Reform of the Family Courts will not work without proper funding, says prominent solicitor

A prominent solicitor has said that reform of the Family Courts will not work without proper funding because a lack of resources is the fundamental problem that needs to be addressed.

Graeme Fraser, Head of the Family department at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP and Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation committee, made the comments after widespread criticism of the Family Courts on a number of fronts from MPs.

More than 120 parliamentarians have written to the Government calling for an inquiry into how victims of domestic abuse are treated.

Over the last five years, at least four children have been killed by a parent after access was granted by the Family Court.

Graeme Fraser said: “The Family Courts have to make extremely careful judgements every day on matters such as whether a parent should have access to their children or whether children should be removed from their parents.

“The consequences of its judgements can be extreme. It is often the case that any course of action open to the Court could potentially have devastating consequences for children and their families.”

He said the key to improving the process so that the Family Courts reach the right decision more often is to ensure the Court is presented with more evidence of a higher quality on which to base its judgments.

“Ensuring that the Court has access to more and better evidence is costly, demanding time and money, both of which are in increasingly short supply,” said Fraser.

He added that the removal of public funding for the parties engaged in Family Law proceedings has also had an effect.

“Of course, a parent who is violent to their child should not spend time with their child on an unsupervised basis but determining what has happened is difficult unless proper resources are available.

“The withdrawal of public funding and Legal Aid makes a proper investigation of the facts hugely difficult.

“I suspect that owing to a lack of investment of resources in the Family Courts generally over recent years in line with cuts in public spending, many of those in need of protection from violence have lost trust that the Courts will give them access to justice.”

Fraser said that there are several possible ways forward, depending on what reforms the Government is prepared to back. This includes integrated domestic violence courts, which enable judges to sit as a criminal judge and then as a family judge, adopting a model already used in the USA.

Additionally, he suggested that to replace the safeguarding currently conducted by CAFCASS, a triage system might be more efficient in differentiating simple and complex cases so as to fast-track cases that can be heard more quickly than their complex counterparts.

However, he added: “The importance of additional funding to achieve these outcomes cannot be emphasised enough to policymakers.”

Family solicitor says piecemeal cohabitation reform perpetuates myth of “common law marriage”, as bereavement damages extended to cohabitants

A North London-based family solicitor has said that piecemeal reform to the rights of cohabitants risks perpetuating the myth of “common law marriage”, following a Government proposal to extend bereavement damages to cohabitants.

Graeme Fraser, a Partner at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP and Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee, made the comments after the Government published a Draft Remedial Order to extend the £12,980 payment to surviving unmarried partners.

Cohabiting partners are currently ineligible for the payment, which is made to surviving spouses and civil partners where the death of their partner is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another person.

Under the proposals, a partner who has lived with the deceased for two years immediately prior to their death will become eligible for the payment. Where the deceased was married and cohabiting, the payment will be divided equally between the surviving spouse and partner.

The Court of Appeal decided in 2017 that denying bereavement damages to a cohabitant was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), following a challenge by Jacqueline Smith, who had been denied the payment on the death of her partner.

“Obviously, this proposal is welcome in and of itself. However, without wholesale reform, which means introducing basic protection rights in life and on death, there remains the risk that this will only increase the widespread public misunderstanding of the law.

“The myth of ‘common law marriage’ whereby couples believe that they have the same legal rights as those that are available on divorce, means that many couples with children are left significantly disadvantaged in comparison with children of married couples or those in civil partnerships,” said Graeme Fraser.

He added that cohabitants who have given up their home and career to look after children face particular unfairness owing to the lack of financial protection if their partner walks away from the relationship.

“The Government’s recent actions suggest that it will continue to change the law incrementally. However, this may have the unfortunate effect of making cohabitants’ legal rights more complex and confusing,” said Graeme Fraser.

“If the Government considers cohabitation reform a priority, then new legislation should be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows to introduce a modern set of family laws for families not in formal relationships to ensure that they and their children receive the basic protections they deserve in a modern and civilised society.

“While news of these legislative changes is welcome, the Government must do significantly more as a matter of greater priority to help cohabiting families both during their lifetime and on death.”

We sponsor the Hendon Pro-Am 2019 Tournament

We were proud to sponsor the Hendon Pro-Am 2019 tournament at Hendon Golf Club on Bank Holiday Monday 6 May 2019.

Congratulations go to Jason Levermore on winning the Professionals Tournament with a score of one under par.

Congratulations are also due to the team led by professional Matthew Cousens for winning the team prize with a fantastic score of 16 under par.

Meanwhile, the team led by professional Neil Mitchell came second with a score of 11 under par.

The OGR Stock Denton team – comprising professional Robert Coles and amateurs Winston Kan, Rav Ahluwalia Suri Amarasinghe – were third with a score of 10 under par.

Thank you to all competitors and organisers for a fabulous and fun day of golf.