Domestic abuse, legal aid and statistics: The last week in family law

A campaign whereby victims of domestic abuse mark their hands with a small black dot which acts as a silent call for help so that friends and family will know they can talk to them about abuse, has been shut down after critics claimed that it could do more harm than good. The critics, including the domestic violence charity Refuge, feared that the campaign could put the victim at risk of further abuse if the black dot was spotted by the perpetrator of the abuse, particularly after the campaign became public and well-known.

The Shadow Lord Chancellor and Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer has announced that Labour has appointed Lord (Willy) Bach to carry out an immediate review into legal aid. A Labour Party press release said: “The Coalition’s reforms to legal aid have had a disastrous impact on access to justice, leaving many without access to legal help or representation. Lord Bach’s review will look at the wider consequences of the reforms and put forward policy proposals for reforming legal aid for the 21st century. The review process will start immediately.”

The Ministry of Justice has published its most recent statistical bulletin presenting statistics relating to family courts. The bulletin presents statistics on activity in the family courts of England and Wales and provides provisional figures for the latest quarter (April to June 2015) with accompanying commentary and analysis. The figures give a summary overview of the volume of cases dealt with by these courts over time, with statistics also broken down for the main types of case involved. Key findings included that the number of cases that started in family courts in England and Wales in April to June 2015 rose 4% to 59,908 compared to the equivalent quarter of 2014, and that nearly half of new cases are divorce cases.

The Ministry of Justice has also published legal aid statistics for April to June 2015. These show that the number of mediation starts in that period is up by a third. The number of cases assessed for suitability for mediation fell sharply after the legal aid cuts in April 2013, but over the last year the number of mediation assessments has stabilised at around half of pre-2013 levels, despite quarterly fluctuations. While the number of mediation starts fell by a similar proportion to assessments following the cuts, starts have recovered more strongly than assessments over the last year and were up by 33% in the latest quarter compared to the same period in the previous year. The Ministry of Justice says that this may suggest that a larger proportion of assessments are leading to starts now than before the cuts. The statistics also showed that over the last year 64% of all mediation outcomes involved successful agreements. Of these successful agreements, the children category had the highest proportion of its agreements being successful (67%).

And finally, a High Court judge has extended an injunction restricting the reporting of details of the divorce of rock star Liam Gallagher and his ex-wife Nicole Appleton. The pair jointly had applied to exclude the press from a family court hearing in central London this month. Mr Justice Mostyn said journalists were allowed into private, “ancillary relief” proceedings (to sort out financial settlements on divorce) to observe as watchdogs, but “not to report specific details of the case”. His ruling relaxes slightly an injunction on media coverage of the case, and leaves it open for the judge who heard the case to provide further details in his final judgment.