A week in family law: domestic abuse, divorce centres, transparency and child maintenance

A week in family law from John Bolch, This week it is all about domestic abuse, divorce centres, transparency and child maintenance.

Domestic abuse prosecutions down

A bulletin containing prosecution data for quarter 2 2019-2020 has been published by the Crown Prosecution Service (‘CPS’). In relation to domestic abuse, the data shows that the total number of suspects referred by the police to the CPS for a charging decision fell from 98,470 in 2018/19 to 86,665, a fall of 12.0 per cent.

Timeliness for domestic abuse charging decisions in that period went down from an average of 8.9 days in 2018/19 to an average of 12.1 days, and the volume charged fell from 67,462 in 2018/19 to 59,685, a fall of 11.5%.

Completed domestic abuse prosecutions fell from 78,624 in 2018/19 to 69,756, a fall of 11.3%. So far as I can see, the bulletin says little about the reasons for the fall, save that the increasing average time to charge is linked to “the increasing complexity of offences prosecuted”. I wonder whether it may also be due to reduced resources for the police and CPS.

Divorce centres closing

HM Courts & Tribunals Service (‘HMCTS’) has announced that three of its heavily criticised regional divorce centres have closed and that it is to begin closing two other venues.

The centres were opened in 2015 to deal with all divorce cases, taking over the role from local divorce county courts. The centres at Stoke, Wrexham and Port Talbot have closed, and those at Bradford and Nottingham are to close. The centres at Newport, Liverpool, Southampton and Bury St Edmunds will remain open. The closure is due to the increase in online digital divorces, which are processed in the national Civil and Family Service Centre in Stoke-on-Trent.

HMCTS commented:

“Our four remaining regional divorce units will remain as we reduce the legacy work already in the system. As that work reduces we will consolidate the remaining paperwork into the venue in Bury St Edmunds with the [service centre] dealing with all new cases. At that point, any legacy work will be transitioned into the Bury St Edmunds venue which will be our longer-term legacy site dealing with legacy work and the small amount of work that does not have a digital journey.”

Hmm, call me a cynic, but something tells me that all of this is not going to result in an improved service.

Transparency review

The President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane has issued a ‘Call for Evidence’ inviting any person or agency who wishes to submit evidence, advice or other material for consideration within the Transparency Review. We are told that submissions on the following questions are likely to be of particular value:

  • Is the line currently drawn correctly between, on the one hand, the need for confidentiality for the parties and children whose personal information may be the subject of proceedings in the Family Court, and, on the other hand, the need for the public to have confidence in the work that these courts undertake on behalf of the State and society?
  • If not, what steps should be taken to achieve either greater openness or increased confidentiality?

Evidence to the Transparency Review can be submitted by Monday 2 March 2020 to the President’s Private Office by emailing pfd.office@judiciary.uk with the Subject Header of “Transparency Review.”

More child maintenance statistics

And finally, hot on the heels of the Child Support Agency statistics last week the Department for Work & Pensions has published quarterly statistics on child maintenance arrangements made after speaking to the Child Maintenance Options service, which ‘provides impartial information and support to help parents make informed choices about child maintenance’.

The main stories are that between February and April 2019 Child Maintenance Options helped parents set up 30,700 child maintenance arrangements, that of these 5,700 were ‘family-based arrangements’ (i.e. agreed and arranged between the parents), and that 82% of parents with a family-based arrangement said it worked “fairly or very well”.

Interestingly, the statistics do not seem to give any indication of how well parents think non-family-based arrangements (i.e. arrangements that have to be sorted out by the Child Maintenance Service) are working…

Have a good weekend.

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