Committee (1st Day)
Cohabitation Bill [HL]
Baroness Butler-Sloss (Crossbench)
I am afraid that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, will have to hear me give the answer first. There is no reason why the noble Lord, Lord Lester, should not give it as well. I oppose the amendment. I take the point of my noble friend Lady Deech about retrospectivity, but we are dealing with a particular group of people who have been in long pre-existing relationships and who will need help. If we make this provision as from the date when the Bill becomes law, they will have to wait another five years before they and their children, who may by then be grown up, get any help of the kind that I hope the Bill could give.
It is intended that the Bill should be retrospective because it is there to help that comparatively small but significant group of vulnerable people, mainly women. A large number of battered women are cohabitants. They need not only injunctions on non-molestation orders but financial support. One without the other does not go far. So the legal aid that was being given, if it is given, to the battered woman would not be a great extension for her to obtain a certain amount of money to help her bring up the children.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, made a point about the law. Under Clause 8,
"The court may make a financial settlement order if ... having regard to all the circumstances, the court considers that it is just and equitable to make an order".
Having been a judge, I declare my interest. If we are talking about a woman having a series of one-night stands, with the toothbrush moving from one place to another, she would not receive any money. That is the short answer to the point of the toothbrush. In addition, judges are perfectly accustomed to dealing with commencement dates and final dates of relationships; they have had to do it for years and years under the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973. I have had to work out when people started to live together and in particular, because of marriage, when they parted. The date of parting was often extremely important in assessing whether they fulfilled the requirements of having been separated for a sufficient number of years.
It is a judge's job to evaluate the evidence and come to the conclusion about whether either of them was telling the truth. In many cases between couples who have been living together, no one is telling the truth; as a result, the court comes to a practical conclusion. I see no difficulty; I am slightly surprised that the noble Lord, who has some experience of legal matters, should believe that this was a difficult matter for a judge at any level to work out when they started together and when they finished. They are all practical facts that can be found by the judge.