Weekly Family Law Update August 26, 2020

Support for litigants, similar fact evidence and children at risk of eviction: The last week in family law Support for people representing themselves in court

People representing themselves in court will receive enhanced legal support following £3.1 million in additional funding, the Ministry of Justice has announced.

In a joint initiative with the Access to Justice Foundation, funding will be provided to not for profit organisations across the country to provide free legal support – ensuring better advice and clear guidance for those without legal representation in court. Alongside helping litigants in person to understand legal processes and their rights within them, they will also be provided with practical support throughout the duration of proceedings.

Justice Minister, Alex Chalk said:

“This money will improve legal support for those representing themselves – helping them to navigate the justice system.”

“I am delighted to deliver this with our partners at the Access to Justice Foundation, and look forward to building similar partnerships to ensure people across the country have the necessary support.”

Mother allowed to use similar fact evidence

A mother opposing the father’s application for contact with their children has been allowed to use evidence of the father’s abusive behaviour towards another woman, to support her case.

The mother is opposing the father’s application because she says that the father has been seriously abusive towards her. She claims that the father’s abusive behaviour towards the other woman, which occurred after the mother and father separated, was ‘strikingly similar’ to the behaviour she suffered.

The similarities included that the father isolated both women from their families; that he made baseless allegations against their families to public bodies, including the police; and that he would repeatedly move home, to avoid detection by the families and public bodies.

Initially the court refused to allow this ‘similar fact’ evidence. However, the mother appealed against that decision. The Court of Appeal found that the evidence was relevant to the case, and that it was in the interests of justice that it be admitted. Accordingly, the appeal was allowed.

420,000 children in England at risk of eviction

Anne Longfield, the Children’s Commissioner for England, has warned that hundreds of thousands of children will return to school next month with the threat of housing eviction hanging over their families, unless the Government changes its mind and extends its ban on evictions. Her intervention comes as the Children’s Commissioner’s Office publishes a new report revealing the experiences of the thousands of children who had to live in Bed and Breakfast temporary accommodation during the covid-19 lockdown earlier this year. The report highlights the damaging effects eviction and homelessness can have for vulnerable children.

The Children’s Commissioner’s report estimates that 420,000 children in England are in families that are at risk of being evicted. This figure is based on the estimated number of families with children who were in rent arrears in May, and was obtained from a large representative survey of UK households. Using the same survey, a further 640,000 children are in renting families which have been using up their savings or borrowing more in order to make ends meet – these families will be at risk of ending up in rent arrears later on.

The Commissioner said:

“Children are returning to school in a couple of weeks and for most it will be the first time in the classroom for six months. They have made huge sacrifices and need certainty and stability. The economic downturn though means hundreds of thousands of these children could be a risk of eviction with their families.”

“The Government did the right thing in March by banning evictions. In the current uncertain climate, I urge Ministers to think again and continue this policy which has brought reassurance to so many families and children.”