Monday, December 26, 2011

Review of the Year, Part 3

Once more unto the breach...

On the 12th July the Government published its response to the Green Paper consultation on the future of child maintenance. The most controversial proposal, of course, is the introduction of charging for using the statutory scheme, but the Government remained adamant, saying that it would encourage parents to agree child maintenance arrangements. Yes, especially if you can't afford the fees...

On the very next day, we had another Government response, this time to Professor Eileen Munro’s recommendations to reform the child protection system. The Government confirmed its intention to "build a system focused on the needs, views and experiences of vulnerable children" and that it would "reduce central regulation and prescription and place greater trust and responsibility in skilled professionals and local leaders to bring about long-term reform".

To complete a busy week, on the following day the Justice Committee published its report on the operation of the Family Courts, one of the highlights of which was the somewhat less than surprising warning that courts are going to have to make adjustments to cope with more litigants in person as a result of cuts to legal aid. Good job we have these clever MPs to tell us things like this...

Moving on, the business of divorce in this country staggered into the twenty-first century with the launch by Mills & Reeve LLP of its Divorce UK iPhone app, aimed at helping users navigate their way through marriage breakdown, separation or divorce. According to the App Store, customers who 'bought' the app (it's actually free) also bought Tesco groceries - a precursor of Tesco Law, perhaps?

The flow of serious family law news somewhat dried up for the silly season. We did have some brief excitement over the Vicky Haigh case, but August was notable primarily for rather more frivolous stuff, such as the Malaysian man who is suing his former fiancĂ©e for more than $360,000 (£219,000) for leaving him six hours before their wedding, and the man who dumped a 20-tonne boulder on his ex-wife's lawn (picture).

Otherwise, Grant Thornton published its eighth annual matrimonial survey. The survey (which has nothing at all to do with getting publicity for Grant Thornton) "looks at the divorce arena in detail as well as the key issues in the forefront of the minds of family solicitors", by canvassing the opinions of 101 of the UK’s 'leading family lawyers'. As I reported, opinions were divided as to the most important nugget of information to take from the survey, ranging from fewer couples apparently thinking that an affair was a reason to divorce, to the assertion by the Daily Mail that, due to human rights laws, a third of husbands were getting away with hiding their assets from their wives, or something like that.

Back to more serious things, September began with the news that the Government had shelved the Law Commission's recommendations to give property rights to cohabitees. In a brief written statement by Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly it was announced that the Government had "carefully considered the recommendations of this thorough report" and also research on similar legislation which the much more advanced Scots had passed in 2006, and decided not to take forward the Law Commission's recommendations for reform of cohabitation law in this parliamentary term. Some will say good riddance, others that it was an opportunity missed.

One of the latter were the Law Society, which responded firstly by issuing a press release plugging the benefits of cohabitation agreements (why miss a marketing opportunity?) and secondly by issuing another press release three weeks later, condemning the Government's decision.

Meanwhile, I began writing my regular weekly In Practice posts, looking at the area of professional practice and regulation. To be honest, I didn't expect to enjoy writing about such a subject as much as I have. One of the first news stories I dealt with was the implementation of mySRA, the new online system by which solicitors and other legal services providers have to 'interact' (their word) with the SRA. The implementation did not exactly go to plan...

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