Statistics, legal aid and an historic vote: The last week in family law

Cohabiting couple families are now the fastest growing family type in the UK, according to data released by the Office for National Statistics (‘ONS’). The ONS has released its Household and Families 2014 statistical bulletin, providing annual statistics on the number of families by type, people in families by type and children in families by type. According to the data cohabiting couple families grew by 29.7% between 2004 and 2014 – the fastest growing type of family in the UK. The bulletin also reveals that there were nearly three million opposite sex cohabiting couple families and 84,000 same sex cohabiting couple families in the UK in 2014. Together, cohabiting couple families account for 16.4% of all families in the UK.

The Court of Appeal has criticised a county court judge for adopting a “ruthlessly truncated” and “fundamentally unprincipled” process when he made final care orders at what the parties expected to be a directions hearing. In Re S-W (Children) Liverpool City Council had applied on the 18th of July 2014 for care orders in respect of three children. Less than three weeks later, at a case management hearing, His Honour Judge Dodds at Liverpool County Court made final care orders in respect of each child. Lady Justice King in the Court of Appeal said a transcript of the hearing revealed that “within a matter of minutes” the judge had “made abundantly clear, in trenchant terms, his determination to conclude the case there and then by making final care orders”. The President of the Family Division Sir James Munby said that it was all too apparent from the case that no dispassionate observer of the proceedings or reader of the transcript could think justice had been done, let alone that it had been seen to be done. The mother’s appeal against the care orders was allowed, and the case was remitted to a different judge for re-hearing.

The private outsourcing company Capita has been ordered to pay £16,000 by the President of the Family Division Sir James Munby, for its “lamentable” failure to provide interpreters seven times in the course of a single adoption case. Sir James’s comments highlight concern among lawyers and MPs at the way in which the court interpreting service contract is operated. Two years ago the justice select committee described the manner in which the service was privatised as “shambolic” and said it had resulted in trials collapsing and suspects being remanded unnecessarily in custody. Capita took over the service in 2012 after it bought another firm, ALS, which had been awarded the contract. This is believed to be the largest single costs order imposed on Capita for problems with its interpreting service.

MPs have voted in favour of the creation of babies with DNA from two women and one man, in an historic move which is set to make the UK the first country to introduce laws to allow the creation of babies from three people. In a free vote in the House of Commons, 382 MPs were in favour and 128 against the technique that stops genetic diseases being passed from mother to child. A further vote is required in the House of Lords. If everything goes ahead then the first such baby could be born next year.

And finally, a report published by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee says that the Ministry of Justice (‘MoJ’) is on track to make a significant and rapid reduction to the amount that it spends on civil legal aid. However, the report says that the MoJ introduced major changes on the basis of no evidence in many areas, and without making good use of the evidence that it did have in other areas. Further, it has been slow to fill the considerable gaps in its understanding, and has not properly assessed the full impact of the reforms.