Cafcass figures and closing courts: The last week in family law

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for January 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,040 care applications, which is a 16% increase compared to those received in January 2015. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,953 new private law cases, which is a 7% increase on January 2015 levels.

The government has announced its intention to close 86 courts across England and Wales. The announcement follows a consultation last year to close 91 courts. Five of those courts will be retained, 64 courts will close as planned and a further 22 closures will take place with amendments to the original proposals. Minister for the Courts and Legal Aid Shailesh Vara said: “On average, the 86 courts we are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time. That is equivalent to less than 2 days a week. It will still be the case that after these closures, over 97% of citizens will be able to reach their required court within an hour by car.” However, the closures have been condemned by family law organisation Resolution. Jo Edwards, National Chair of Resolution said: “This is devastating news for thousands of separating families. Parents and children need to be able to access the justice system. That is why it’s disappointing to see the Ministry of Justice closing so many family courts across the country. Those affected the most by these closures will be vulnerable people such as victims of domestic abuse, young people and those who rely on public transport to get around.”

The latest crime survey for England and Wales, for the year ending March 2015, has been published by the Office for National Statistics. The main findings under the heading ‘Intimate personal violence and partner abuse’ included the following:

  • The survey estimated that 8.2% of women and 4.0% of men reported experiencing any type of domestic abuse in the last year (that is, partner/ex-partner abuse (non-sexual), family abuse (non-sexual) and sexual assault or stalking carried out by a current or former partner or other family member). This is equivalent to an estimated 1.3 million female victims and 600,000 male victims.
  • There were 6.5% of women and 2.8% of men who reported having experienced any type of partner abuse in the last year, equivalent to an estimated 1.1 million female victims and 500,000 male victims.
  • 27.1% of women and 13.2% of men had experienced any domestic abuse since the age of 16, equivalent to an estimated 4.5 million female victims and 2.2 million male victims.

Overall, the survey found that domestic violence was at its lowest level since the survey began.

And finally, the government’s tax break scheme for married couples has been declared an “utter flop” after just 8 per cent of those eligible for the allowance have applied. The scheme allows couples to transfer £1,060 of their personal tax allowance to their spouse or civil partner and is worth up to £212 per year, or approximately £4 per week. The tax break, which came into force in April 2015, was originally expected to be used by millions of couples. However, so far it has only been taken up by 332 301 couples, approximately 8 percent of all those who are eligible. Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth, the Show Minister without Portfolio, has dubbed the modest take-up “embarrassing” and evidence that a “flagship policy has been a “complete and utter flop”.