This month for our column over at Jordans, we’ve rounded up some fresh ideas in Family Law. From mysterious Bills looking to alter the way marriages are registered, to a surprising source of support for the Voice of The Child at the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the article looks at the different ways in which policy makers and key stakeholders are trying to innovate in 2016.

You can read the full article below:

New Ideas in Family

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.

Bills

There has been a flurry of new Bills going through Parliament in the last month, focusing on marriage, 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 the Bill seeks to achieve, but it might potentially be connected to the Equal Civil Partnerships movement, which seeks to make civil marriages available to opposite sex couples (it is currently only available to same sex couples). The Bill had its first reading on 29th June, 2016, and will hold the next reading on 21st October.

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 target progress. This Bill also had its first reading on 29th June, 2016. It was proposed by Dan Jarvis MP, who has been in the news as he has made a bid for the Labour Leadership.  The Bill will have its second reading in 2017.

Following on is the Families with Children and Young People in Debt (Respite) Bill.  This proposed piece of law, 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 all the Bills in this post, was held on 29th June. The next reading for this Bill will be held on 28th October, 2016.

Moving on to the equally concerning topic of Domestic Violence, the Preventing and Combating Violence Against Women and Domestic Violence (Ratification of Convention) Bill seeks to require the United Kingdom to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence (the Istanbul Convention -which a lot of countries are ratifying though the UK has yet to do so). The Bill was proposed by Dr Eilidh Whiteford, and will have its second reading on 16th December, 2016.

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

New Ideas

New Head of The Equalities and Human Rights Commission, David Isaacs, has recently explained that he would like to ensure that any Bill of Rights passed in the UK should enhance children’s rights. David is very keen to ensure that children are heard in Family Cases, and their wishes and feelings amplified, saying:

“The [UN] convention on the rights of the child creates an obligation on the UK to provide the opportunity to children to be heard in judicial or administrative proceedings which affect them. It is very important that their views are heard and given due weight.”

From the UN to Westminster, where Shadow Minister Sarah Champion called on the government on 4th July 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, Maria Miller MP, Chair for the Women and Equalities Committee called on the government to put clear legislation in place to tackle online abuse of children and vulnerable adults, from bullying and intimidation, to harassment. She also suggested that appropriate police training and education for children on the dangers of online abuse be a part of the battle to stop this kind of abuse. It is a thought provoking debate worth reading, which touches on freedom of speech, child welfare, gender, ethnicity and the kind of language that could be used to adequately define the varied crimes that make up online abuse. 

And finally, the terrible story surrounding baby cremations last year which left a significant number of families unable to grieve the deaths 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 bought into the scope of the regulations, like all other cremations. (The government has no plans 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).
  • 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 two years being crucial not just for the UK as a whole as it separates itself from Europe, but 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 children 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.

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