Divorce centres and a Resolution conference: The last week in family law

A judge has stressed the importance of having lawyers in family court proceedings to prevent emotional self-represented litigants behaving in ways that they might regret. In Re JC (Discharge of Care Order : Legal Aid) a father opposing an application by a local authority for permission to withdraw an application to discharge a care order could not afford legal aid as it was means tested. This would not have been the case on an application for a care order, where the local authority would seek the same result, i.e. the removal of the child from the parents. Her Honour Judge Hammerton said that the absence of legal funding for the father had placed him at a disadvantage and that his inability to obtain representation was “particularly inappropriate and unfair”.

HM Courts and Tribunal Service has produced a question and answer document to address the common concerns and queries that have been raised in relation to the implementation of dedicated divorce centres. The document explains various things including the reason for the change, the locations of the eleven divorce centres, when they will be in operation and various procedural matters relating to the change. The document can be found here.

Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has launched a national support network for junior family practitioners. ‘YRes’, which launched nationally at Resolution’s Annual Conference in Brighton, aims to give aspiring family lawyers a career kick-start through training, networking and development. YRes was originally founded as a regional London group in 1995, and has since spread to boast 23 regional groups and over 1,000 members across the country. Any Resolution member student, trainee or practitioner member with up to 10 year’s post qualification experience can join a YRes group in their local area.

Also at the Annual Conference Resolution chair Jo Edwards criticised the Legal Aid Agency’s (‘LAA’) controversial £35 million Client Cost and Management System (‘CCMS’) as “nothing short of a national scandal”. She outlined the difficulties legal aid lawyers are facing with CCMS, which was introduced as a digital means of submitting civil legal aid applications, and the continued failure of the LAA to resolve those problems, saying: “The CCMS has been beset with problems since its introduction. Resolution welcomes online working, but this is not the way to do it.”

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has declared that part of a practice direction that provides that a consent order can only be challenged by an appeal was made ‘ultra vires’, and is therefore invalid. The point arose in the case CS v ACS & Another, in which the wife sought to have part of a financial consent order set aside because she claimed that the husband had failed to provide full disclosure of his means. It was argued on behalf of the husband that the wife could only proceed by way of an appeal, for which she would need to obtain the court’s permission. However, the President held that the wife was entitled to proceed as she had done, and did not require the permission of the court.

And finally, a bishop who used to be a banker has been criticised by a judge who concluded that he had hundreds of thousands of pounds in offshore accounts. He was found to have failed to disclose “significant resources” by a judge who was analysing a divorce financial dispute. Judge Richard Robinson concluded that the man’s financial disclosure to his estranged wife had been “lamentable and not frank”.