Greater protection against domestic violence?

It has recently been announced that The Domestic Abuse Disclosure Scheme will be extended to cover all of England and Wales from March 2014. The scheme enables a person to ascertain from the police whether their partner has had a history of domestic violence. It has already been piloted in several areas, including Greater Manchester, since September 2012.

The initiative has been described by the police as ‘Clare’s Law’ and follows the campaign launched by the father of Clare Wood. Clare was tragically murdered in February 2009 by George Appleton whom she met through Facebook. It later transpired that, unknown to Clare, Mr Appleton had a record of domestic violence against previous partners.

Whilst the news has been largely welcomed by domestic abuse support organisations as a step forward, it must be recognised that both public awareness and use of the scheme remains relatively low. In addition, critics of the scheme say that the main problem with domestic abuse and violence is that so much of it is unreported and happens ‘under the radar.’ If a perpetrator of domestic abuse has no previous police record of domestic abuse, their partner may have no accurate idea over the risks posed to them by continuing or embarking in a relationship with the perpertrator.

Whilst legal aid for most family matters has been significantly reduced by the government, it remains available for those who have suffered or are at risk of domestic abuse or violence from their partner. In those circumstances, a non-molestation order (popularly known as an injunction) can be obtained on an urgent basis to prevent any repetition of such abuse. The breaching of a non-molestation order is a criminal offence.

For more information regarding ‘Clare’s Law’ see:

www.gmp.police.uk/…/claire’s%20law%20other%20people%20booklet.pdf

If you believe you are at risk of domestic abuse or violence, please do not suffer in silence. Our Family Department is always ready to help.

Is current divorce law fit for purpose?

In a recent conference, the retiring family judge, Sir Paul Coleridge outlined his view that current divorce and financial provision laws were no longer fit for purpose. Sir Paul suggested that the existing Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 was ‘designed in a wholly different era to deal with a wholly different society and way of life.’

It should be noted that for many years, organisations such as Resolution have been campaigning for the introduction of ‘no fault’ divorce. This would avoid much of the antagonism that comes with a divorce based upon allegations of unreasonable behaviour or adultery. Pressure upon the government to reform divorce law is likely to continue but whether they will listen is another issue altogether.

In other comments, Sir Paul also highlighted that the days of expensive and prolonged court battles for family cases are now surely numbered. He promoted the use of alternative dispute resolution measures such as mediation and arbitration as a more sophisticated and cost-effective way to resolve cases.

probate

The Office of the Public Guardian being reduced from £130 to £110 as from 1st October.

Lasting Powers of Attorney (and older Enduring Powers of Attorney) are legal documents which allow a person to appoint someone they know and trust to make decisions about their financial affairs and/or health and welfare if they were to lose capacity to manage their own affairs in the future. The Office of the Public Guardian (“the OPG”) is the statutory body which is responsible for overseeing LPAs and EPAs. Before a LPA can be used it must be registered with the OPG.

An EPA must be registered with the OPG if the person who made it is becoming or has become mentally incapable of handling their own financial affairs. From 1st October 2013, the OPG has reduced its registration fee from £130 to £110 per document. Depending on your financial circumstances, registration fee exemptions or remission may still apply. For more information regarding LPAs, please contact a member of our Wills and Probate team on 01204 535261.

skype in family meeting

Skype in Family Proceedings

The firm recently acted in proceedings under the Children Act 1989. The case involved a child who lived in England but was born to a French father and English mother. The father sought contact with the child, including direct contact in France and England during holiday periods.

Thankfully, the parties were able to reach an agreement upon the above with assistance from the court. It was also recognised by both parents that as direct contact would be limited, indirect contact via Skype would be a valuable way of maintaining contact between the child and the father.

Skype and other forms of webcam contact offer a key advantage over ‘traditional’ indirect contact such as telephone calls, letters/cards and email. The ability for the child and the parent to see each other and interact spontaneously is fantastic, especially when parents live some distance apart. Of course, Skype cannot replace direct, face-to-face contact, but it is probably the next best thing.

As with all forms of contact though, care and thought needs to be taken over practicalities. The case referred to above threw up the following issues:

• Who is to initiate the Skype contact?
• When will take place and at what time?
• What happens if technical issues make Skype contact impossible?

More recently, the High Court has shown a willingness to embrace Skype as a platform by which witnesses living outside of England and Wales can give evidence. In a recent case the High Court was asked to make an adoption order for a 11 year old girl of Tibetan Mongolian origin.

During the course of the proceedings it was necessary for the parents’ consent to the adoption to be sought. Whilst the girl resided in England, her parents remained in Nepal. The solution identified to obtain their consent was Skype. The parents were able to attend at a lawyer’s office in Nepal and the process of them giving consent to the adoption was witnessed by the child’s Guardian and solicitor via Skype.

However, caution remains over the use of Skype as a means of obtaining/giving evidence in family proceedings. In another recent case, a mother wished to permanently remove her 6 year old son from England to Columbia. Evidence was needed from a witness in Columbia and the mother’s solicitors asked for permission for that evidence to be given via Skype. The court originally rejected that request owing to concerns that the picture of the witness would not be visible to everybody and that Skype itself would not be secure.

The solution identified, and approved by the court, was for an IT company to install a bridge between the witness using Skype and the IT system used by the court. This technology provided protection against hacking and ensured that the quality of the video link between the witness and the court was adequate.