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July 2017Office News

Alison Fielden & Co victorious in the UK Supreme Court

On 26th July 2017 the UK Supreme Court delivered its Judgment in the case of Birch v Birch finding that the Court did have jurisdiction to hear the Wife's Application to discharge her Undertaking, which would have required the sale of the family home, where the Wife and children live, as she had been unable to secure the release of the Husband from the mortgage.

Alison Fielden & Co acted on behalf of the wife in an Appeal against a decision that the Court had no power to make such an Order. Stephen Hockman QC and Jane Campbell, instructed by Alison Fielden & Co, succeeded in persuading the country's highest Court to reverse the decision of the Courts below, a District Judge, a Circuit Judge and the Court of Appeal, that there was no power to hear the Wife's Application.

The case will now return to the Circuit Judge for further consideration.

For further details of the Courts decision click here.

April 2017Office News

New Solicitor joins Alison Fielden & Co

Alison and the staff at Alison Fielden & Co are very pleased to welcome Jude Owen to the team.

Jude qualified as a solicitor in 2011 and has Higher Court advocacy rights in civil cases. She specialises in Employment Law and Litigation, General Litigation and Debt Recovery. She can be contacted on 01285 653261 or by email at

April 2017Legal News

No more holidays in School Term? Well you may well get a fine however good your child's school attendance is

Supreme Court rules in Isle of Wight Council v Platt "regularly" means "in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school"


The facts of this case are well known, Mr Platt's successes being headline news since the day he managed to convince the Isle of Wight Magistrates Court that he had no case to answer and evaded conviction and payment of the Fixed Penalty Notice issued upon him.

Mr Platt and his former wife both applied to their daughter's school for authorisation to take her out of school for holidays. Coincidentally, they both applied on the same day, both were refused permission to go and both went anyway. As a result, both parents were issued with Fixed Penalty Notices by the Local Authority. The mother paid, but Mr Platt refused and was prosecuted under s.444(1) of the Education Act 1996 for failing to secure the regular attendance of his daughter at school between 13 and 21 April 2015.


Mr Platt argued that the whole of his daughter's attendance record should be taken into account. On that basis, he argued, her attendance - even after the holiday - was 90.3%. The magistrates in fact did take into account the full record of attendance, as well as a document from the Local Authority which stated that satisfactory attendance is 90-95%, and found that Mr Platt has no case to answer. The Local Authority appealed by way of case stated and the following question was asked of the Divisional Court:

"Did we err in law in taking into account attendance outside of the offence dates (13 April to 21 April 2015) as particularised in the summons when determining the percentage attendance of the child?"

On 13 May 2016, the Divisional Court answered: no, was the answer. The Magistrates, in taking into account the child's attendance outside the charging period, had not erred in law.

The Divisional Court certified a point of law of general public importance, one which was slightly different to the Magistrates:

"Whether, on an information alleging a failure by a parent over a specified period to secure that his child attends school regularly contrary to section 444(1) of the 1996 Act, the child's attendance outside the specified period is relevant to the question whether the offence has been committed."


The Judgment of the Supreme Court, given by Lady Hale and unanimously supported by the Justices.,

Lady Hale looked at the three different meanings of the word 'regularly' and decided which was the one intended by Parliament in the Education Act 1996: 'At regular intervals', 'sufficiently frequently', or 'in accordance with the rules'.

Lady Hale stated that the first interpretation was wrong as it would enable a child to regularly attend only one day a week. The second was wrong as it did not follow the clear tightening of the law on school attendance which started with the Education Act 1944 and was "too uncertain to found a criminal offence," as a parent does not know for certain whether on any given day taking a child out of school commits a criminal offence. Therefore, the answer must be the third interpretation: "in accordance with the rules."


The definition is now fixed and clear: "regularly" means "in accordance with the rules prescribed by the school".

It is important to note that Lady Hale does not deal with the other part of the question; namely can the court take into account the child's attendance outside the charging period? Yet, in light of the now very clear definition of regularly, that question has become academic, as now even a single day of missed school, if not done in accordance with the school's rules, is capable of incurring criminal liability.

March 2017Legal News

£3 billion of child maintenance arrears are 'uncollectable'

The Department of Work and Pensions has reported that there are approximately £4 billion arrears of child maintence and has assessed that around three-quarters of that balance is uncollectable. It assesses arrears as uncollectable when there has been no recent contact with the non-resident parent and no payment against arrears in the last six months. The Department has not yet set out how it will manage the £3 billion of uncollectable arrears.

The Department actively promotes a choice to write off older arrears. The Department has the legal power to write off arrears in limited circumstances. As part of the case closure process it sends a letter to parents advising them they can make a fresh start by writing off arrears owed to them. As a result, in 2015-16 parents asked the Department to write off £12 million in arrears.

