Family law can be better

legal aid

The Sensible Party Manifesto 2017

Introduction

Dear friend,

We are a great country. With a great family justice system. But it can be so much better.

Here at the Sensible Party we believe we can make a family justice system fit for the twenty-first century. The policies we set out in this manifesto will do just that. Please spare a few moments of your precious time to read them, then vote for the Sensible Party on 8 June.

Yours,

John Bolch

Leader, the Sensible Party.

1) A blameless divorce system

We should have a divorce system that encourages the parties to settle their differences amicably and without recourse to contested court proceedings. Our present system does entirely the opposite, by forcing them to blame the other party for the breakdown of their marriage, unless they have been separated for two years, or five years if the other party is not prepared to consent to the divorce.

We are in urgent need of a no-fault system of divorce, doing away with the out-dated concepts of adultery and ‘unreasonable behaviour’. The law doesn’t need to know why a marriage has broken down, only that it has. It should also not force people to remain in marriages that have clearly broken down.

The law should concentrate on resolving issues relating to any children and sorting out finances, rather than the reasons for the marriage breakdown. Doing away with the concept of blame makes it more likely that the parties will be able to resolve these matters by agreement.

2) A fairer system for cohabitants

How can it be fair that a woman who has spent twenty years looking after the home and bringing up the children of the family can be left with nothing when the relationship with her partner breaks down, just because she was not married to him? Of course it can’t be fair. The family justice system should give her some basic property rights.

To be clear, we are not proposing that cohabitants should be given the same rights as married couples. That reform is for a future generation to contemplate. We are just saying that, in cases where it would clearly be unfair for one cohabitant to be left with only what they own, that cohabitant should be left with some recompense for the ‘home-making’ (i.e. non-financial) contribution that they made to the relationship.

3) Access to justice for all

In 2013 the coalition government did away with legal aid for most private law family matters, including in particular disputes relating to arrangements for children and financial remedies on divorce. This has left a huge number of people without access to proper legal advice and representation, forcing them to navigate the strange and difficult waters of the family justice system on their own. This has put them at a huge disadvantage, and in many cases has led to them not being able to obtain justice. We now have a two-tier system: one for the rich, and one for the poor.

We propose that legal aid be reinstated, so that everyone has equal access to justice. We recognise that this will cost money, but the sum involved is a mere drop in the ocean of the government’s finances, and will therefore make no real difference to the economic deficit.

4) Protecting Human Rights

Our final policy is not for change, but for things to remain the same. We say that this country should remain bound by the European Convention on Human Rights. After all, such things as the right to life and prohibition of torture and slavery sound like pretty good ideas to us. And for family lawyers, such things as the right to a fair trial and the right to respect for private and family life seem quite good too.

In fact, it is agreed by all that the rights enshrined in the Convention should be kept, so we can’t see the point in going to the effort and expense of leaving the Convention and then re-enacting the same rights in a British Bill of Rights, or wherever. And letting the European Court of Human Rights have the final say ensures that the British government cannot in the future get away with breaching any of those precious rights.

Conclusion

In this election the country has a choice. Either it can keep an archaic family justice system which encourages spouses to enter the blame game, which leaves former cohabitants in a state of destitution and to which only those with money have proper access, or it can vote for a modern system which provides fair and proper family justice for all.

The Sensible Party. You know it makes sense.

Photo by Pete via Flickr under the Public Domain.

John Bolch

John Bolch often wonders how he ever became a family lawyer. He no longer practises, but has instead earned a reputation as one of the UK's best-known family law bloggers.

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14 comments

Andy - April 20, 2017 at 4:46pm

Too little to late..should of reformed all issues with Divorce years ago…Times change and trends change…sadly the law don’t…
No blame.fairer system and availability for all..nice words..but as stated any action..this sounds like hot and air syndrome..

John Bolch - April 20, 2017 at 4:48pm

*headdesk*

Paul Apreda - April 20, 2017 at 5:34pm

Now your a legal chap John – what is the legislation around misleading the consumer / voter with the name of your product / party? Sensible…!!? In the sense of the 1970’s punk rocker perhaps …
1. Blameless divorce – well how about doing away with the need for divorce at all because you no longer need the institution of marriage? Why have such an outdated concept anyway when women need to be empowered to play an equal role in every aspect of society?
2. A fairer system for cohabitants – oh dear – off on your white charger again! As equal parents encouraged by financial and other levers that promote shared care it would beg the question why women would ever find themselves in the position of having ‘looked after the home and brought up the children’ rather than being able to resume their careers and entrust the care of children equally to their partners. That is unless of course you subscribe to the view that children are the possessions of mothers and that it is their right to do as they wish…?
3. Legal Aid …..!! Ah the universal panacea. Of course back in the good old days before LASPO there were no problems with the Family Justice system because lawyers managed to sort everything out so nicely!! If bringing back Legal Aid is the answer we’ve asked the wrong question. As it is if you cant work out how to get Legal Aid for someone by meeting one of the ever growing list of ‘evidence’ requirements then frankly you shouldnt have a Legal Aid certificate in the first place. One consequence of your plan however John would presumably be to massively disadvantage women who only received 60% of Legal Aid pre LASPO and now have 85%.
4. Protecting Human Rights – honestly – you have to be joking!! What a fantastic job you lawyers have done in ensuring these rights are enjoyed by all – the Right to Family Life…….unless of course mother knows better..!
Bless you
Paul

Brian - April 20, 2017 at 10:53pm

Read the draft bill, biggest cherry of the bunch is once again prime carer gets the lions share…why do we bother with the CMS! CRB now makes CMS redundant. Between MCA 1973 s25 and CRB lawyers have an all encompassing legal market of acrimony…I hope the courts choke on it now.

