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Update of Bills and new ideas in family law

Date:12 JUL 2016
Despite a very busy few weeks in the run-up to Brexit and its aftermath, child welfare concerns have remained in the spotlight. Here are the latest Bills, ideas and updates in the sector, which make for very interesting - and, at times, controversial - reading.


There has been a flurry of new Bills going through Parliament in the last month focusing on marriage and child and family poverty, as well as domestic violence.

The Registration of Marriage Bill has been put forward by a group of Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem politicians. There is no text  for the Bill available yet so it's not clear what it seeks to achieve, but it could potentially be connected to the Equal Civil Partnerships movement which looks to make civil marriages available to opposite sex couples (it is currently on available to same-sex couples). The Bill had its first reading 29 June 2016, and the next reading will be held 21 October 2016.

The next piece of proposed legislation which focuses on family is the Child Poverty in the UK (Target for Reduction) Bill, which, as the name suggests, aims to establish targets for reducing child poverty and ensure the publication of reports to track its progress. It was proposed by Dan Jarvis MP, who has been in the news recently following a bid for the Labour leadship. This Bill also had its first reading 29 June 2016, and will have its second reading in 2017.

Following on is the Families with Children and Young People in Debt (Respite) Bill. This proposed legislation, put forward by Kelly Tolhurst MP, wants to establish a duty on lenders and creditors to provide periods of financial respite for families with children and young people in debt under certain circumstances, and to place a duty on public authorities to provide access to related advice, guidance and support in this context. Its first reading, like the aforementioned Bills, was held 29 June 2016. The second reading for the Bill will be held 28 October 2016.

Moving on to the equally significant topic of domestic violence, the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill seeks to require the UK to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and tackling both violence against women and domestic abuse as a whole (similar to the Istanbul Convention, which a lot of countries are ratifying but the UK has yet to do). The Bill was proposed by Dr Eilidh Whiteford, and will have its second reading on 16 December 2016.

All of the above proposals have been made within Private Members' Bills and, while these Bills very rarely make law, with public support they can sometimes go on to be ratified and implemented.

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New ideas

From the UN to Westminster, where Shadow Minister Sarah Champion called on the government on 4 July 2016 to support her initiative for all primary school children to have statutory resilience and child protection lessons to prevent child abuse. The suggestion was not debated on this occasion but Minister for Schools, Edward Timpson, suggested that it would be placed under review with other initiatives relating to education.

On the same day Chair for the Women and Equalities Committee, Maria Miller MP, called on the government to put clear legislation in place to tackle online abuse of children and vulnerable adults and protect them from all manner of bullying and harassment. She also suggested that appropriate police training and education for children on the dangers of the internet be a part of the battle to end this type of abuse. It is a thought-provoking and worthy debate which touches on freedom of speech, child welfare, gender, ethnicity and the kind of language that could be used to adequately define the various crimes that make up online abuse.

Finally, the terrible story surrounding the cremations on babies last year, which left a significant number of families unable to grieve following the death of their children as ashes had been lost or misplaced by crematoriums around the country, reached another milestone with the publication of a consultation looking into the tragedy and a set of recommendations released this month. The proposals put forward by the government include:
  • introducing a statutory definition of 'ashes';
  • amending statutory cremation forms to make sure that applicants' wishes in relation to recovered ashes are explicit and clearly recorded before a cremation takes place;
  • where parents choose a cremation following a pregnancy loss of a foetus of less than 24 weeks' gestation, such cremations will be brought into the scope of the regulations like all other cremations. (The government has no places to alter parents' current choices following a pre-24-week pregnancy loss, so parents will continue to be able to choose between cremation, burial and sensitive incineration or they can ask the hospital to make all arrangements on their behalf.); and
  • establishing a national cremation working group of experts to advise the government on a number of technical matters related to our proposed reforms, such as the detail of new regulations and forms, codes of practice and training for cremation authority staff, information for bereaved parents and whether there should be an inspector of crematoria.
With the next 2 years being crucial not just for the UK as it separates itself from the EU, but also for our children who will have to live with the changes as and when they happen, it is likely that more Bills will make their way through Parliament aiming to protect young people from the effects of Brexit, which may well include chronic poverty levels as well as the erosion of child rights. Children are becoming the benchmark by which we measure society's success. As a result, their welfare will continue to underline policy for some time to come.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing.