Video hearings, domestic abuse and divorce centres: The last week in family law

Video hearings are being tested in domestic abuse cases, HM
Courts and Tribunals Service and the Ministry of Justice have announced. The
study by the Courts Service at Manchester Civil Justice Centre means vulnerable
people can appear before the court using a video link from a computer in their
solicitor’s office, thereby avoiding the distress of appearing in court at an
already difficult time. Video hearings have been used in six cases to date, and
feedback from those involved has reportedly been positive. Testing will
continue in the family and civil courts during the coming months and is being
independently evaluated. Justice Minister, Lucy Frazer, said: “We are hearing
that, even in the early stages, testing fully video hearings are having a
positive effect and ensuring the justice system is supporting people at one of
the most difficult times in their lives. I look forward to seeing the
evaluation of this work and ensuring we continue to improve access to our
courts through new innovations.”

Thousands of survivors fleeing abusive and violent
relationships will receive greater protection thanks to a new package of
support announced by the Prime Minister on Monday. For the first time ever,
councils across the country will be legally required to provide vital
life-saving support in secure accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse and
their children – ensuring need in their local area is met. Local authorities
will also be required to work together with neighbouring councils to ensure
domestic abuse services reflects the needs of local people – including
targeted, specialist support for BAME, LGBT and Gypsy, Roma and Traveller
survivors. Prime Minister Theresa May said: “I’ve always vowed to leave no
stone unturned in tackling domestic abuse – this abhorrent crime has no place
in our country. And today we are ending the postcode lottery by placing on
local authorities a legal duty to deliver support, including secure housing, to
survivors of domestic abuse and their children. Whoever you are, wherever you
live and whatever the abuse you face, you will have access to the services you
need to be safe.”

Questions are being raised over the future of the eleven
regional divorce centres, which were established in 2015 to handle all divorce
cases in England and Wales. In an update on developments in the family justice
system the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane said that the
centres “are being phased out during the current 12-month period and replaced
by an online system based in the new national Civil and Family Service Centre
at Stoke on Trent.” However, a government spokesperson has said that no final
decision has been made on the divorce centres. The centres have recently been
criticised both by Sir Andrew and by the previous President Sir James Munby,
for causing delay and being inefficient.

The latest figures for care applications and private law
demand, for April 2019, 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 1,084 new care applications. This is 2.3 per cent (25 applications)
lower than April 2018. As to private law demand, Cafcass received 3,719 new
cases during April 2019. This is 7.5per cent (258 cases) higher than April
2018.

And finally, a woman who received a £90 million divorce
settlement is now fighting to recover £20 million from her former boyfriend.
Mandy Gray met her boyfriend when her marriage broke down in 2013, and during
the course of the relationship the couple acquired various luxury assets,
including a villa in Italy and four supercars. The relationship came to an end earlier
this year, and now Miss Gray is suing her former boyfriend for the value of the
assets, which are said to be worth more than £20 million. Miss Gray claims that
she is the sole owner of the assets, whereas her boyfriend claims that they are
owned jointly. The case is being heard by the High Court in London.