Legal aid, adoption and domestic violence: The last week in family law

In a speech at the National Access to Justice and Pro Bono Conference in Sydney, Mr Justice Mostyn has spoken of the ‘savagery’ of the 2013 legal aid cuts, which he said were worse than anyone had anticipated. He also said that the unexpected victory of the Conservatives at the general election “surely means that there is no prospect of reversal of these cuts, and that more are in prospect”. He strongly criticised the cuts in the speech and said that the prediction of the Legal Action Group that the cuts would lead to ‘an underclass of people disenfranchised from civil justice and indifferent to the rule of law’ was “slowly but surely” being fulfilled.

Perpetrators of domestic violence are to be fitted with GPS trackers to alert their victims when they are nearby. Under a new scheme, being piloted by Northumbria Police, technology will be used to create alerts if a victim and perpetrator are in close proximity to each other, to avoid them having actual contact. The Domestic Abuse Perpetrator GPS Proximity Device Pilot is a voluntary scheme, which will see attackers fitted with a securely attached ankle tag while carrying a GPS tracking unit handset whenever they leave their home. The victim also carries a handset using the same GPS location technologies. Exclusion zones are set up around the victim or locations such as the victim’s home, place of work, or child’s school which the perpetrator will be banned from entering. If the perpetrator enters any of the exclusion zones, it will be picked up by a National Monitoring Centre which tracks the equipment. They can then raise the alarm with the police’s communications centres and a call can be made to the victim.

The Government has pledged £30 million to speed up finding adoptive parents for children in care in England. The money will be provided this year to local authorities to cover costs they incur finding parents beyond their geographical borders. The funding, to be included in today’s Budget, will cover the £27,000 fee usually incurred by authorities to find parents outside their local area. The fee covers the cost of finding, assessing and matching a parent and child. Adoptive parents are either found by another local authority or by a voluntary sector agency.

Children’s charities have launched a damning report stating that Government policies and spending decisions have failed to prioritise children. Based on the evidence in the report, children’s charities are asking the Government to put children at the centre of decision-making, including in the Budget. New research for the coalition of charities in the Children’s Rights Alliance for England indicates that Government policy means millions of children continue to live in poverty, that spending on services for children and families has fallen to 2006 levels and that many vulnerable children are no longer entitled to help with legal advice and representation costs, severely limiting their access to justice.

And finally, just one in five adults believe it is easy to tell what counts as domestic abuse, according to new research by Citizens Advice. The survey also revealed a third were not aware domestic abuse can happen between former partners. Only 39 per cent of people considered financial abuse as domestic abuse, compared to 86 per cent that considered psychological abuse as domestic abuse. In addition, just two fifths of respondents were aware that making a partner account for all their spending signified domestic abuse. Just 13 per cent, however, believe that domestic abuse can only take place between people cohabitating, not between those casually dating.