IVF errors, Cafcass figures and McKenzie friends: The last week in family law

The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has made declarations correcting clerical errors in two more legal parentage cases. In the cases couples having IVF treatment have been the victims of administrative failures by the clinics carrying out the treatment, resulting in the fathers being unable to obtain declarations of parentage. The President has already given judgments in nine previous cases in which there had been similar anomalies in the paperwork, and there are apparently at least eight more cases in the pipeline. The President said: “These administrative failures, which have been so characteristic a feature of every one of the cases I have had to consider, unhappily seem indicative of systemic failings both of management and of regulation across the sector. I can only hope that what all this litigation has revealed will by now have led to very significant improvements in understanding and practice.”

The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for May 2016. In that month the service received a total of 1,141 care applications, which is a 23% increase compared to those received in May 2015. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,267 new private law cases, which is a 17% increase on May 2015 levels.

The former wife of a green energy tycoon has settled the financial claim that she made against her ex-husband nineteen years after they were divorced, during which time the husband amassed a fortune estimated at £57 million. The case made the headlines last year when the Supreme Court overturned a decision by the Court of Appeal to strike out the wife’s claim. On the 10th of June Mr Justice Cobb approved an agreed settlement whereby the wife would receive a lump sum of £300,000 and retain a payment on account of £200,000 paid to her by the Husband towards the costs of the Supreme Court appeal, in full and final settlement of her claim. How much she will actually receive of her award remains uncertain, because of outstanding legal bills which have yet to be fully quantified. Approving the terms of the settlement Mr Justice Cobb said: “I am perfectly satisfied that it is reasonable, and that the wife is entitled to receive a modest capital award following the breakdown of this marriage; the lump sum payment agreed between the parties fairly represents, in my view, a realistic and balanced appraisal of the unusual circumstances of the case”.

Responding to a consultation by the Judicial Executive Board, the Bar Council, which represents over 15,000 barristers in England and Wales, has called for a ban on paid McKenzie friends who conduct litigation or exercise a right of audience before a court. The Bar Council said that it “believes that the legal services designated as reserved legal activities under the Legal Services Act 2007, including ‘conducting litigation’ and exercising ‘rights of audience’, are best provided by individuals and organisations that are qualified, subject to professional regulation and hold professional indemnity insurance. We think it wrong that McKenzie Friends, who typically are neither properly trained, nor regulated, nor insured, should be allowed to hold themselves out to the unsuspecting (and usually vulnerable) public as providing legal services for reward. We therefore agree with the consultation proposal that a person who seeks to perform the role of a McKenzie Friend should only be permitted to do so where they do not receive remuneration for the assistance that they provide to a litigant. Such a control would, we think, reduce the numbers engaging in this publicly undesirable practice.”

And finally, Christina Estrada, a former Pirelli calendar model, is seeking £238m in a divorce settlement from her Saudi billionaire husband Sheikh Walid Juffali, the High Court has been told. A preliminary hearing in London has revealed that the case will involve an analysis of the sum Estrada is entitled to in order to maintain her lifestyle, following the end of the 13-year-marriage. Justin Warshaw QC, appearing for Juffali, described Estrada’s schedule of demands as “an extraordinary document – to describe her budget without resort to hyperbole is quite difficult. We are firmly in ‘gasp’ territory.” Juffali’s lawyers have offered her an overall award of £32m. Juffali had previously failed in a claim that he was entitled to immunity from his ex-wife’s claim because of his diplomatic status as a permanent representative to the International Maritime Organisation of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. Estrada is due to put her full claim before Mrs Justice Roberts at a five-day hearing commencing on the 24th of June.