Cinderella law, a World Cup warning and reform: The last week in family law

The Queen’s Speech setting out the government’s legislative plans for the next session included a Serious Crime Bill. The Bill will introduce a so-called ‘Cinderella Law’ which will clarify the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to make it explicit that cruelty which is likely to cause psychological harm to a child is an offence, as well as cruelty likely to cause physical harm.

Police are issuing personal warnings to men and women with a record of domestic violence in the run-up to England’s first World Cup game, acting on evidence that abuse against wives, girlfriends and partners spikes dramatically in the aftermath of matches – whether the team wins or loses. The most detailed research into the links between the football World Cup and domestic abuse rates has revealed that in one force area in England and Wales, violent incidents increased by 38% when England lost – but also rose by 26% when they won. The research, by Lancaster University criminologist Dr Stuart Kirby, a former police officer, monitored police reports of domestic violence during the last three World Cups in 2002, 2006 and 2010.

A British woman who claims she was secretly married to King Fahd of Saudi Arabia has won a key victory in a multi-million pound legal battle as the High Court rejected a “state immunity” claim by the late monarch’s son. Janan Harb told the High Court in London that she married King Fahd when he was a prince in 1968, but that she was forced to leave the country several years later, before he ascended to the throne. She claims she is owed a lump sum of £12 million which was promised to her 11 years ago, plus the ownership of two high-value apartments in central London. Lawyers for Prince Abdul Aziz, the king’s son, argued he had “state immunity” and the court had no jurisdiction to try Mrs Harb’s claim, but Mrs Justice Rose threw out the prince’s argument, thereby opening the way for a full hearing.

The President of the Family Division has asked the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, to explain how a children dispute case can proceed without legal aid. In a judgment that effectively challenges the Ministry of Justice’s policy of removing public funding for most private family law cases Sir James Munby has had to adjourn a case because he has reached a legal dead end. In the case, identified only as Q v Q, the lack of legal aid for a convicted sex offender who wants to maintain contact with his son has emerged as a crucial factor preventing the court delivering a fair hearing. The unrepresented man does not speak much English and requires an interpreter.

The President has published his 12th View from the President’s Chambers, setting out the next steps in the process of reform of the family justice system. Those steps include preparing a ‘Money arrangements Programme’ (‘MAP’), which will set out best practice in relation to how the courts should deal with financial disputes, implementing the Law Commission’s proposals in their Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements project, improving transparency and preparing standard court orders.

In a busy week the President has also said that courts should consider ordering contraception lessons for problem parents who have had multiple children taken into care. Speaking at the annual meeting of the British Association of Social Workers he said that cases where mothers had a dozen or more children only for them to be taken away by social service were a “distressingly regular occurrence”. He described a new initiative being trialled around the country by the Family Drug and Alcohol Courts, which have been encouraging parents to use birth control to change their behaviour and prevent “repetitive pregnancies”.
And finally, a freedom of information request has revealed that between April and December 2013 57% of parties in private law children proceedings were unrepresented, an increase of 57% upon the number unrepresented parties in the previous year. In the period from April to December 2012 the proportion was 41%.