Legal aid, child maintenance and Clare’s Law: The last week in family law

A legal challenge over the lawfulness of Government changes to legal aid for domestic violence victims has been rejected by the High Court. In Rights of Women, R (On the Application Of) v The Lord Chancellor And Secretary of State for Justice the Rights of Women charity applied for judicial review to quash the regulations which set out what evidence victims of domestic violence have to provide to get legal aid for family cases, which they say are preventing victims of domestic abuse from getting legal aid, even when it is clear there has been violence, or there is an ongoing risk of violence. The High Court, however, held that the regulations had been lawfully made and therefore dismissed the claim.

The Department for Work and Pensions (‘DWP’) has announced that the number of absent parents who are now paying towards the cost of their children through the Child Support Agency (‘CSA’) has hit an all-time high. They say that nearly 9 out of 10 of non-resident parents within the CSA system are now contributing towards child maintenance to support their children, with help from the CSA, and that in the past twelve months, the CSA has helped collect and arrange more than £1.2 billion of payments, thanks to tougher enforcement action against parents who previously refused to pay, as well as vastly improved processes.

Meanwhile, the BBC has pointed out that accounts prepared for Parliament by the DWP class £2.9 billion of the £3.9 billion maintenance arrears owed by absent parents as “uncollectable”. Ministers have apparently said that the focus was on debts for children still being brought up, but old debts would not be “forgotten”.

Research by the charity the Family Rights Group (‘FRG’) suggests that more than a third of children in care in England who have siblings are having to live apart from any of them. The FRG found that almost half of sibling groups in local authority care had been split up, and said that separating siblings could have “lifelong consequences”. The FRG sent Freedom of Information questionnaires to all of England’s 152 local authorities last August. Some 122 responded, with about 100 providing detailed answers. Children living in residential homes or with unrelated foster carers fared worst in terms of being placed with brothers and sisters, with almost three quarters of them being separated from their siblings. By contrast, only 8% of children fostered by relatives were split from their siblings, and only 5% of children put up for adoption.

Figures obtained by the Press Association under Freedom of Information requests show that since the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, better known as ‘Clare’s Law’, came into force in England and Wales last March there have been at least 3,760 applications so far, resulting in 1,335 disclosures. The true totals are likely to be higher, as three police forces did not release their statistics. The figures include both “right to ask” cases – where information was requested – and “right to know” – where police warn potential victims without being asked to do so.

Lastly, the Financial Remedies Working Group has published its final report. The group was established last June by the President of the Family Division, 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. The report sets out the group’s recommendations for the reform of procedure in financial remedy proceedings, for helping litigants in person, for the use of standard from court orders and in relation to arbitration.