The Government’s legislative
plans for the year ahead have been unveiled in the Queen’s Speech to Parliament
on 27 May 2015 but despite the importance of such an event, many
of the headlines in the newspapers were taken up with the arrest of Fifa
The Queen’s Speech marked the
first purely conservative legislative programme for almost 20 years in which Mr
Cameron adopted a one nation approach: 'helping working people get on;
supporting aspiration'. What possible
consequences might this have on a family lawyer’s field of work?
Human Rights Act
Is it indicative of the
fragility of the Commons majority that the plan to replace Labour’s Human
Rights Act with a new British Bill of Rights has been delayed and did not form
part of the Queen’s Speech? The Speech
stopped short of a legislative plan to scrap the HRA but it did confirm the
government plans to present proposals for reform.
The Human Rights Act implements
the European Convention on Human Rights into UK law. UK courts are bound by the decisions of the
European Court of Human Rights. The
Conservative view appears to have been that a number of ECHR decisions have
expanded the scope of human rights beyond what was intended. Recent examples include voting rights for
prisoners and prevention of deportation of foreign nationals who have committed
Introducing a British Bill of
Rights and Responsibilities’ would break the link between British courts and
the ECHR. They would indeed be radical
reforms that would impact on our work if, as had been proposed by Chris
Grayling, the former Tory justice secretary, they give UK courts the final say
in interpreting international rights laws and for the UK to leave the European
Convention on Human Rights altogether if the Council of Europe objected.
There is a lack of detail but
the Conservative Policy Document published in October 2014 indicates an intention
that there may not be radical changes for human rights law in the UK but
judgments of the ECHR would be deemed advisory only.
EU Referendum Bill
David Cameron has promised to
renegotiate Britain’s relationship with the 28 member bloc and to put an in/out
referendum on Britain’s membership to a public vote by 2017. The question that will be asked is 'Should
the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union?'
A special role in harmonising family and child
law in Europe has been attributed to the Council of Europe founded in
Strasbourg in 1949. With conventions
and recommendations it does influence family law in Member States and there
could be profound implications for our work.
What would be the future of cross-border EU cases? What of the right to respect of family life?
This is designed to enact a
series of tax pledges made by the Conservatives during the general election
campaign. Of note was:
No rise in income tax rates, VAT or national
insurance before 2020.
No one working 30 hours on the minimum wage
would pay any income tax at all.
commitment to raise the threshold before which people pay income tax to
In any family proceedings
involving financial claims one looks long and hard at the net effect of any
settlement. In cases where the resources
are limited and 'need' is the prominent feature, the net effect of the division
of income can be very finely balanced so the impact of taxation needs to be
considered. It is an unusual move to
enshrine the tax freeze in law and all eyes turn to George Osborne in July to
see what if any tax reliefs are restricted or tax thresholds not uprated
following this plan for a ban on increases.
A Bill which includes measures
to help working people by greatly increasing the provision of free
childcare. Parents in England would be
entitled to 30 hours per week of free childcare for their 3 and 4-year-olds for
38 weeks of the year under these proposals.
Under current legislation parents are entitled to 15 hours each week
over a 38-week period.
The measures announced in the
Queen’s Speech only apply to England because responsibility for childcare is
devolved to national governments.
Frequently following the breakdown of a family relationship, the
question arises as to the earning capacity of one party to the relationship and
the impact on that earning capacity of having children for whom child care
remains a live issue. Mr Cameron has
previously commented on the unsatisfactory situation 'where couples were
spending as much on childcare as one of them took home in earnings' and 'for
many second earners, work didn’t pay because the cost of childcare was so
high'. The issue of working post a
divorce made the headlines earlier this year when Wright v Wright  EWCA Civ 201 was decided in the Court of Appeal.
The wife was refused permission to appeal a downward variation of a
periodical payments order. The lower court’s earlier observations were: 'There
is a general expectation in these courts that once a child is in year 2, most
mothers can consider part time work consistent with their obligation to their
This is designed to support
working people, clamp down on illegal immigration and protect public services.
The Queen’s Speech itself was restricted to breaking news on
the expectation of a new immigration bill over the coming year. A Home office briefing reports that the three
main goals of such a bill would be:
immigrants accessing services they are not entitled to;
making it easier to remove people from the UK
and harder for people to prolong their stay; and
foreign nationals who commit serious crimes
shall, except in extraordinary circumstances, be deported.
Under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition new
powers were announced to enable the Home office to tackle sham marriages – the
idea being that all proposed marriages and civil partnerships involving a non
EEA national with limited or no immigration status in the UK were to be
referred to registrars to the Home Office.
Beware sham marriages for
immigration purposes which continue to hit the headlines – the latest appears to be
the case of Babar Khan who spent £4,600 on a sham marriage to a woman he barely
knew, at a marriage ceremony held in front of two guests. The couple gave the police 'wildly
conflicting' accounts when questioned and Babar struggled to spell his bride’s
lawyers are accustomed to change and adapt well – the Single Family Court in
April 2014, Children and Families Act 2014 and Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act
2013 to name just a few. So many of the
proposed new laws were promised by the Conservatives during the general
election campaign that they cannot be said to be a surprise to us and we await
the new budget to be announced on 8 July 2015 with interest.