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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

23 DEC 2008

Family law news round-up 2009

It's been another busy year for family law. Amongst other things, the media have gained access to the family court proceedings for the first time while tension continues to mount amongst practitioners following proposals to allow even more access. Family barristers have been angered by proposed cuts to legal aid fees. Cafcass has continued to have problems following the sharp rise in care applications which has led to the President to issue Interim Guidance.

As 2009 draws to a close, Newswatch looks back on the year's family law news. We hope you have a good holiday and we look forward to bringing you more family law updates in the New Year.

January

Cafcass submitted good practice advice to Lord Laming in which it informed that the failings that caused the tragic death of Baby P were not because of systems, structures or procedures, but because of failures to implement these properly.

Cafcass also revealed in January that Care applications had increased by 66% in December 2008.

February

Figures released by the Office for National Statistics in February revealed that marriage rates were the lowest since records began with 270,000 weddings in the UK in 2007, a fall of 2.7 per cent since 2006.

March

The family law bar claimed it was 'close to breaking point' as a result of repeated cuts in legal aid pay. A report, commissioned by the Family Law Bar Association, found that specialist family lawyers are deserting family legal aid work.

As a result, in April, the Family Law Bar Association submitted a dossier of case studies to the Ministry of Justice, which showed the difficulties being encountered by family barristers as they seek to represent their clients.

After the NSPCC and the Family Justice Council also expressed its dismay at the proposals, the Government finally conceded in July that the controversial plans could not proceed without "further analysis". Lucy Theis QC, Chairman of Family Law Bar Association, said: "While making clear that the Government seems set on continuing to pursue its plans this is the first recognition that there is still some way to go before there is a properly graduated fee scheme that protects the interest of the vulnerable children and families, retains expertise within this important area and has the confidence and support of the practitioner groups."

Lord Laming published his report on child protection in March calling for 'a step change' in leadership and practice to help protect children from harm as he published his report into the progress of the implementation of reforms introduced after the Victoria Climbié Inquiry in 2003, with proposals for further improvement to accelerate systematic improvement across the country.

His far-reaching report, The Protection of Children in England: A Progress Report, was commissioned by the Children's Secretary Ed Balls in November 2008 following the death of Baby P.

Local solicitor Nicholas Longford was be elected as Chair of Resolution at its annual conference.

April

Family courts opened to the media in April, in a move the Government said was designed to strike a balance between the rights of those who need protecting and the need for transparency.

May

In May the Government announced the implementation of Laming recommendations. The action plan commits to greater openness and public scrutiny of local child protection arrangements, as well as more investment in training and support for front line social workers.

Cafcass confirmed an increase in children entering care system with the figure for March 2009 being the highest monthly figure ever recorded by Cafcass - amounting to an increase of 37.9% compared to March 2008.

Cafcass chief Anthony Douglas was summonsed by Swindon District Judge Carron to explain the delays in preparing reports for three cases before him. The judge held a live conference call with Mr Douglas lasting for 70 minutes, having alerted The Times to the occasion in an attempt to expose the failings of Cafcass.

June

The recession in 2009 clearly had its effect on family life as Relate reported a quarter of families arguing more.

Dawn Primarolo replaced Beverley Hughes as Children's Minister following Ms Hughes announcement that she will step down as an MP at the next General Election.

Katrin Radmacher won a landmark Court of Appeal case to enforce a pre-nuptial deal that protects her personal wealth from legal claims by her former investment banker husband. The German heiress worth £100 million succeeded in her challenge to a court ruling that she pay her husband more than £5.5 million. Lord Justice Thorpe ruled Ms Radmacher's French husband, Nicolas Granatino, is to be awarded £1 million plus another £2.2 million-pound loan for a home that will have to be returned when the couple's two daughters grow up. However the case has been appealed to the Supreme Court with the judgement due to be given early in the new year.

July

Sir Mark Potter ruled that family cases which involve the children of celebrities should be treated no differently as those involving anyone else's children in terms of media access.

There were serious concerns about implementation of the Public Law Outline when research by the National Centre for Social Research and the Oxford Centre for Family Law and Policy uncovered that it may not be helping to eradicate some key problems. The report's authors said that children may not be represented adequately during the pre-proceedings process. This is exacerbated by delays in the assignment of a guardian.

August

In August Mr Justice Munby was appointed as the new Law Commission chairman.

The President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, issued Interim Guidance to ease pressure on Cafcass' case backlogs by transferring some of the organisation's case management responsibilities to children's solicitors. Although the President said that the guidance "must not simply become or be adopted as the benchmark for the future" after it expires in March 2010, the Cafcass chief executive Anthony Douglas told Newswatch in an interview in December that it "needs to continue in some shape or form".

The Ministry of Justice announced that it is considering providing media with access to reports and papers filed in family proceedings. The proposals have had strong opposition from Sir Mark Potter, and several children's organisations.

A new Common Law and Commonwealth Judicial Network was set up by Lord Justice Thorpe at the the International Family Justice Judicial Conference at Cumberland Lodge.

September

Female couples gained equal birth registration rights on 1 September. Changes to the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987 mean female civil partners who use fertility treatment to conceive a child will be treated in the same way as married couples, with both female parents' names able to be included on the birth certificate.

Baroness Deech called for an overhaul of family law and in particular for an end to the idea that women deserve half of their husbands' wealth on divorce.

Cafcass announced in September that it is cutting almost seventy jobs under a restructuring plan designed to balance their budget following the rise in care demand.

October

The Supreme Court came into existence on 1 October, replacing the House of Lords Appellate Committee of the House of Lords as the highest court in the United Kingdom.

Also on the 1 October, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act came into force.

Ed Balls ignored the advice of the Children, Schools and Families Committee and selected Dr Maggie Atkinson to be the next Children's Commissioner when Sir Al Aynsley-Green comes to the end of his five year appointment on 28 February 2010.

Family policy became major election issueat all of the three major political party conferences.

Mr Justice Munby was appointed to Court of Appeal on 12 October 2009, following the retirement of Lord Justice Keene.

November

In November the government started to roll out the controversial children's database ContactPoint to local authorities and frontline practitioners nationally. The database will give an estimated 400,000 people access to personal information of all children under 18 as well as information about their parents, schools and medical records.

December

The Social Work Taskforce published its final report on recommendations to transform social work and improve public understanding of social workers. The Taskforce's fifteen recommendations were accepted by the Government.

Napo and Cafcass reach agreement to avert union members going on strike. The two parties drafted a joint statement in the face of soaring workloads and low morale.

The President of the Court of Protection, Sir Mark Potter announced this month that he is setting up an ad-hoc committee to undertake a review of the Court of Protection Rules 2007 and the practice directions and forms which accompany the Rules.

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