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Family Law News Review 2011

Date:22 DEC 2011

By Hugh Logue, Newswatch Editor

As 2011 draws to a close, Family Law Newswatch reviews the news stories you have been reading this year. Last year legal aid reform was the dominant news topic. However this year family lawyers seem to have become despondent to the issue as, despite ongoing developments, it didn't make it to the list of the most read topics of the year.

Below are the ten most popular news topics that featured on the Family Law website in 2011.  

We hope you have a good Christmas and we look forward to bringing you more family law updates in the New Year.     

1.       Family Procedure Rules 2010

By far the most popular Newswatch commentary this year was our coverage of the new Family Procedure Rules. This may have reflected the uncertainty practitioners felt as the long awaited Family Procedure Rules 2010 came into force on 6 April 2011.

The Rules provide a single set of rules of court for family proceedings in the High Court, county courts and magistrates' courts, on the model first established by the Civil Procedure Rules.

Along with the Family Procedure Rules 2010, Newswatch published a full list of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 Practice Directions and a full list of the Family Procedure Rules 2010 Forms.

2.       Law Commission consultation on pre-nuptial agreements

Family lawyers were still clearly frustrated by the lack of complete clarity in the law in the aftermath of the Supreme Court's decision in Radmacher - which introduced a new ‘fairness' test to the enforceability of a nuptial agreement. The second most popular news article of the year was the Law Commission's consultation on the future of pre-nuptial agreements.

The consultation closed on 11 April and is now pending report

3.       New minimum standards and regulations for fostering

In March the Department for Education published a revised and modernised the regulatory framework for fostering in England which included national minimum standards, fostering services regulations and related statutory guidance.

The standards and regulations, which came into force on 1 April, provide a framework for the inspection of fostering services and work in conjunction with new statutory guidance for fostering services.

4.       Family Justice Review

Published last month, the fourth most popular news article this year was the Family Justice Review panel publishing its final report.  The Review announced a range of recommendations aimed at tackling delays and generally improving the family justice system.

It remains to be seen in the coming months whether the panel's recommendations are practical or appropriate, especially at a time when the government is making serious cuts to the justice system.

5.       Supreme Court widens definition of 'domestic violence'

In January the Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that ‘domestic violence' in homelessness cases includes psychological as well as physical abuse.

The ruling came in the case of Yemshaw (Appellant) v London Borough of Hounslow (Respondent) [2011] UKSC 3, in which a woman left the matrimonial home with her two young children and sought the help of the local housing authority. She complained to housing officers about her husband's behaviour, which included shouting in front of the children, and stated that she was scared that if she confronted him he might hit her. The Supreme Court held the officers were wrong in deciding that she was not homeless as her husband had never actually hit her or threatened to do so.

6.       Family Law Awards

This year Jordan Publishing launched its inaugural Family Law Awards to recognise the hard work and dedication family lawyers put into their practice. The event was a great success with practitioners from across all specialisms and geographical locations attending the ceremony at the Hilton on Park Lane.    

Details about next year's awards will be revealed early in the New Year, and attendees can expect an even bigger event with more award categories.

7.       Munro Review

In May Professor Eileen Munro published her report reviewing child protection. Professor Munro's analysis found that local areas should have more freedom to design their own child protection services and that ‘one-size-fits-all approach' to child protection is preventing local areas from focusing on the needs of the child.

8.       Seventeen new family law QCs appointed

It was a good year for family law barristers as 17 were appointed as new QCs. The number of family QC appointments almost tripled from the six silks selected in 2010. This year 1 Hare Court chambers secured the most number of appointments with three of their barristers selected

9.       Supreme Court Unanimously Allows Appeal in Jones V Kernott

Last month the Supreme Court unanimously allowed the appeal in Jones v Kernott [2011] UKSC 53 and clarified the correct approach to calculating beneficial interests in property where the legal title to the property is held in joint names by an unmarried couple but there is no express statement of how it is to be shared.

10.   Mediation reform 

Finally, family mediators were given a boost this year as the government introduced new requirements for separating couples to be assessed as to whether mediation would be a better way of resolving their disputes instead of going to court. The requirement was added to the Family Proceedings Rules and came into effect on 6 April.