Naming children, care applications and legal aid: The last week in family law

A mother has lost her appeal against a court order preventing her from registering her twin children with the forenames “Preacher” and “Cyanide”. The mother, who has a history of mental illness, drug and alcohol abuse, argued that she had a human right to name her children, who had been taken into care. The question for the Court of Appeal to decide was whether the court had the power to prevent a parent with parental responsibility from registering a child with the forename of his or her choice. The Court of Appeal held that it did, although it said that it was a power which should only be used in the most extreme cases, and only with the approval of a High Court Judge. This was such a case, and therefore the mother’s appeal was dismissed.
The Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’) has released statistics showing the number of care applications received per 10,000 child population by each local authority in England during 2015-16. In total, 31% of local authorities showed a decrease in the rate of care applications compared to last year, while 68% showed an increase. Cafcass has of course recently released statistics which show that the number of care applications has reached an all-time high, leading to a senior local authority lawyer warning of the pressures that this is putting upon social workers and child care lawyers. Graham Cole, Principal Solicitor (Social Services) at Luton Borough Council, said: “Local authorities face severe financial restrictions for the foreseeable future. Retention and recruitment of social workers and legal staff remains a serious problem. Those pressures are being exacerbated by the statutory requirement to complete care cases within 26 weeks and demands imposed by the judiciary to meet this statutory deadline.”
A Muslim man has failed to obtain a specific issue order giving the court’s permission to allow his two sons, aged six and four, to be circumcised, notwithstanding the fact that the mother did not consent to the procedure. The man, who was born in Algeria but lives in England, argued that circumcision would be in accordance with his “Muslim practice and religious beliefs” – and in the boys’ best interests. The mother, who did not intend to bring the boys up in the Islamic faith, considered circumcision to be an unnecessary medical procedure which carries with it certain risks for the children, both in the short and longer term. After analysing the arguments Mrs Justice Roberts refused to make a circumcision order. She concluded that it was better to defer a decision until the point where each of the boys themselves will make their individual choices, once they have the maturity and insight to appreciate the consequences and longer term effects of the decisions which they reach.
The former wife of a leading barrister who claimed she was pressured into an “unfair” divorce settlement has failed in her claim for more money. Catherine De Renee was granted £72,500 of shared assets after she separated from millionaire barrister Jason Galbraith-Marten QC in 2009. Ms De Renee told the Court of Appeal that she is “in a predicament of real need” with £50,000 in debts, and has been relying on state benefits, whereas Mr Galbraith-Marten enjoys a life of luxury, living in the former matrimonial home in Fulham, which she believes to be worth £1.6 million. However, Lady Justice Black agreed with Mr Galbraith-Marten’s argument that he had honoured the settlement, which was agreed in Australia, in full. She said that the court was not there to “provide a top-up for every foreign divorce”, and in any event there was nothing to show that the settlement was unfair. She therefore dismissed the claim.
And finally, the Supreme Court has ruled that the government’s proposal to impose a residence test for applicants for legal aid is ‘ultra vires’, i.e. beyond the powers of the legislation under which it was proposed to introduce the test. The test had been intended to ensure that all applicants for legal aid have an established link to the UK. The Supreme Court’s decision means that if the proposal is to become law it will have to be set out in a bill and subjected to full debate in parliament.