Marriage, a top-up award and domestic abuse: The last week in family law

Lady Hale has been sworn in as the new President of Supreme Court, at a special ceremony to mark the beginning of the new legal year. The ceremony was a landmark for family law as Lady Hale was sworn in as the first female President of the Court, while Jill Black joined the court as its second female Justice. The swearing-in also included the appointment of Jonathan Mance as Deputy President and David Lloyd-Jones and Michael Briggs as Justices.

In a hearing in the High Court before Mr Justice Moor, a billionaire property developer is claiming that he was never married to his ‘wife’, in an attempt to protect his fortune. Asif Aziz is arguing that a decree nisi pronounced last November should be rescinded, because the marriage ceremony that his ‘wife’ claims happened in Malawi in 2002 never took place. He also claims that their marriage certificate was a fake, obtained to get a passport for their adopted child. Mrs Aziz, on the other hand, claims that Mr Aziz is only denying that the marriage took place in order to prevent her financial claims. She says that Mr Aziz presented to the world as married for the totality of the period between 2002 and their separation, and she is relying on the ‘presumption of marriage’ (which states that where there is evidence of a ceremony of marriage having been gone through, followed by the cohabitation of the parties, the validity of the marriage will be presumed, in the absence of evidence to the contrary). The case is continuing.

A Russian wife who agreed to a divorce settlement in Russia in 2009 has had a ‘top up’ award overturned by Court of Appeal. In 2014 the wife applied to the High Court in London for the ‘top up’, and was awarded a lump sum of £1.4 million, in addition to the £5.1 million she received after the Russian divorce. The husband appealed against the award, and the Court of Appeal allowed his appeal. Giving the leading judgment Lady Justice King said that the Russian settlement was fair, and that the wife should not have a ‘second bite of the cherry’, particularly in the light of the principles that there should, if at all possible, be finality in litigation, and that agreements freely reached should be upheld. Accordingly, the award to the wife was set aside.

A High Court judge has ordered that three teenage brothers who developed a “narcissistic cult” mentality and came to believe there was no point leaving home, socialising or going to school, should be removed from their mother’s care. Psychotherapists told Mr Justice Hayden that the boys formed a group identity and saw themselves as intellectually superior and separate to the rest of the world. Two of the boys even spoke to each other in a language they had devised. Concerns over the boys had been raised by social workers, who said that they had suffered neglect and physical and emotional harm due to stress, inadequate food and a lack of medical provision. Their mother, who had mental health issues, had “failed” to allow them to attend school, socialise, play outside or take part in activities. The boys have been placed in residential care units temporarily, pending a long-term decision on their future.

And finally, the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’) has published its Violence Against Women and Girls (‘VAWG’) report, for 2016-17. The report states that in 2016-17 domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences accounted for 19.3% of the CPS’s total caseload, up from 7.1% in 2007-08, when the first VAWG report was published. Of that 19.3%, more than 80% of those crimes were domestic abuse related. Domestic abuse prosecutions have risen by 47% and convictions by 61% over the last decade. However this year’s report does show a decrease in domestic abuse prosecutions and convictions compared with 2015/16, following a two-year fall in referrals of domestic abuse from the police to the CPS. Cross-governmental work with the police is underway to address this fall. Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said: “Over the past 10 years the CPS has made significant strides in prosecuting VAWG offences. More offenders are being successfully prosecuted for sexual crimes than ever before, including those committed against children … Tackling VAWG offences is a priority for the CPS. We will continue to work with victims groups to do everything possible to ensure that victims have the confidence to report their experiences and, where appropriate, pursue prosecutions in the knowledge that they will be supported throughout the process.”