The Home Front: Election Promises and the Family 

Published on 05 June, 2017 | James Brown

James Brown

By the end of this week, party political paraphernalia will be packed away again at the end of another General Election campaign.

Only a month ago, the result seemed something of a foregone conclusion as Theresa May’s leading the Conservatives to a double-digit opinion poll lead but that has since reportedly shrunk back to only three percentage points.

However, far from wishing to add more broad commentary of the efforts of the Tories, Labour and the Liberal Democrats to claim power, I thought that it might be useful to consider what their respective manifestos might offer for families across the country.

Leafing through each, my particular interest was in establishing what help there might be for the sort of individuals who regularly ask for advice either from myself or my colleagues at Hall Brown Family Law.

What is not necessarily surprising is that all three of the main parties underline their commitment to the concept of family.

The Tories, in fact, cite it as one of the central principles (“family, community and nation”).

Even though its manifesto (https://www.conservatives.com/manifesto) goes on to pledge that it will “explore ways to improve the family justice system” in order to support families, very little detail is provided.

That contrasts with two notable family-friendly proposals in Jeremy Corbyn’s document (http://www.labour.org.uk/page/-/Images/manifesto-2017/Labour%20Manifesto%202017.pdf).

Having seen the recommendations of a Commission chaired by the former Justice Minister Lord Bach examining access to justice, Labour plans to re-establish what it describes as “early advice entitlements in the Family Courts”.

Critics of the decision to withdraw Legal Aid in April 2013 for many types of Family law work have argued that the move deterred people from using courts to resolve pressing domestic issues.

Whilst that is regarded as a bold move, it is the promise to introduce ‘no-fault divorce’ which really catches the eye.

Numerous individuals, including both the Supreme Court judge Lord Wilson and Sir James Munby, who is President of the Family Division of the High Court, have called for the element of blame to be removed in order to simplify the divorce process and remove the potential for conflict (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-27206987).

Of course, it’s worth remembering that a Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, removed such a provision from legislation shortly after taking power in 1997.

What he would make of the Liberal Democrats’ progressive manifesto (http://www.libdems.org.uk/manifesto), then, is anybody’s guess.

It not only endorses plans for the same sort of heterosexual civil partnerships which were rejected by the Court of Appeal in February (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/02/21/heterosexual-couple-learn-outcome-civil-partnership-battle-court/) but commits the party to introducing a measure of the protections for cohabiting couples which are only currently enjoyed by those who are married.

That latter step would add weight to earlier attempts by a Lib Dem peer, Lord Marks, to provide such security through a Private Members’ Bill (http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2016-17/cohabitationrights.html).

LibDem leader Tim Farron has also set out a plan to prevent Britain’s prospective exit from the European Union as a result of the referendum 12 months ago from scuppering reliance on an international agreement known as the Hague Convention to tackle the rising incidence of parental child abduction.

As Mr Farron and his counterparts know only too well, pre-election words designed to tempt the electorate into parting with their votes are often not translated into deeds when the Commons reconvenes.

Nevertheless, the fact that some creative initiatives have been set before us might still be enough to determine what happens in polling booths nationwide on Thursday.

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