Legal aid, Cafcass and civil partnership conversion: The last week in family law

The legal aid bill is being reduced by £300m without research into the potential effect of the cuts, the most senior civil servant at the Ministry of Justice has admitted. The Ministry’s permanent secretary Ursula Brennan told MPs that the ministry had not assessed the impact of the cuts because of the haste with which the cuts had been brought in. she told the Commons public accounts committee that: “The Government was explicit it needed to make these changes swiftly. It was not possible to do research about the current regime”.

President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has warned that the lack of legal aid risks undermining positive outcomes for children and parents. Speaking at the AGM of fathers’ rights group Families Need Fathers, he said: “It would be idle to imagine that the process in private law cases has not been affected by the fact that legal aid is simply not available unless there is an allegation of domestic violence. And that of course produces another problem because the consequence of that is – and we have seen it in number of cases and I have given judgments on this – we are increasingly seeing cases where the woman – usually but not always the woman – who alleges domestic violence has legal aid and her partner does not. That simply produces further problems. It produces problems for the partner, typically the man. It produces problems for the judge. Most importantly of all, it produces problems for the child because, as I repeatedly say, unless both parents have a fair process then the child is not having a fair process and if the parents don’t have a fair process and the child doesn’t have a fair process then the risk one is running is not only injustice to the parent but injustice and worse to the child.”

A high court judge has ruled that the son of two devout Jehovah’s Witnesses can be given a blood transfusion despite religious objections from his parents. Mr Justice Moylan was told by doctors that the boy had suffered severe burns in an accident and might need a blood transfusion. He ruled that despite the deeply held views of the child’s parents, he was  satisfied that it was in the child’s best interests both for him to receive skin grafts and for him to receive blood transfusions if they were clinically indicated.

A judge has taken the unusual step of removing most case documents from court and giving the parties a final ultimatum to settle their separation dispute. In the case Seagrove v Sullivan, Mr Justice Holman complained of the “phenomenal amount of documentation”, including five large lever arch bundles of documents comprising over 2,000 pages, “two large bundles and one more slender bundle containing no less than 32 authorities” and, as if that were not bad enough, an additional five large lever arch files of additional documents, comprising another 1,500 pages. Mr Justice Holman ordered that if the parties were not able to settle the case then they must come back to the court the next day with one bundle of just 300 pages. The parties settled the case.

Cafcass has published its latest figures for care applications and private law demand, for November 2014. In that month Cafcass received a total of 885 care applications, representing a 7% increase compared to those received in November 2013. As to private law demand, Cafcass received a total of 3,171 new private law cases, which is a 9% decrease on November 2013 levels, reflecting perhaps the continuing effect of the abolition of legal aid in April 2013.

And finally, from the 10th of December same sex couples who have entered civil partnerships can convert them into marriages. It is anticipated that many of the 60,000 civil partnerships formed over the past decade will be converted into marriages.