Parents do not always understand how and why the Department has calculated arrears when it closes 1993 and 2003 scheme cases. The Department's research found some non-resident parents were dissatisfied with how the Department calculates arrears. This was due to: not being told earlier that arrears had been building up; not enough information on how the arrears had built up and a slowness to answer queries; and delays in being told how to repay.

Since 2012 the Department has reduced its overall enforcement actions to recover arrears on the 1993 and 2003 schemes, in excess of the reduction in case volumes. When a parent owes arrears the Department can deduct up to 40% of their salary after tax, using a deduction from earnings order. It issued 69% fewer orders between 2012-13 and 2015-16. The Department is also taking fewer actions to have debt recognised by a court, which allows, for example, the case to be referred to bailiffs. The Department does not fully review the impact and outcomes of its enforcement activities.

March 2017Legal News

Calls for Parliament to introduce 'No Fault' Divorce

The Court of Appeal recently upheld the decision of a lower Court in a case involving a marriage of some 40 years, where the Wife had Petitioned for a divorce based on her Husband's unreasonable behaviour. The Court had refused her divorce petition after concluding that her husband's behaviour towards her had not been unreasonable. It was the Wife's position that this left her trapped in a 'loveless and desperately unhappy' marriage. There are only two facts on which a divorce petition can be based, which do not involve a period of separation of 2 years or more. These are adultery and unreasonable behaviour. There have been some calls since this case for Parliament to introduce a 'no fault' divorce.

February 2017Office News

Record year for Alison Fielden & Co.

In the year ending 31 January 2017 we had a record number of new files opened across Conveyancing, Family, and Wills & Probate, along with a record number of positive comments in our feedback questionnaires.

November 2016Office News

Alison Fielden & Co. sponsor Cirencester Christmas lights

We are very pleased to be once again the main sponsor for the Cirencester Christmas lights for the third time. For details see the Christmas in Cirencester website.

November 2016Office News

Staff promotion

We are pleased to announce that Emma Horton who joined us in September has been promoted to the rold of Junior Secretary.

October 2016Office News

Office Closure - Monday 17 October

On Monday 17 October 2016 the office will be closing at 12 midday for Staff Training. It will reopen normally on Tuesday 18 October at 8.30am.

September 2016Office News

New recruits

This month we welcome Emma Horton, Admin Assistant and Debbie Bonanos, Family Law Secretary to the firm.

August 2016Office News

Alison Fielden & Co. celebrate 30 years

On Saturday 6th August the firm celebrated its 30th Anniversary by releasing 30 balloons. The release was performed by Alison Fielden, Mark Harris the Mayor of Cirencester and his son. There will be a prize for the person who discovers the balloon which travelled furthest from the firms office in Cirencester.

Alison Fielden, Mark Harris and his son prepare to release 30 balloons to celebrate Alison Fielden & Co.'s 30th anniversary

July 2016Legal News

Marriage continues decline and cohabitation increases since 2002

Latest figures from the Office of National Statistics reveal that there were in England and Wales 23.8 million people who were married in 2015. This was 50.6% of the population aged 16 and over. In 2002 married people amounted to 54.8% of the population aged 16 and over.

The population aged 16 and over who were single increased from 29.6% in 2002 to 34.5% in 2015. There were 28.4 million people living in a couple in 2015. This was 60.5% of the population aged 16 and over. This coincides with an increase in people cohabiting who are never married or civil partnered (from 6.8% in 2002 to 9.5% in 2015), as cohabitation has become more common as an alternative to marriage, especially at younger ages. The rise in single population also reflects more people in middle age groups remaining unmarried.

Here at Alison Fielden & Co we suggest all couples living together should consider entering into a Living Together Agreement which we can assist with. Please remember that "Common Law Marriage" is a myth and simply living together does not give much in the way of legal rights if the relationship ends.

July 2016Office News

New recruits

We welcome Janet Trotter to the firm. She joins us as Senior Conveyancing Secretary.

June 2016Office News

Cake Sale to celebrate joint 30th Anniversary with CHYP

Alison Fielden held a cake sale in aid of Cirencester Housing for Young People (CHYP). Both organisations are this year celebrating 30th anniversaries and so we had a celebration cake which was cut by Alison together with the Mayor of Cirencester and the Chair of CHYP. £287.19 was raised which the firm is going to match, bringing the total to £574.38.

For more information please see the article from the Wilts & Glos Standard website.

April 2016Legal News

Child Maintenance Service's caseload rose by 21% in 3 months to February 2016

88% of money due has been paid under the 2012 scheme.

The number of cases managed by the Child Maintenance Service continues to increase following the introduction of application and collection charging. The caseload stood at 227,000 as at the end of February 2016, an increase of 21% when compared to November 2015.

Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions show that in the quarter to February 2016, 87% of Case Groups were contributing towards their current liability, with 88% of cash due, paid. A Case Group is defined as all of the cases associated to a paying parent.

There has been a slight change to Service levels; although the proportion of calls answered was at 98%, those answered within 30 seconds decreased from 94% in November 2015 to 86% in February 2016. Accuracy levels increased from 92% in November 2015 to 93% in February 2016.

The DWP publication contains information on cases being processed on the 2012 statutory child maintenance scheme, delivered by the CMS. The 2012 Scheme was introduced to support families who are unable to make arrangements themselves. The 2012 Scheme will replace the 1993 and 2003 Schemes (administered by the Child Support Agency) over the next few years as 1993 and 2003 cases are closed.

April 2016Legal News

Evidence requirements for domestic violence legal aid relaxed

The Ministry of Justice has introduced interim regulations following the Court of Appeal's judgment in R (Rights of Women) v The Secretary of State for Justice and the Lord Chancellor [2016] EWCA Civ 91.

In that case the Court of Appeal quashed those parts of regulation 33 of the Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) Regulations 2012 which reference the requirement for documentary evidence in support of civil legal services to be no more than 24 months.

The Civil Legal Aid (Procedure) (Amendment) Regulations 2016 reg 2(2) substitutes a new regulation 33(2) which sets out the forms of evidence of domestic violence which must be provided with an application for civil legal services under paragraph 12 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to LASPO. The new regulation 33(2) includes a time limit of sixty months for certain types of evidence of domestic violence, or risk of domestic violence, and introduces a new form of evidence where the relevant domestic violence is in the form of abuse which relates to financial matters. This regulation comes into force on 25 April 2016.

The Justice Minister, Shailesh Vara, announced the change in a written statement made to the House of Commons. He added:

"We continue to believe that victims of domestic violence in private family disputes should receive legal aid where evidence is provided, and the Court of Appeal has agreed that the Lord Chancellor has the power to make arrangements in regulations to allow this. But there are areas where we need further information-for example, the number of individuals who have evidence over two years old. We also need to more fully appreciate the issues in play in cases of financial abuse, on which there is only limited research available.

"We have begun work with domestic violence support groups, legal representative bodies and colleagues across government to gather data and develop our understanding of these issues. Our findings will be used to inform an evidence-based solution to the court's concerns, with the aim of drawing up replacement regulations.

"In the meantime we are taking immediate action, through interim regulations laid before Parliament today, to change our arrangements. We are more than doubling the original time limit for evidence - increasing it from two to five years, and we are introducing a provision for the assessment of evidence concerning financial abuse. We are expediting implementation of these changes so they will come into effect on Monday 25th April in order to make sure that victims of domestic violence can receive the support they need as soon as possible, and to give certainty to those considering applications for legal aid. We believe that these arrangements address the court's concerns while work continues to find a sustainable longer-term solution."

March 2016Legal News

34% increase in Court Fees for Divorce

As of 21 March 2016, divorce fees have risen from £410 to £550, an increase of 34 per cent.

The decision to increase the fee for lodging a divorce petition at court was only communicated by the courts at the end of last week, but the new fee came into force, Monday 21 March 2016.

Whilst there has been talk of a fee increase for some time, the timing of the rise has come as a surprise to Family lawyers, as there has been no formal consultation or announcement by the Ministry of Justice, leading many to express disappointment and concern at the lack of transparency shown by the government.

For couples planning to divorce, who are now faced with no choice but to pay the increased fee, this will unsurprisingly come as blow, particularly given the lack of advance warning. Many individuals may have opted to a file a petition in advance of the fee rise, had they known it would cost them an additional £140. The fee increase adds further strain to what is already a financially worrying and difficult time for most, and there has been little reassurance that the increased revenue will be spent on improving court service.

March 2016Legal News

ParentPlan aims to enable co-parents to communicate effectively

ParentPlan, a secure website that helps separated and divorced parents to communicate with each other to run their children's lives, has been launched.

The aim of ParentPlan is to enable parents to keep up to date with their children even if they do not see them every day.

Members of the site can upload diary events and activities to the calendar, store contact details, display media files and relevant documents and post key reminders to the Pinboard. This information can then be shared with selected adults involved in the child's life such as carers and grandparents or other family members.

ParentPlan is free to all users until 1 June 2016.

For details of the service provided by ParentPlan, click here.

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Alison Fielden & Co.
The Gatehouse
Dollar Street
Glos. GL7 2AN
DX 39418 Cirencester
Tel 01285 653261
Fax 01285 885372