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Family law and the manifestos of the parties at the General Election 2015

Date:1 MAY 2015
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Solicitor and Solicitor-Advocate
Legal matters never hit the big time in any election. However to family lawyers the manifesto pledges that directly affect us, as made by the parties, are of interest. They are the mystic tea leaves to be swirled and considered as a guide to government policy to come.

The six manifestos read through (cover to cover – feel my pain) were chosen as the parties who seem to be making most noise in the build up to the election – other political parties are available.

The Conservatives are of course the party with the most recent form. In fairness the beginning of the demise of the legal aid system was foretold in the Carter report, during a period of Labour government. However they must be the party on whom the blame falls, for dismantling access to justice in a meaningful way for many vulnerable people facing family law problems.

They pledge a £13 Billion pound departmental saving as well as £12 billion in welfare savings. Either category could well fall into the legal aid budget.

The Conservatives have a strong manifesto for business, with a hold on corporation tax, keeping the NIC contribution rebate and reviewing the business rates structure. So perhaps not the worst party under which to own a family law firm. They pledge to strengthen the Prompt Payment Code, so feel free to remind the LAA should they prove difficult about meeting payments.

The Conservative party promotes itself as the pro marriage party, and vows to back relationship support with £7.5 million pounds a year. They will also allow the non-waged spouse to transfer up to £1,060 where the other spouse is a basic rate tax payer, so we must remember to consider that when advising on the initial impact a divorce may have.

The impact of the 'deport first then appeal' rule on the claimant of a right to family life (or a conservatives put it 'the so-called right to family life' will be felt in both immigration and family departments.

There will be an introduction of regional adoption agencies.

Ominously there will be a 'review of our legal aid system do they can continue to provide access to justice in an efficient way'. They claim to be the protector of those suffering from domestic abuse and mention a protection of refuges. However, they are in difficulty squaring that pledge with the 2-year rule for merits test application in domestic abuse cases.

The Green party
A rather sweeping and ambitious set of statements, there is a UK wide strategy to combat domestic abuse among other things as well as a complete restoration of the cuts made to legal aid. New funding for women’s refuges as well as a commitment to tackling discrimination against women and children. It is presented as part of the joined up plan which ambitiously seeks to understand the cause and effect of many of the social ills of our time. In good news it is fantastic for those needing help at their most vulnerable moment. In bad news it will cost lots of money and we will need to raise taxes to around 50%.

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Labour Party
There are more positive noises coming from the Labour party, with a commitment to ensuring legal aid is available to those 'who most need it' and not determined by 'personal wealth'. It seems unlikely to be a pledge to restore much of family work back into scope although there is a clear hint that they will undo the judicial review reforms which could impact family lawyers.

The noises made in the ether of election soundbites do not make any promises however. Caveat emptor.

The Liberal Democrats
The Lib Dems are the only party to mention cohabitation rights as well as extending civil partnerships to opposite sex couples. They take a strong stance on gendered stereotyping, domestic abuse and explaining the law on consent to young people.

Inevitably that has fed through into the most definitive pledge on legal aid among all the parties. A clear promise to review civil legal aid, with the assistance of the judiciary as well as the continued support of ADR including mediation whilst protecting access to the courts. Quite a Resolution code manifesto…

Scottish Nationalists
Tumble weed; there appeared to be nothing mentioned that would affect the work of a family practitioner in the SNP papers.

UKIP are likley to have an impact on the election so what is in it for family law? It seems as if they will be training 800 advisors to sit in food banks and from the context of the pledge that could include legal advice.

They will introduce a 50/50 shared parenting law and a presumption that grandparents should see their children. There will also be a far reaching review into transparency in the family courts. There is a sense that UKIP are a bit purple, and so are F4J, so they combined their promises and hey presto! Legal aid crisis sorted.

Interestingly, there will be a law that states that anyone attending a faith based tribunal must be informed they cannot be forced to attend and that the ruling may not be binding under British law. That could have an impact on any cross-over arbitrating religious courts that are dealing with marital breakdown.

Casting a vote on a single issue in politics is a mug’s game. However, the policies (or lack thereof) in our professional field may have an influence on who we won’t vote for, rather than who we will.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.