Cafcass, child abduction and legal aid: The last week in family law

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) has published its annual report and accounts for 2013-14. Among the key points in the report were that Cafcass received 10,606 care applications, a 4.5% decrease on 2012-13 and that private law applications rose 2% from 45,605 in 2012-13 to 46,465 in 2013-14, the highest ever annual total for private law cases received. The report also demonstrates the progress that has been made in reducing the duration of care proceedings to the 26 weeks target introduced as part of the Children and Families Act 2014. The report states that in the last quarter of the year, eight out of 40 Designated Family Judge areas were already completing applications in less than the 26 week target and that the national average is 33 weeks.

In the first case to successfully use the 1996 Hague Convention on child abduction between England and Russia, two boys, who were kept in Russia by their father in breach of a family court order, have been returned to their mother in London. Rachael Neustadt, from Hendon, said Ilya Neustadt took their two sons on holiday in December 2012 then refused to hand them back to her. She began legal action and a High Court judge ordered that Mr Neustadt return the children to England, but he failed to comply. Ms Neustadt went on to win a landmark ruling in Moscow City Appeal Court in November. The Russian court said that her sons had been illegally kept in Russia in breach of the UK High Court order.

Still on the subject of Russia, a Russian couple have finally got divorced, at least in this country. In May the President of the Family Division ruled in the case Solovyev v Solovyeva that the divorce process that they went through at the Russian Consulate in London could not be recognised under English law. The husband therefore proceeded with his English divorce petition, which was subsequently heard by the President. The President granted the divorce and also agreed to the husband’s request that the decree absolute be expedited, removing the bar to the husband’s new fiancée coming to this country.

Continuing the international theme, a mother has been given permission by the court to take her daughter to China for a holiday. In JXN (A Child) the father had opposed the mother’s application for permission as he feared that the mother, who was formerly a Chinese citizen, would not return the child to this country, particularly as China is not a signatory to the Hague Convention on child abduction. However, Mr Justice Baker found that the risk of the mother breaching an order to return the child was negligible, as he was satisfied that she was telling the truth when she said that she said that she did not intend to abduct the child and that she and the child were British citizens and were going to live here.

And finally, research has indicated that legal aid contributes to significant public savings. The Low Commission, which earlier this year published its report on a future strategy for social welfare advice in light of legal aid cuts, has now published a major follow up report on the economic value of social welfare advice. The report finds that legal aid not only pays for itself, but it also makes a significant contribution to families/ households, to local area economics, and also contributes to significant public savings. Different studies done in the UK, US, Canada and Australia have all demonstrated similar findings that for every pound or dollar invested, there’s a multiple of 10 in the savings produced by, for example, keeping people in their homes with jobs and incomes intact rather than having to utilise expensive crisis and emergency services.