Weekly Family Law Update November 20, 2020

Protecting abuse victims in remote hearings, a new approach to children disputes & the latest Cafcass figures

Guidance on protection of domestic abuse victims in remote hearings

The President of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has published guidance on the need to protect victims of domestic abuse in remote and hybrid court hearings.

Remote hearings, where all parties take part via telephone or video link, and hybrid hearings, where some parties participate remotely and others at court, have become the norm since the introduction of social distancing measures in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. But these hearings have raised concerns about the safety of domestic abuse victims.

The guidance applies to all family proceedings where domestic abuse has been proved or may be an issue and it has been drafted to ensure the delivery of safe evidence and full participation of vulnerable parties. The guidance provides an important checklist that should be used to decide upon the format of the hearing, including identifying any need for appropriate personal protection or additional special measures.

Report reframes support for families following parental separation

A new report by the multi-disciplinary Family Solutions Group proposes a better way to achieve good co-parenting between separated parents.

In particular, the report recommends that in any dispute between parents over arrangements for a child the rights of the child should be put first, rather than the rights of the parents. The report also says that court proceedings are not necessarily the most appropriate way to resolve such disputes, and should only be used as a last resort.

Welcoming the report the President
of the Family Division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, said:

“It should be a matter of concern for society in general to achieve better co parenting between separating couples. It is thought that about 40 per cent of all separating parents bring issues about their children’s care to the Family Court for determination, rather than exercising parental responsibility and sorting problems out themselves. This figure is both startling and worrying. Where there are no issues of domestic abuse or child protection, parents ought to be able, or encouraged, to make arrangements for their own child, rather than come to a court of law and a judge to resolve the issues.

“The number of these private law applications continues to increase, and the trend is that more and more parents see lawyers and the court as the first port of call in dispute resolution, rather than as the facility of last resort as it should be in all cases where domestic abuse or child protection are not an issue.

“For as long as I can recall, going back to … to the philosophy behind the Children Act 1989, 30 years ago, concerted efforts have been made to achieve a major societal shift away from seeing issues about ordinary child care arrangements as involving ‘rights’ or requiring legal redress. The Family Solutions Group are to be commended for mounting a strong case for major change; the courts can only do so much, any major change requires widespread engagement and support.”

Latest Cafcass figures for children cases

The latest figures for public law (including care) applications and private law demand (mainly child arrangements applications), for October 2020, have been published by the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (‘Cafcass’), the organisation that looks after the interests of children involved in family proceedings.

In that month the service received 1,569 new public law cases, featuring 2,447 children; this represents a decrease of 3.6% (58 public law cases) and a decrease of 7.2% (190 children) on the 1,627 new public law cases received and the 2,637 children on those cases in October 2019.

As to private law demand, Cafcass received 4,222 new private law cases in October 2020, which is 62 cases (1.4%) fewer than the same period in 2019. These cases involved 6,467 children, which is 61 (0.9%) less children than October 2019.