Civil partnerships, domestic violence and court bundles: The last week in family law

A couple who wish to challenge the ban on heterosexual civil partnerships has been granted permission to pursue their application by the High Court. The judicial review proceedings have been instituted by Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, who wish to register their union as a civil partnership, rather than marry. Ms Steinfeld said: “We think that everybody should be treated equally under the law. As it stands in the UK you can choose whether or not to enter into a marriage or a civil partnership. If you are an opposite sex couple you don’t have that choice, and if you want to access the legal rights and responsibilities and protections – you have to get married.”

SafeLives, the domestic abuse charity, has called for victims of domestic violence to be identified and given help much faster than is currently the case. According to a study by the charity, victims of domestic violence are abused for almost three years before they get the help they need, and some are subjected to more than fifty incidents during that time. Diana Barran, the chief executive of SafeLives said: “Time and time again no one spots domestic abuse, even when victims and their children come into contact with many different public agencies. It’s not acceptable that victims should have to try to get help repeatedly. This leaves victims living in fear and danger and risks lifelong harm to their children.”

The House of Lords has approved legislation allowing for the creation of babies from three people, making the United Kingdom the first country to explicitly allow the procedure. It is hoped that the legislation will prevent 150 children a year suffering from mitochondrial disease, or mitochondrial failure.

President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has said that surplus court documents will be destroyed without notice if lawyers cannot keep to practice directions on bundle sizes. Practice Direction 27A states that unless the court has directed otherwise, parties can submit a bundle of no more than 350 sides of text. Writing in a judgment in a care proceedings case, Sir James said that this direction was ‘routinely ignored’, with lawyers often bringing a second bundle with them to court. “This practice must stop and I have taken practical steps to stop it,” he said.

In a separate development, Sir James has outlined research to be undertaken by the Ministry of Justice on litigants in person accused of domestic abuse cross-examining vulnerable or intimidated witnesses in private family proceedings. The research study will explore the powers available to manage these cases and seek to establish what else could be considered to support both the management of the cases and protection of vulnerable witnesses.

A father who is a UKIP candidate has won an appeal against a prohibited steps order that he should not involve his children in political activities. In Re A and B (Prohibited Steps Order at Dispute Resolution Appointment) His Honour Judge Wildblood QC heard that the order was made by a district judge at a dispute resolution appointment involving five children, and related to the two youngest children, both of whom are under ten years of age. Judge Wildblood determined that the decision of the district judge was procedurally irregular and could not stand. He therefore allowed the appeal and directed that there be a rehearing.

The Department for Education has announced that the number of children adopted by lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (‘LGBT’) couples and individuals has reached record highs over the last 12 months, with over 480 children placed in stable homes in the last year. The news comes as adopters and foster carers get ready to celebrate LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week 2015 – a week-long event which ‘marks the selfless dedication and contributions made by LGBT adopters and foster carers to some of the most vulnerable children.’
And finally, a High Court judge has told a husband in a multimillion-pound divorce battle: “I am not sure you and I are on the same planet.” Mr Justice Holman made the comment after the husband argued in court that his estranged wife should not receive a penny from him, despite his having a fortune of some £150 million.