Medical treatment, no fault divorce and problem-solving courts: The last week in family law

In a Court of Protection case a woman who was said to have ‘lost her sparkle’ won the right to refuse lifesaving medical treatment, following a suicide attempt. In September the woman, known as ‘C’, attempted suicide by taking 60 paracetamol tablets with champagne. The attempt caused serious damage to her liver and kidneys. The condition of her liver improved, but an improvement in her kidney function had not yet occurred. Accordingly, she was put on dialysis. The prognosis was that her kidneys should recover in due course, but she may have required dialysis for the rest of her life. She then refused to undertake further dialysis. The NHS Trust was concerned as to whether she had the capacity to decide whether or not to consent to the treatment and therefore sought a decision from the Court of Protection as to whether she did indeed have that capacity. Mr Justice MacDonald found that she did, and accordingly she had the right to refuse treatment. As he said, “As a capacitous individual C is, in respect of her own body and mind, sovereign.” Sadly, C has since died.

The No Fault Divorce Bill, a private members’ bill sponsored by Richard Bacon MP and intended to introduce an option of no-fault divorce, is to receive a second reading on the 22nd of January. The Bill’s second reading had been scheduled for the 4th of December, but MPs did not have the opportunity to debate it on that day. Meanwhile Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has urged MPs to support the principle of no fault divorce, if they are serious about reducing family conflict and the ongoing impact of divorce. Resolution chair Jo Edwards commented: “Removing the blame from divorce, as proposed in Richard Bacon’s bill, would help couples who both wish to bring their relationship to a dignified conclusion and move on with their lives without the need for accusatory mud-slinging. This outdated system needs urgent revision – a civilised society deserves a civilised divorce process.”

Sharia courts in Britain are locking women into “marital captivity” and doing nothing to officially report domestic violence, according to an academic who gained unprecedented access to Islamic divorce hearings. Judges at the courts “uphold the theory and practice of the strong hold men have over women”, and set out to frustrate women whose husbands do not want them to leave, according to the study. The findings, which are to be unveiled in Parliament next month, are based on the most detailed and informed analysis of the workings of British sharia courts ever undertaken by an independent researcher. Machteld Zee, a legal scholar at Leiden University in the Netherlands, secured access to the courts, attending 15 hours of hearings involving more than a dozen cases. She concluded that: “There are, in fact, two separate legal orders functioning [in the UK], of which one currently operates in the ‘shadow of the law’.” Amongst the cases she witnessed was one where she said that a woman who claimed to be married to a physically and verbally abusive man was told by a “laughing” judge: “Why did you marry such a person?”

The Ministry of Justice is considering a report by the Centre for Justice Innovation, which calls for greater use of specialist courts, including those focusing on domestic abuse. Under the latest model being piloted in the US, the same judge sits in both criminal and civil aspects of any domestic abuse case to ensure judicial continuity and faster processing of trials. Justice secretary Michael Gove has signalled his enthusiasm for these ‘problem-solving courts’. The report recommends piloting new “one judge, one family” problem-solving domestic abuse courts, under which the judge would hear criminal, civil and family cases under the same roof. Offenders would be monitored by the judge throughout their sentence and victims given the opportunity to have their voices heard.

And finally, in the latest in the long-running Prest v Prest divorce case, the Supreme Court has refused Michael Prest permission to appeal against a judgment summons that Mrs Prest had obtained against him for non-payment of a maintenance order. The summons required him to pay some £360,000, or face a four-week prison term. The appeal was refused because the Supreme Court said that it did not raise an arguable point of law.