuits.