Litigants in person, FGM and divorce statistics: The last week in family law

Speaking at his annual press conference the Lord Chief Justice has expressed concern both over the number of litigants in person involved in private family law disputes and over fee-charging McKenzie friends. “What is beginning to emerge”, he said, “is the withdrawal of legal aid is causing a problem in resolving disputes between the father and mother over children.” He also said that there is some evidence that the problem is being exacerbated by litigants in person. As to fee-charging McKenzie friends he expressed concern that they were giving legal advice that was wrong and were “preying on vulnerable people. He said that there is a real risk of exploitation or of giving advice the person wants to hear, not advice that they do not want to hear, although he stopped short of calling for the reintroduction of legal aid to cover cases involving disputes over children.

The Home Secretary Amber Rudd has brought together government ministers, frontline professionals, charities, campaigners and survivors to co-ordinate efforts to end female genital mutilation (FGM) at home and abroad. ‘Ending FGM: a forum to make a difference’ saw discussions on how the government and other agencies can better engage with communities to encourage them to turn their back on this violent, abusive practice. The Home Secretary and other attendees heard survivors share their personal experiences of FGM, the impact it has had on their lives and how they have attempted to move on and campaign against the practice. Amber Rudd said: “FGM is a devastating act of violence that no woman or girl should ever have to suffer. I am proud that this government is taking world-leading action to tackle this horrendous crime, but there is more to do. We are still yet to see a perpetrator brought to justice and I am determined to see the first successful prosecution for FGM. And most importantly, we need to protect women and girls by preventing acts of FGM before they happen. The clear commitment shown by the people gathered here today makes me confident that we can wipe out FGM within a generation.”

A new report, Starting out right: early education and looked after children, by researchers from the University of Oxford and the Family and Childcare Trust warns that children in care are falling well behind children in the general population before they even get to primary school and this gap widens throughout their schooling and beyond. Only 18 per cent of children in care go on to achieve five GCSEs at grade C or above compared with the national average of 64 per cent, according to the government data. The report highlights numerous studies showing that high quality early education vastly improves outcomes for disadvantaged children. Previous research by Oxford University found high quality early education could boost GCSE results by as much as five grades. The report reveals that the take-up of free early education places for two, three and four year olds is at least 14 per cent lower among children in care than for children not in care, and the research suggests that this is probably underestimating the scale of the issue. It suggests that local authorities, who are already required by law to monitor and support the educational progress of looked after children at school, should be legally responsible for their early years education as well. It also calls for better data monitoring on whether children in care are receiving free, high quality early education.

A trustee in bankruptcy has failed in an attempt to pursue the financial claims of a deceased bankrupt, following the bankrupt’s divorce. In the case Robert v Woodall Ms Woodall’s former husband committed suicide after he had been made bankrupt. The trustee applied to pursue financial orders against Ms Woodall within the divorce proceedings. However, the court struck out the application, on the basis that a financial claim on divorce does not survive the death of either spouse. The trustee sought permission to appeal against the striking out, but the High Court held that the trustee’s appeal had no real prospect of success, and his application for permission was therefore dismissed.

And finally, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published its latest statistical bulletin for divorces in England and Wales, for the year 2014. Amongst the ONS’s main findings was that the number of people divorcing in England and Wales decreased by 3.1 per cent in that year, continuing the downward trend of recent years. The divorce rate also fell, by 5.3% from 2013 to 2014, to 9.3 divorces per thousand men and women. Nicola Haines, Vital Statistics Outputs Branch, Office for National Statistics, commented: “Compared with 2004, divorce rates in 2014 were lower for all age groups except women aged 55 and over. Likely factors include increased cohabiting and increasing age at first marriage. Previous research indicates a higher risk of divorce among those marrying at younger ages, whilst cohabitation may be reducing the number of weaker relationships progressing to marriage.”