Child protection, Cafcass figures and McKenzie friends: The last week in family law

A bankrupt individual who has chosen not to access his pension savings cannot be forced to do so in order to pay his creditors, the Court of Appeal has ruled. In Horton v Henry the bankrupt’s trustee had applied to the court for an income payments order against the bankrupt’s pension, which claims so much of the income of the bankrupt as is above the reasonable domestic needs of him and his family, thereby forcing the bankrupt to elect to receive the pension. However, the Court of Appeal held that the court cannot force a bankrupt to elect to take his pension in order to repay his creditors. The case has implications for divorcees seeking to claim against their former spouse’s pension, as it ensures that the pension remains available to the parties.

A report examining the Department for Education’s progress in improving the quality of help and protection services delivered by local authorities for children since 2010 has been published by the National Audit Office. In 2010 the Department recognised that child protection services were not good enough and resolved to take action to improve them. However, the report concludes that the actions taken by the Department since then have not yet resulted in services being of good enough quality. The report made a number of findings, including that nationally the quality of help and protection for children is unsatisfactory and inconsistent, suggesting systemic rather than just local failure; that children in different parts of the country do not get the same access to help or protection; and that the Department’s initiatives have not yet resulted in good outcomes.

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for September 2016, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, Cafcass. In that month the service received a total of 1,216 care applications, which is a 23% increase compared to those received in September 2015 and a record for the month of September. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,588 new private law cases, which is a 19% increase on September 2015 levels.

A civil partner has won an appeal against the estate of her former partner, who she claims had hid assets when entering into a financial settlement following the dissolution of their civil partnership. In 2010 Helen Roocroft agreed a settlement whereby her former partner Carol Ainscow pay her a

lump sum of £162,000 by way of instalments, and maintenance of £18,050 per annum for two years. The agreement was incorporated into a consent court order. Ms Ainscow died in 2013. Ms Roocroft subsequently applied to have the order set aside, claiming that Ms Ainscow had been guilty of material non-disclosure, by hiding business assets worth millions of pounds. The application was initially dismissed, but Ms Roocroft appealed to the Court of Appeal, which allowed the appeal. The case will now be re-heard.

The chairman of the Family Law Bar Association Philip Marshall QC has said that the government needs to take urgent action to secure the viability and sustainability of the family courts in response to the rising number of litigants and a sharp decline in funding. In an email to FLBA members he said: “Everyone who uses the family courts on a daily basis – whether as judge, advocate or lay client – knows that the system is already massively stretched ... Delay is now endemic at all levels ... This, perhaps, is particularly acute in family cases, in which there is an over-abundance of litigants in person, particularly at appeal court level. He went on: “As Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association, I call on government to take notice, act now and inject urgently needed additional funds into the family justice system.

And finally, a paid McKenzie friend has been jailed for perverting the course of justice in a family court. David Bright was sentenced to 12 months in prison at Wood Green Crown Court, after the court found that he had submitted a psychology report during a family dispute earlier this year that had been compiled by his colleague and partner Claire Mann, who falsely claimed to be a clinical psychologist. The court heard that one of the parents involved in the dispute had been ‘emotionally and financially’ affected by the case and lost contact with his children as a result. Bright had claimed that he believed Mann’s credentials were genuine and that the report was authentic. However, recorder Robert Morrison said the court ‘saw through that claim’. He also said that he said he ‘could not ignore the seriousness of deceit in a family court’.