Legal aid, financial remedy courts, FGM and femicides: The last week in family law

The Justice Minister Dominic Raab has indicated that the government is unlikely to consider funding greater access to early legal advice. In recent times there have been growing calls from various quarters to restore legal aid for early advice, those supporting such a move saying that it would not only lead to more disputes being resolved earlier but would actually save the taxpayer money. Law Society vice-president Christina Blacklaws, for example, has said: “Without early advice, relatively minor legal problems can escalate, creating health, social and financial problems, placing additional pressure and cost on already stretched public services. Anyone who can’t afford to pay for early legal advice may struggle to identify solutions – meaning simple issues spiral and can end up in court bringing unnecessary costs to the taxpayer.” However, answering questions in the House of Commons Mr Raab said the evidence did not back up this assertion. He went on: “We provide a wide range of legal help, for example in civil and family cases. Last year we spent £100m on legal help, including practical support and telephone helplines that provided advice on 20,000 occasions. There are also online tools to make it clear to people when legal aid is available, but other sources of legal advice are also available.”

Family lawyers have generally welcomed the new specialist Financial Remedies Courts, which the President of the Family Division announced last week would soon be piloted. The pilots will take place in London, the West Midlands and South-East Wales, hopefully from February 2018. The courts will be manned by judges with real experience/expertise in financial remedy work. Lawyers say that this should lead to greater predictability of outcome than at present, and that it will free up more time in the overburdened family courts.

The NHS has published statistics in relation to the incidence of Female Genital Mutilation (‘FGM’) in England, for the period from July to September 2017. During that period there were 1,760 individual women and girls who had an attendance where FGM was identified or a procedure for FGM was undertaken. These accounted for 2,205 attendances reported at NHS trusts and GP practices where FGM was identified or a procedure for FGM was undertaken. This represents a slight fall since the previous quarter. There were 1,060 newly recorded women and girls between July 2017 and September 2017. This was also slightly lower than the previous quarter. ‘Newly recorded’ means this is the first time they have appeared in the official statistics. It does not indicate how recently the FGM was undertaken, nor does it mean that this is the woman or girl’s first attendance for FGM. Councillor Anita Lower, Chair of the Advisory Board for the National FGM Centre, said: “While it is encouraging that newly recorded cases of FGM have fallen slightly since the previous quarter, it is still concerning that there were more than 1,000 such cases, including 15 involving girls under the age of 18 and 20 cases where the procedure was undertaken in the UK. It is vital that health trusts and GP practices continue to submit FGM data to help build reliable and accurate figures reflecting the prevalence of FGM across the country.”

And finally, the domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid has published its latest ‘Femicide Census’ report, summarising findings on cases of the 113 ‘femicides’ (i.e. murders of women because they are women) committed in 2016. Key findings of the report included that 69% of those women were killed by a current or former intimate partner, 75% of them were killed at their own home, or the home they shared with the perpetrator, and 77% of women killed by their ex-partner or ex-spouse were killed within the first year that followed their separation. Women’s Aid said: “By collating these femicides together in one report, we can see that these killings are not isolated incidents; too many of them follow a similar pattern of male violence against women. Many were committed in similar settings (at the victim’s home or home they shared with the perpetrator), similar weapons were used (sharp instruments), and similar relationships existed between the perpetrators and victims (the majority were killed by a current or former intimate partner). By viewing these cases of femicide all together, we can learn what needs to be done to reduce, and ultimately prevent, the killing of women by men.”