John Bolch - April 21, 2017 at 7:08am

So does this mean you won’t be voting for me?

Brian - April 24, 2017 at 8:43am

Not with a manifesto like that, fear not, I won’t be voting for anyone! Quite a statement. I’m ex services so voting for me was out of a sense if duty and mandatory if only to place value on the process due to the net cost in our forefathers blood. With recent events and with the way “rough” justice is splashed out (and I can elaborate), I think that they gave their all for nothing. John Ch 15:13.

Brian - April 24, 2017 at 9:03am

The only option with merit is a blameless divorce. That won’t change mindsets if people think an advantage with favourable settlement is possible as a “victim”.
Second point Legal Aid only available to victims of D.V. only stokes up false claims to gain the advantage of endless litigation and understanding of process to outflank a LiP in procedure. Two rates for public funding and private clients is grossly unfair anyway. No equality of arms. Equality of arms is a LiP coming up to the level of a lawyer in proceedings, not court giving the LiP (this is the bit I love about lawyers -double negatives) an unfair disadvantage. Legal aid only gives rise to a war of attrition. It’s the only issue lawyers protest like labour campaigners anyway…MONEY. Thirdly Cohabitation Rights Bill, looks like MCA 1973 s25 when you read it. If i want that law to apply, I’d marry. All decisions favour primary carers, who are generally mothers! NO THANK YOU. Finally ECHR, I’m an ex serviceman, there are too many lawyers that are happy to fight for HR pro bono and not enough for Child Arrangements litigation and dads. You won’t be getting your primary demographic 20s-30s earners non uni educated white males.

spinner - April 20, 2017 at 5:58pm

1) A blameless divorce system – Agreed and who cares in the longer term.
2) A fairer system for cohabitants – No way, the state needs to butt out of people’s personal relationships and how they want to manage them. Everyone is well aware that if they want to have property rights beyond what they may already negotiate in that relationship, nothing to stop a property being put in two names then they can get married. At some point individuals needs to take personal responsibility for the decisions they make.
3) Access to justice for all – Give it up John it’s never going to happen and for very good reasons. The way to provide access to justice for all is through appropriate use of advanced AI which is going to be with us sooner rather than later.
4) Protecting Human Rights – That’s not Brexit then is it which is why people clearly voted for. Any instance where a European body of any kind has any authority over any British equivalent, it’s not Brexit. The point is we don’t know where the EU will take it and we are a sovereign nation, I realise it’s going to take a lot of people and evidently you are one of them to really understand what that means given the length of time we have allowed the EU to interfere in our country.

Andrew - April 20, 2017 at 6:36pm

3 out of 4, John. Leave adults who choose to cohabit to their own devices.
_
Spinner, please, the ECHR has nothing to do with the EU. It has to do with the Council of Europe, a bigger and older body which we joined in 1950 and have not voted to leave. I fear that I am spitting (euphemism) into the wind in even saying that.

spinner - April 20, 2017 at 6:50pm

My bad, I’m just sick of remoaners trying to keep us in the EU by the backdoor that anything containing the word European is just toxic to me by default.
It is strange how the US, Australia, Canada, Japan and many other countries that appear to have good standards of human rights don’t seem to need to be members of the ECHR so I still don’t see the need.

Cameron Paterson - April 20, 2017 at 7:20pm

An external supervisory body can provide valuable checks and balances against the occasional excesses of individual governments, especially in a nation like the UK where the political opposition is so weak.

spinner - April 20, 2017 at 7:38pm

In normal times your probably right but I think there are several things that need to be done in the next few years in the UK to secure it’s long term future that may be outside of the scope of the ECHR so it’s better we left.

Brian - April 20, 2017 at 10:47pm

Well a two tier legal system is better than three tiers. Before it was the rich, the working bread winner being charged legal services at a private client rate and the benefit scrounger with a bottomless pit of legal aid. You got a better quality of service as the scroungers because generally you were the respondent who only had to say no, and the private client gets twice the work at 4 times the price…and the lawyer gets a steady income of regular payments for the next 4 years. LiPs are the way forward – £500 quid for a set fee divorce for three forms! Just mention MCA 1973 S25 and bingo – jackpot a 8 month all out war of attrition. Sod it, go nuclear make sure you can push for a CA 1989 s8 CAO then back off and make an informal deal before a final hearing. Co-habitation rights bill??? Lawyer customer base dropping off because no one marries anymore? Gotta get fishing for new ways of rinsing the masses?! “Common law marriage” comes to fruition through the back door and without consent WITH AN OPT OUT PRENUPTIAL TAKE LEGAL ADVICE BEFORE SEEING YOURSELF OFF CLAUSE!!!! TALK ABOUT FAILSAFE FOR WOMEN! Sensible party can do something about recalcitrant mothers first!

JamesB - April 22, 2017 at 6:57pm

Having thought about it, making divorce prohibitively expensive for most is a quite reasonable approach. Putting the children and non resident spouses needs above those of the high street lawyers is reasonable. Perhaps politicians have finally woken up to the devastating affects that divorce has on the average rather than wealthy.

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