Domestic violence, a serious case review and a new Lord Chancellor: The last week in family law

The Department for Work and Pensions has published a guide about services they provide for people who are victims of domestic violence and abuse. The information contained in the guide includes special conditions for Housing Benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Universal Credit, the benefit cap, removal of the spare room subsidy, Discretionary Housing Payments, Migrant partner support and remission of the Child Maintenance Service application fee. You can find the guide here.

Wolverhampton Safeguarding Children’s Board has published the findings of a Serious Case Review into the murder of a child by his mother’s partner. The toddler, who was two years and nine months old and is referred to as Child G in the review, died on the 22nd of November 2016. Child G’s mother came to London from the Caribbean in 2003 as a child to join her family. As an adult, she had no recourse to public funds, meaning she was not entitled to benefits or social housing, could not hold a driving license, or open a bank account, go to college or university or gain employment. The Serious Case Review was commissioned by Wolverhampton Safeguarding Children Board to ascertain the involvement of agencies with Child G and his family and determine what lessons could be learned. The Review has called for improvements in the way councils assess the risk of domestic abuse to children. Linda Sanders, Independent Chair of Wolverhampton Safeguarding Children Board, said: “[the Review] highlights a number of areas of good practice by professionals and community and voluntary organisations who worked with the family in London and Wolverhampton. But it also raises important questions about how professionals assess the risk of domestic violence and the implications that having no right to remain and no recourse to public funds have on the lives of the families they work with.”

Victim support groups are urging MPs to back a new law granting the police powers to establish whether a serious offender has a new partner, and if so to inform them of his previous convictions. The call comes after the jailing of serial killer Theodore Johnson for the murder of his former girlfriend, Angela Best. Johnson, who was sentenced to life with a minimum of 26 years, was first convicted of manslaughter in 1981 after throwing his then wife, Yvonne Johnson, off a ninth-floor balcony in Wolverhampton. In 1992 he strangled a second partner, Yvonne Bennett, and pleaded guilty to manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility because of depression and a personality disorder. He was detained in a psychiatric hospital for just two years before being released back into the community, on condition that he agree to supervision in the community and to alert doctors and social workers if he formed any new relationships, something he repeatedly failed to do.

Changes to evidence requirements in private family law disputes came into effect on the 8th of January. There will no longer be a time limit on abuse evidence, which previously stood at five years. Additionally, the range of documents accepted as evidence of abuse has been widened to include statements from domestic violence support organisations and housing support officers. Former Justice Minister Dominic Raab said: “We have listened to victims’ groups and carefully reviewed the criteria for legal aid for victims of domestic abuse in family cases. Today’s changes will ensure that vulnerable women and children get legal support, so their voice is properly heard in court. Legal aid is available to people involved in private family disputes if they are victims, or are at risk of becoming victims, of domestic violence or child abuse. To qualify, applicants must provide objective evidence of the abuse while their case is also subject to means and merits tests.”

And finally, David Gauke MP has been named as Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, as part of the government reshuffle. He will be the sixth incumbent in the post in six years, and the first ever solicitor in the role. In a statement following his appointment, Mr Gauke said: “Justice is the cornerstone of our democracy and a key part of a fairer society. That is why I am delighted to be taking up the position of secretary of state for justice and the vital role of Lord Chancellor. I am looking forward to meeting experts and front-line staff to drive the crucial work started by my predecessors, to reform our prisons and courts, uphold the rule of law, and promote our world-leading legal services.”