McKenzie friends and online divorces: The last week in family law

The Court of Protection has found that a young woman lacks the capacity to consent to medical treatment and that it was in her best interests to have her pregnancy terminated. The woman had been in a relationship that was characterised by domestic violence perpetrated upon her by her partner. When she discovered she was pregnant by her partner she told a number of people, including her sister, that she wanted an abortion. A day or so after this she was allegedly violently assaulted by her partner, as a result of which she sustained serious injuries, including serious head injuries, comprising fractures, intracranial bleeding and brain damage. She was admitted to hospital and received emergency treatment over an extensive period, and currently remains in that hospital receiving care and treatment. The NHS Trust applied for an order that it would be in her best interests to undergo surgery terminating her pregnancy and Mr Justice Baker granted the application.

A woman has been granted permission to appeal against a ruling preventing her from using her dead daughter’s frozen eggs to give birth to a grandchild. The woman and her husband, whose daughter died from cancer when she was 28 years old, had challenged the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s refusal to allow them to transport the eggs to a fertility treatment clinic in the USA, so that they could be fertilised and implanted into her. The challenge was dismissed by the High Court but the Court of Appeal overturned that decision and will now hear an appeal.

The Judicial Executive Board has issued a consultation paper proposing reforms to the existing guidance for ‘McKenzie friends’, non-lawyers who offer assistance to litigants in person and in some cases seek to appear as advocates on their behalf. Amongst the proposals contained in the paper are the replacement of the term ‘McKenzie friend’ with a different term such as ‘court supporter’, that there be a code of conduct for McKenzie friends that they would be required to agree to comply with, and that McKenzie friends be prohibited from charging a fee. The consultation closes on the 19th of May.

Mr Justice Moor has suggested that the Court of Appeal should rule upon a disagreement that has arisen between High Court judges regarding how much the public should be told about financial remedy cases following divorce. The difference of opinion is between Mr Justice Holman, who considers that such proceedings should generally take place in public with no reporting restrictions and those such as Mr Justice Mostyn who consider that such disputes are essentially private matters that should not be made public, save as necessary to ensure fairness and to educate the public about the operation of the court in very general terms. “It just seems to me” said Mr Justice Moor, “that this difference of opinion between the other judges and Mr Justice Holman needs to be dealt with.”

And finally, in a speech to the Family Law Bar Association annual dinner the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby has indicated that a digital online divorce system could be implemented as early as 2017. Some proceedings, he said, will be conducted almost entirely on-line, even down to and including the final hearing. The judge, who will not need to be in a courtroom, will interact electronically with the parties and, if they have them, their legal representatives. The ‘heaviest’ cases will continue to require everyone together in a court room, although probably only for the final hearing and any really significant interim hearings.