Cafcass, fertility treatment and FGM: The last week in family law

The latest figures from Cafcass for care applications and private law demand, for August 2015, have been published. In that month Cafcass received a total of 943 care applications, a 4% increase compared to those received in August 2014. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,954 new private law cases, which is an 18% increase on August 2014 levels.

The Magistrates’ Association has warned that criminal courts charges introduced in April ‘punish domestic violence victims’. The criminal courts charge ranges from £150 for anyone who pleads guilty to a summary offence at a magistrates’ court to as much as £1,000 for those convicted by magistrates after a trial of a more serious offence. In the Crown Court the charge ranges from £900 for a guilty plea to up to £1,200 for conviction after trial. The Association’s national chairman argues that by taking money out of poorer families’ incomes in domestic violence cases where the parties reconcile, both partners – victim and perpetrator – are being penalised, an outcome that is unjust.

Dozens of people who had fertility treatment might not be the legal parents of their children as a result of “widespread incompetence” in the sector, according to Sir James Munby, the President of the Family Division. His comments came after it emerged that consent forms, which give legal parental status, were not properly completed by clinics in the case of seven couples who had assisted reproduction by sperm donor. If couples are not married or in a civil partnership they need to sign written consents before treatment begins, to ensure they have legal parental rights. Sir James said the failure to properly complete such forms painted an “alarming and shocking” picture. The case itself involved five heterosexual couples and two same-sex couples, but it is understood that 85 other couples could have their parentage called into doubt because of inaccurate paperwork.

A judge has ordered the return of a 13-year-old girl who has been taken to Sudan and is feared to be at risk of female genital mutilation (‘FGM’). Kent social services took High Court action in a bid to protect the girl, who was taken to Sudan by her mother. Mr Justice Baker was told the mother left the girl with relatives before returning home to England. He made the FGM protection order in the Family Division of the High Court in London. The case is due to be re-examined in the near future.

And finally, the number of applications for legal assistance received by the Bar Pro Bono Unit has almost doubled over the past three years since widespread cuts to civil legal aid were introduced. The increased demand for free legal representation or advice has led to serious strains on the resources of charities and the goodwill of hard-pressed barristers and solicitors, as lawyers warn that pro bono work is not there to plug any legal aid gap. Jess Campbell, the unit’s chief executive, said: “We are seeing a 30% increase in applications year on year. The bar has always supported pro bono work and giving unbilled hours. It’s in the nature of the profession to do it. The difference now, however, is that barristers are being asked to do work that they would previously have been paid for.”