Domestic abuse, faith marriages and new law: The last week in family law

Nicole Jacobs will be the first Domestic Abuse Commissioner
for England and Wales, the Home Secretary has announced. Ms Jacobs was the
former Chief Executive Officer at charity Standing Together Against Domestic
Violence, and has more than two decades of experience working to reduce
domestic abuse. The role of Domestic Abuse Commissioner will lead on driving
improvements on the response to domestic abuse in the UK, championing victims and
making recommendations on what more should be done to better protect victims
and bring more offenders to justice. Ms Jacobs commented: “Establishing the
Office of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner shows the government’s commitment to
reducing harm and improving the lives of those who experience domestic abuse.
It is an honour and a privilege to be appointed as the first Commissioner and I
intend to raise the voices of victims and survivors of all ages, status and
background and ensure that we shine a light on practice that fails them.”

A £30 million funding boost will equip law enforcement with
pioneering new tech and capabilities to track down more paedophiles operating
online and safeguard children who have been abused, the government has
announced. The additional investment to tackle child sexual exploitation and
abuse will help target the most dangerous and sophisticated offenders who
operate on the dark web. Statistics from the National Crime Agency show that
last year 2.88 million accounts were registered globally across the most
harmful child sexual abuse dark web sites, with at least 5% believed to be
registered in the UK. To tackle this threat, further investment will be made in
the UK’s world-leading Child Abuse Image Database, a resource that provides law
enforcement agencies with effective tools to search seized devices for indecent
images of children, reducing the time taken to identify illegal images of
children and increasing the ability to identify victims. The new funds being
made available will explore adding enhanced Artificial Intelligence tools to
the system, including voice analytics and age estimation. Home Secretary Priti
Patel said: “Vile predators who prowl the internet abusing children are cowards
who need to be caught and punished. That’s why it’s essential we give our law
enforcement agencies the support, resources and powers they need to bring them
to justice. This extra £30 million will help do this – ensuring online
paedophiles are no longer able to hide in the shadows preying on our society’s
most vulnerable.”

A campaign has been launched seeking equality for unregistered
faith marriages. The Register Our Marriage campaign has two aims: to raise awareness
of the lack of legal protection for unregistered religious marriages, and to
reform the Marriage Act 1949, so that all religious marriages must be
registered under civil law. Siddique Patel, the Deputy-Director of the campaign
and a practising family lawyer specialising in Islamic family law says: “I
believe that the Marriage Act 1949 is no longer fit for purpose for British
society in 2019. Our society consists of men and woman from many faiths who
wish to have the protection of the law of England and Wales when they marry.
Unfortunately, due to the piecemeal evolution of the marriage laws of England
and Wales, there is a gap in the law. Experience has shown that this gap has
been exploited by many to deny women the legal protection they would enjoy
under a civil Registry marriage.”

The NSPCC has announced that its helpline received nearly
73,000 calls and emails from adults worried about a child in 2018/2019, and
referred almost half on to other agencies including the police and social
services. The helpline hears from worried adults every day and night of the
week, with concerns ranging from child neglect to sexual, physical and
emotional abuse. There has been a 12% increase in the number of contacts to the
helpline from adults concerned about a child’s wellbeing, and an 11% jump in
the contacts about sexual abuse in the past year.

And finally, the decision of the Supreme Court that the
prorogation of Parliament was null and void would appear to mean that two very
important pieces of family law legislation will now continue their passage
through Parliament. It had been feared that the Domestic Abuse Bill, which
makes some very important reforms to improve the law on domestic abuse, and the
Divorce, Dissolution and Separation Bill, which aims to introduce a system of
no-fault divorce, had been lost, or at least severely delayed, as a result of
the prorogation.