FGM, court fees and contact centre closures: The last week in family law

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has said that local authorities need to be “pro-active and vigilant” in taking appropriate protective measures to prevent girls being subjected to female genital mutilation (‘FGM’). Giving his judgment in the case B and G (Children)(No 2) he said that the courts must not hesitate to use every weapon in their “protective arsenal if faced with a case of actual or anticipated FGM”. In the case social workers at Leeds City Council claimed that a three-year-old girl from a Muslim family had been subjected to FGM. Sir James said that he thought it was the first time that allegations of FGM had arisen in care proceedings and described the case as “unusual and complex”. He concluded that the council had not proved that the child had been, or was at risk of being, subjected to FGM.

LGBT domestic violence charity Broken Rainbow’s has said that its helpline may have to close after it failed to secure government funding. The helpline can currently only afford to have one person manning it at a time, meaning callers often cannot get through and may be discouraged from trying again. LGBT people are twice as likely to experience domestic abuse and half of all victims say they don’t know where to access support.

The Ministry of Justice has dropped its proposal to increase the divorce application fee from £410 to £750, following an adverse reaction to a consultation on the issue. The reasons why respondents to the consultation criticised the proposal included that it was wrong in principle to seek to increase the cost of court proceedings associated with the breakdown of a family relationship, that the fee was excessive and would deter people from seeking a divorce and that it could result in people being trapped in unhappy or violent marriages.

The National Association for Child Contact Centres (‘NACCC’) has said that 40 child contact centres have closed in the last 18 months across England and Wales, and that the pace of closures is accelerating. It says that the number of parents accessing the family courts to resolve their problems has halved due to the legal aid cuts. As a result they are not receiving advice from solicitors who are likely to refer them to the centres. Last year 9,000 children used a centre, compared with 15,000 in 2013. Referrals from solicitors halved over the same period. The NACCC has launched a publicity campaign to inform people that they can access its centres without having to go through the legal system.

And finally, a magistrate who serves in the Family Court has been suspended, after he objected to a gay couple being permitted to adopt a child. Richard Page – a Christian father of two – insisted during an adoption case that it would be better for a child to be placed “with a mother and father” than with their prospective parents, who are gay. He made the comments in a closed-doors meeting with other magistrates, who reported him to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (‘JCIO’). The JCIO said in a statement: “The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice have issued Mr Richard Page JP, a Magistrate assigned to the Central Kent Bench with a reprimand. Mr Page, whilst sitting in the Family Court, was found to have been influenced by his religious beliefs and not by the evidence. The Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice considered this amounted to serious misconduct and that Mr Page should have recused himself from the matter.”