Courts, adoptions, and Cafcass figures: The last week in family law

A report into the progress of the £1 billion modernisation programme of the UK’s justice system has been published by the National Audit Office. The report concludes that HM Courts and Tribunals Service is facing “a daunting challenge in delivering the scale of technological and cultural change necessary to modernise the administration of justice, and achieve the savings required.” The report says that the Service “has responded to early concerns by extending the timetable and improving its governance and programme management.” However, the report warns that “there is a long way to go to achieve the planned transformation” and that overall the Service “is behind where it expected to be at this stage.” Auditors found that the cost of the programme has already risen by £200 million, to £1.2 billion, and the Audit Office said that: “There are unresolved funding gaps, and trying to fit savings around spending commitments and demand pressures could undermine services.” The Courts service has already reduced the scope of the programme, and scaled back planned benefits.

The number of adoptions continued to fall last year but the rate of decline has slowed, according to the latest official figures. Statistics released by the Adoption Leadership Board reveal that 4,370 children were adopted in 2016/17, 6.4 per cent down on the 4,690 adoptions recorded in 2015/16. The annual rate of decline is around half that recorded in the previous 12 months – between 2014/15 and 2015/16 adoptions fell 12 per cent. The figures also show that the number of children waiting to be placed with an adoptive family rose over the final three months of 2016/17. At the end of March 2017, there were 2,470 children waiting to be adopted, a seven per cent increase on the 2,320 waiting at the end December 2016.

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for April 2018, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,110 care applications. This figure represents a 6 per cent increase in comparison with April 2017. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,541 new private law cases. This is a 13 per cent increase compared with those received in April 2017, and is the highest demand for the month of April in the last four years.

Two important family law cases are being heard in the Supreme Court this week. Firstly, Rebecca Steinfield and Charles Keidan are appealing against the decision that they, as a different-sex couple, cannot enter into a civil partnership. They have deep-rooted and genuine ideological objections to marriage, based upon what they consider to be its historically patriarchal nature. They wish instead to enter into a civil partnership, which they consider would reflect their values and give due recognition to the equal nature of their relationship. Secondly, Tini Owens is appealing against the refusal of the court to grant her a divorce. Her divorce petition had been based upon her husband’s behaviour. Her husband defended the case and argued at the trial that the examples given of his behaviour were not such as to satisfy the requirements of the law. The judge agreed and dismissed the petition.

And finally, a wife has failed in her attempt to increase an award to her of £51.4 million, plus a share of business assets. Camilla Versteegh was appealing against the award made by Sir Peter Singer in the High Court, which gave her approximately half of the non-business assets, together with a 23.4% interest in a business which had been created by, and was run by, Mr Versteegh. The Court of Appeal rejected the appeal. Giving the leading judgment, Lady Justice King found that the case was a ‘sharing case’, in that the provision made went beyond that which would provide for the needs of Mrs Versteegh. However, she said that the fact that that was the case did not “catapult a court to the conclusion that the only fair distribution of the assets is now an equal division of the assets”.