Domestic abuse, privilege, FDACs and marriage statistics: The last week in family law

The Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, has unveiled a raft of proposals relating to the treatment of domestic abuse survivors in court, including making them automatically eligible for special measures, such as giving evidence behind screens. The proposals will form part of a consultation on what to include in a forthcoming domestic abuse bill. Some practitioners are welcoming the move as a positive step, while others see it as a frustrating publicity stunt, which fails to address the issue of alleged perpetrators cross-examining alleged victims in court. That issue was previously dealt with in the Prisons and Courts Bill, which would have allowed the court to appoint a publicly-funded legal representative to undertake the cross-examination of alleged victims. However, the Bill was withdrawn when the general election was called. Katie Ghose, the chief executive of the charity Women’s Aid, said: “We know that the cross-examination of victims in the family courts by their abusive former partner is far too common … It is a matter of urgency that the government prioritises the implementation of the ban on this abhorrent practice”.

A solicitor who was ordered to attend court to give evidence in financial remedy proceedings involving Russian billionaire Farkhad Akhmedov and his former wife Tatiana has lost his appeal against the order. The High Court awarded Mrs Akhmedova a lump sum of £453 million in 2016. Within the proceedings Mr Justice Haddon-Cave had made an order requiring Anthony Kerman of London firm Kerman & Co, a long-time adviser to Russian Mr Akhmedov, to attend court to give evidence regarding administrative arrangements concerning Mr Akhmedov’s assets. Mr Kerman claimed that professional privilege protected him from having to give evidence. However, this claim was rejected by Mr Justice Haddon-Cave. Mr Kerman appealed to the Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal agreed that professional privilege did not apply, in part because Mr Kerman was acting as Mr Akhmedov’s “man of business”, rather than as a legal adviser. The appeal was therefore dismissed. Mr Kerman is reportedly considering a further appeal.

The number of councils using problem-solving Family Drug and Alcohol Courts (‘FDACs’) is to expand. Nine London boroughs have joined fifteen other local authorities around the country in operating a FDAC, with further expansion planned across the UK later in 2018. The FDAC service gives parents more intensive support than they normally get when they are involved in care proceedings, with hearings (without lawyers) led by dedicated, specially-trained judges who provide frequent encouragement and challenge as parents work on their recovery. Under FDAC, the judge works closely with a specialist, multi-disciplinary team attached to the court, who collaborate with local services to offer parents a personalised package of support and treatment that gives them the chance to overcome their problems and show that they are capable of caring for their children. Latest research demonstrates that families receiving FDAC are significantly more likely than families in standard care proceedings to be reunited with their children and for the parents to have ceased misusing substances. Steve Bambrough, director of the FDAC National Unit, said: “FDAC achieves better outcomes for parents, better outcomes for children, and better value for money and we applaud these local authorities, the courts, and the judges for taking an innovative, compassionate and evidence-based approach to family justice in the capital.”

And finally, the Office of National Statistics (‘ONS’) has published Marriages in England and Wales: 2015, reporting on the number of marriages that took place in England and Wales in 2015, analysed by age, sex, previous marital status and civil or religious ceremony. Key findings include that there were 239,020 marriages between opposite-sex couples in 2015, a decrease of 3.4% from 2014 when there 247,372 marriages, and that marriage rates for opposite-sex couples in 2015 were the lowest on record, with 21.7 marriages per thousand unmarried men and 19.8 marriages per thousand unmarried women. Nicola Haines, of the ONS Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, said: “Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at their lowest level on record following a gradual long-term decline since the early 1970s. The number of marriages between opposite-sex couples decreased by 3.4% in 2015, compared with 2014. Despite this overall decline, marriages at older ages rose; the number of weddings increased for men aged 50 and over and women aged 35 to 39 years and 45 and over.” Some lawyers have said that the statistics underline the need for legal protection for cohabitants, and for pre-nuptial agreements to be formally recognised.