Marriage, courts and Charlie Gard: The last week in family law

Older people in England and Wales are getting married and divorced in greater numbers, according to the most recent marriage data from the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’). The data shows that the number of brides and grooms aged 65 and over went up by 46% in a decade, from 7,468 in 2004 to 10,937 in 2014. However, between 2005 and 2015 the number of men divorcing aged 65 and over increased by 23% and the number of women of the same age divorcing increased by 38%. The ONS says that the increase in older people ending and forming new relationships is likely to be because they are living longer. Whereas in 2004 an average 65-year-old man could expect to live for a further 17 years and a woman for a further 20 years, by 2017 this had increased to 19 years for a man and almost 22 years for a woman. The gap between male and female life expectancy is also narrowing.

The government made more than £100 million in profit from court fees during the year to March 2017, according to the annual report of HM Courts and Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’). In the course of the year the service brought in £186 million from family justice fees charges and £602 million from civil justice fees charges. However, once spending on civil justice was taken into account, the government recorded a surplus of almost £102m. The figures are said to be a sign of the increased scope and level of fees levied against parties entering the civil courts.

Meanwhile, HMCTS has announced that it is piloting flexible operating hours for courts. The pilots, which will take place over six months in six different courts, will entail various court opening and closing times, from 8am in the morning until 8pm in the evening. HMCTS chief executive Susan Acland-Hood said: “The pilots will explore how we can use our buildings better, and give court users more options when they need to come to court, by sitting different cases at different times. Because the different slots would be for different cases, lawyers and judges wouldn’t have longer days in court – they would have similar hours, but at different times.” The pilots will take place at Blackfriars Crown Court, Brentford County Court, Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court, Manchester Civil Justice Centre, Newcastle Crown Court and Sheffield Magistrates’ Court, and will begin in the autumn.

It has been announced that Baroness Hale will succeed Lord Neuberger as President of the UK Supreme Court, when Lord Neuberger retires in September. Lady Hale will be the first female president of the Supreme Court, having been the first woman Law Lord in 2004. In October 2009 she became the first woman Justice of The Supreme Court, and was appointed Deputy President of The Supreme Court in 2013. She said of her appointment: “It is a great honour and a challenge to be appointed to succeed Lord Neuberger. I look forward to building upon his pioneering achievements, including developing closer links with each part of the United Kingdom, for example by sitting outside London, and improving the ways in which we communicate our work to the public. Recent high-profile cases mean that more people than ever before have heard of the Supreme Court, and we hope that this will help to create a broader understanding of how the judiciary serves society.”

And finally, the parents of Charlie Gard have ended their legal challenge to take their son to the US for experimental treatment. The court had previously ruled that doctors could stop providing Charlie with life-support treatment, but the case recently returned to court when fresh evidence regarding the treatment became available. However, Charlie’s parents ended the case after a US doctor told them it was now too late to treat his rare genetic condition. In a judgment Mr Justice Francis said: “It is impossible for any of us to comprehend or even begin to imagine the agony to which Charlie’s parents have been subjected in recent weeks and months as they have had to come to terms with the decision that they have now made.”