Funding, child maintenance and reports: The last week in family law

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has stated that if the Legal Aid Agency refuses to pay for lawyers and experts, then the cost will have to be borne by HM Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’), the body responsible for the administration of the criminal, civil and family courts and tribunals in England and Wales. In Q v Q, Sir James was considering three cases in which fathers were seeking contact with their children. In each case the mother has legal aid but the father does not. Sir James said: “The absence of public funding for those too impoverished to pay for their own representation potentially creates at least three major problems: first, the denial of legal advice and of assistance in drafting documents; second, and most obvious, the denial of professional advocacy in the courtroom; third, the denial of the ability to bring to court a professional witness whose fees for attending are beyond the ability of the litigant to pay.” He concluded that there may be circumstances in which the court can properly direct that the cost of certain activities should be borne by HMCTS, although he emphasised that this was an order of last resort.

The last of a series of changes to the child maintenance system was implemented on the 11th of August. Under the new system parents are encouraged to agree child maintenance between themselves, known as a ‘family-based arrangement’. Alternatively, they can use a new online banking-style self-service facility known as ‘Direct Pay’. Under this, the Child Maintenance Service (‘CMS’) will calculate the amount of the maintenance but the parents will have to arrange payments between themselves. If the parents are not able to cooperate then the CMS can be asked to calculate, collect and pay out the maintenance under the ‘Collect and Pay’ system, for which collection charges are payable. Single parent charity Gingerbread has criticised the Collect and Pay system for “taking vital money from children”.

A Cambridge University academic has been ordered to return her seven-year-old son to his father in Japan, a family court has ruled. Judge Angela Finnerty said the woman should not have brought the child to England until a family court in Japan had resolved a dispute she was having with her estranged husband. The father had asked Judge Finnerty to order his son’s return to Japan under the terms of the Hague Convention on child abduction. This is one of the first such cases involving Japan, which only adopted the Convention on the first of April last.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for July 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 1,013 care applications, representing a 16% increase compared to those received in July 2013 and the highest number ever recorded for a single month. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 2,928 new private law cases, which is a 36% decrease on July 2013 levels reflecting, perhaps, the continuing effect of the abolition of legal aid in April 2013.

And finally, the President of the Family Division has circulated two reports: the Report of the Financial Remedies Working Group, whose task is “to explore ways of improving the accessibility of the system for litigants in person and to identify ways of further improving good practice in financial remedy cases … confined to matters of practice and procedure”, and the Interim Report of the Children and Vulnerable Witnesses Working Group which, as its name suggests, is reviewing the issue of children and vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in family proceedings.