Domestic violence funding, Cafcass figures and judges: The last week in family law

A divorcing couple who are said to have run up legal costs of £800,000 in a bitter row over a holiday cottage that they owned in a remote village in County Galway have finally settled the case. The couple could not agree who should have the cottage and when it was suggested that they might share it, or that the wife might find another property in the village, she told Mr Justice Holman in the High Court that the “village isn’t big enough for both of us”. The argument has now been settled, with the husband agreeing that the wife can have the cottage as part of a settlement whereby the couple will divide cash and assets totalling between £10 million and £14 million. Mr Justice Holman told them that he was “very glad” that agreement had been reached, saying: “Obviously I regret it could not have been sooner and some of these massive costs saved.”

New funding totalling £20 million over the life of the parliament to “support organisations working to combat domestic violence and abuse, and to support victims” has been announced in the budget. The Chancellor Phillip Hammond said that this would take the total funding for implementing the government’s ‘Ending Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy’ to £100m over the life of the parliament.  The funding was welcomed by Polly Neate, Chief executive of the charity Women’s Aid, who said: “The extra £20 million of funding announced today for services to support women and children who have lived through the fear and trauma of domestic violence and abuse is desperately needed – and warmly welcomed. It’s not a moment too soon, as Women’s Aid’s most recent national survey found that a third of domestic abuse services are running with no dedicated funding.”

The latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for February 2017, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that represents children in family court cases. In that month the service received a total of 1,134 care applications, which is an 8% decrease compared to those received in February 2016. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,414 new private law cases, which is a 3% increase on February 2016 levels.

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has told a Family Justice Council event that judges should not be called upon to justify their own cases, or other judges’ cases, except in the context of appeals. He said: “Judges explain their reasoning in their judgments. They are fair game for comment and criticism however vehemently and harshly expressed. But to challenge a judgment you go to the Court of Appeal.” His comments were in response to a question from the audience on the judiciary’s involvement in serious case reviews, which take place after a child dies or is seriously injured, and abuse or neglect is thought to be involved. Munby went on: “The principle that you do not justify your judgments is of importance. If you let that principle go… where does it stop? … There’s an absolute line. If one crosses that absolute line the potential implications are very serious. You will end up with “why is the judge not prepared to come on Newsnight or Panorama to explain what happened?””

And finally, Pauline Chai, 70, the ex-wife of Laura Ashley Boss Dr Khoo Kay Peng, 78, has told the High Court that she made an equal contribution to their marriage by looking after the matrimonial home and bringing up their children, and should therefore be entitled to a half share of the assets of the marriage, which she claims are worth at least £205 million. Dr Khoo maintains that Ms Chai should only be entitled to about £9 million. The couple have already spent more than £6 million on lawyers since their marriage broke down, and the judge hearing the case, Mr Justice Bodey, has urged them to settle their differences and reach an agreement. He told them: “You are not in the first flush of youth. If arrangements were made, you could live the rest of your lives in considerable comfort.” The case continues.