Litigants in person, legal aid and rule changes: The last week in family law

A new scheme aimed at helping litigants in person appearing before the court is being launched by Bristol Family and Civil court. The scheme will consist of an information session and a tour of the court between 1.00pm and 2.00pm on each Thursday and/or Friday. It is hoped that the information session will assist the public in finding their way through the legal system by explaining technical terms, describing the court process, and offering assistance in how to prepare for a hearing. This help is for people involved in a dispute, those who work with individuals involved in legal disputes and those who simply want to learn more about the court process.

The government’s adoption drive is ‘punishing’ lower income families, according to Legal Action for Women. The charity says that its research suggests the policy of increasing adoption has not reduced the number of children in care, as it was intended to, but has increased the number of those separated from their parents. Emeritus professor of social work at the University of Lancashire Dr Andy Bilson, who has been analysing the data, said: “This is very unlikely to be due to an increase in abuse. The vast majority of this is about neglect or emotional abuse, often through witnessing domestic violence. Both of these can be better dealt with through family support and responses to poverty and deprivation. We are more willing to spend money on someone else looking after these children than in making sure the parents make a good job of it.”

The timetable for a review of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (‘LASPO’), which abolished legal aid for most private law family matters, has been set out by the Government. Justice Minister Sir Oliver Heald QC announced that a post-legislative memorandum on LASPO will be sent to the justice select committee before May, ahead of a full post-implementation review of the Act to be conducted by April 2018. He said: “[The memorandum] will look at how the Act has been affected by litigation, how it was implemented, and will consider the various reviews of legal aid that have taken place since LASPO, by bodies such as the National Audit Office and others. This will lead to an initial assessment of the extent to which changes to legal aid met their objectives, which is the test for a post-legislative memorandum.”

The Court of Appeal has rejected an application for a reporting restriction order by a former wife involved in financial remedy proceedings against her husband. Tina Norman had claimed that her financial affairs were “private business” and that there was no public interest in the disclosure of her identity. Editors at a number of media organisations had objected to Ms Norman’s application – and said the principle of open justice should prevail. The Court of Appeal agreed and said journalists could name Ms Norman and her ex-husband in reports of the case. The judges said they would outline the reasoning behind their decision at a later date.

And finally, Mr Justice Cobb has recommended changes to the court rules that apply in cases concerning arrangements for a child in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic violence or abuse perpetrated by another party, or that there is a risk of such violence or abuse. The changes include displacing the presumption that involvement of both parents in the life of the child concerned will further the child’s welfare where the involvement of a parent in a child’s life would put the child or other parent at risk of suffering harm arising from domestic violence or abuse, and amending the rules to include a requirement for the court to ensure that the court process is not being used as a means in itself to perpetuate coercion, control or harassment by an abusive parent. It is also proposed that the rules be amended to afford further protection for the alleged victim of abuse from cross-examination by an alleged unrepresented perpetrator.