Costs, abuse in rural areas, and a call for evidence: The last week in family law

The Ministry of Justice and the Family Procedure Rule
Committee (‘FPRC’) have launched a consultation seeking views as to whether the
rules should be amended in relation to the treatment of ‘Calderbank’ offers
when determining issues relating to costs. A Calderbank offer is a proposal
that is made ‘without prejudice save as to costs’, which means that if the
proposal is not beaten by the other party in court then the maker of the
proposal can show it to the court (unlike proposals headed ‘without prejudice’
only), and request the court to order the other party to pay their costs from
the date of the offer, on the basis that those costs would not have been
incurred if the offer had been accepted. Calderbank offers are believed by many
to incentivise settlement of cases. They were abolished when new costs rules
were introduced in 2006. The FPRC established the Costs Working Group in
December 2018 to review the functioning of the current costs regime in
financial remedies cases, and to make recommendations. The Working Group are
particularly keen on encouraging parties to engage reasonably and responsibly
in settlement negotiations, and therefore the consultation seeks views as to whether
Calderbank offers should be reintroduced.

A report looking at the issue of domestic abuse in rural
areas has been published by the National Rural Crime Network. The report
reveals “a shocking picture of domestic abuse in rural Britain with hidden victims
– isolated, unsupported and unprotected – who are being failed by the system,
services and those around them.” Key findings include that abuse lasts, on
average, 25 per cent longer in the most rural areas; that the policing response
is largely inadequate; that the more rural the setting, the higher the risk of
harm; that rurality and isolation are deliberately used as weapons by abusers;
and that support services are less available, less visible and less effective. National
Rural Crime Network chairwoman Julia Mulligan described domestic abuse as “the
hidden underbelly of rural communities”. She said: “We have uncovered a deeply
hidden and disturbing side to rural life. Far from the peaceful idyll most
people have in their mind when conjuring up the countryside, this report bares
the souls and scars of domestic abuse victims, who all too often are lost to
support, policing and criminal justice services.” The report makes a number of
recommendations, including the improvement of policing and support services in
rural areas.

And finally, survivors of domestic abuse and other harmful
conduct are being invited to share their experiences of how well the family
courts protects them and their children in private family law proceedings. A
Government call for evidence has been launched as part of a three-month project
overseen by a panel of experts, aimed at throwing a spotlight on how the family
courts manage the safety and well-being of children when there is a risk of
domestic abuse. Responding directly to concerns raised recently including in
the Government’s Domestic Abuse Consultation, the review will also consider the
use of ‘barring orders’- court orders which can prevent abusive parents from
making further court applications that often serve to simply re-traumatise
their victims. It will also examine what the risk is to children and parents in
continuing to have a relationship with a parent with a history of abusive
behaviour, including where continuing contact between the parents is required
by court orders. Justice Minister Paul Maynard commented: “Domestic abuse
destroys lives, which is why survivors and their children must have every
confidence that they will be protected in the family courts. Just this week we
introduced legislation that will ban abusers from cross-examining their victims
in the family courts, and throughout our review we will be engaging with
victims across the country to make sure we are doing all we can to protect them
further. The review – ordered by ministers in May – will also consider the
level of encouragement victims are given to raise concerns, the standard of
domestic abuse information shared with courts, as well as looking to better
understand the different types of coercive control.”