Weekly Family Law Update January 8, 2020

Justice cuts, domestic violence and civil partnerships: The latest family law news

Speaking as guest editor of
Radio 4’s Today programme, Baroness Hale, who will retire as President of the
Supreme Court this week, has warned that cuts are causing “serious difficulty”
to the justice system. She said: “I don’t think that anybody who has anything
to do with the justice system of England and Wales could fail to be concerned
about the problems which the reduction in resources in several directions has
caused for the system as a whole.” She explained that the problem was
particularly evident in family courts, saying: “It’s unreasonable to expect a
husband and wife or mother and father who are in crisis in their personal
relationship to make their own arrangements without help.” She said that in
such family dispute cases “there may be an imbalance in resources because of
the lack of access”. She suggested that additional resources would allow many
disputes to be resolved at an early stage, without the need for the parties to
go to court or stretch their finances: “It is that lack of initial advice and
help which is a serious difficulty.”

Victims’ rights campaigners
have said that domestic violence kills 15 times as many as terrorism in Britain,
according to figures obtained from official sources. The figures show that
there were 1,870 domestic murders in England and Wales between 2000 and 2018,
compared with 126 killings that were terrorism-related. The campaigners say
that in addition an estimated 400 victims of domestic violence a year take
their own lives. The campaigners are calling for the police to be given more
money to deal with the problem. Harry Fletcher, spokesman for the Victims’
Rights Campaign, is quoted as saying: “Police funding and support services for
victims of domestic abuse have been severely cut since 2010. Over the last 18
years 126 people have been killed by terror in England and Wales whilst over
1,800 mainly women have been killed by partners. This is outrageous. It is
essential that the new government gives priority to preventing and
investigating domestic abuse. Budgets must be protected and ring-fenced in the
future. The police must be given the resources to find and prosecute the
thousands of alleged perpetrators who are at large in the community on the
police wanted list.”

The first opposite-sex
civil partnership ceremonies have taken place. Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles
Keidan, who took their campaign for civil partnerships to be extended to
opposite-sex couples all the way to the Supreme Court in 2018, were amongst the
couples entering a civil partnership on the 31st of December, the first
possible day. Their success in the Supreme Court led directly to the law
change. Ms Steinfeld commented that their “personal wish” to form a civil
partnership came from a “desire to formalise our relationship in a more modern
way, with a focus on equality, and mutual respect”. She also suggested that
legal recognition be given to other kinds of caring relationships, including
those between friends, siblings and co-parents.

And finally, Families with
deep rooted problems will receive support to get their lives back on track with
up to £165 million of new funding, Communities Secretary Rt Hon Robert Jenrick
MP has announced today. The funding for the Troubled Families programme will
provide intensive support for some of the most vulnerable families. Working
with the whole family unit across local services, with a focus on early
intervention, the programme has a proven track record of driving reforms across
public services, the Government says. The funding will be used to tackle
complex inter-connected problems including unemployment, poor school
attendance, mental health issues, anti-social behaviour and domestic abuse. Mr
Jenrick said: “The Troubled Families programme will help more people in need
get access to the early, practical and coordinated support to transform their
lives for the better. This is the right thing to do for families and for
society as a whole, and these reforms will reduce the demand and dependency on
costly, reactive key public services. We want to build on the success of the
programme in the coming year, delivering on our manifesto commitment to ensure
we reach all those who could benefit from the programme – from the early years
and throughout their lives.”