City of London:  020 3443 9576 |  High Wycombe: 01494 451355

The last few weeks have brought with them new restrictions which mean that families are spending an increasing amount of time together at home with nowhere else to go.  Whilst for some this extra time at home will be welcomed, others will experience additional stresses and strains. Men and women who are already in abusive relationships are likely to feel even more isolated and vulnerable during COVID-19 lockdown.

Whilst the signs of physical abuse are more easily recognisable, psychological abuse can manifest in less obvious ways. Men and women may find themselves being controlled by their partner or a family member - either emotionally or financially.

What should I do if I am a victim of abuse?

Domestic abuse is a crime and if you feel at risk you should call the Police to request assistance. There are also a number of charities who can provide support.

Solicitors are also able to help with obtaining civil remedies in the form of non-molestation orders and occupation orders. Our expert team of family solicitors are working remotely throughout COVID-19 lockdown and can offer telephone and video appointments at a time convenient to you. The Courts too are keeping the situation under review and are continuing to prioritise urgent applications.

What is a non-molestation order (NMO)?

An NMO provides protection from any form of domestic abuse, both physical and emotional, including but not limited to acts or threats of violence, use of abusive language and harassment.

A defined list of persons can apply, inculding husbans, wives, civil partners, co-habitants and relatives. There is no Court fee associated with an NMO application, and applications can be made without notice in urgent situations where the applicant is fearful of the repercussions if the other party were to find out that an application has been made.

Breach of an NMO without reasonable excuse is a criminal offence punishable by up to 5 years imprisonment and/or fine.

Read more: Isolating in an abusive relationship: The Court's powers to protect vulnerable parties during...

Workers who have not taken all of their statutory annual leave entitlement due to COVID-19 will now be able to carry it over into the next 2 years leave, in the latest measures announced by the Business Secretary, Alok Sharma, last Friday (27 March 2020).

The Government have announced that these changes are to ensure that key workers can continue their work during the pandemic without concerns about losing time off.

These measures are set to be introduced for the forthcoming (currently unpublished) Working Time (Coronavirus)(Amendment) Regulations 2020. These amend Regulation 13 of the Working Time Regulations 1998, introducing an exemption specifically related to COVID-19.

Who does this apply to?

Employees and almost all workers (including agency workers and workers on zero-hour contracts)

How much leave can be carried over?

Up to 4 weeks of unused leave can be carried over into the next two leave years. 

The additional balance of 1.6 weeks' statutory leave (currently) remains unaffected, though this can be carried over for up to a year by agreement under existing law.

When can leave be carried over?

Where it is not reasonably practicable for employees to take some, or all, of the holiday they are entitled to due to COVID-19.

What does this mean for you?

With a stark rise in the number of confirmed domestic cases of COVID-19 and the unprecedented resulting economic downturn, the number of employees in the workforce affected by COVID-19 are increasing.

It is important to stay up to date with legislative changes to be prepared for any queries raised by employees regarding their entitlements and to ensure you adopt the right approach.

Read more: COVID-19 update: rules on carrying over annual leave relaxed (... up to 4weeks)

After the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, made an announcement early in March introducing measures to support employees through the effects of coronavirus, many self-employed individuals had been left waiting on measures to be introduced to help support them through the uncertain economic climate. Many self-employed individuals including cleaners, plumbers, electricians, musicians and hairdressers across the country had been forced to stop working because of the Government's guidance on self-isolation and are suffering from significant cash flow difficulties as a result.

Last week, the Chancellor introduced the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme to help self-employed individuals cope with the financial impact of coronavirus. The scheme will be open to people across the UK for at least 3 months and will be extended for longer if necessary.

Under the scheme, self-employed individuals will be able to apply to HMRC to get a taxable cash grant of 80% of their average monthly profits from the last 3 tax years, up to a maximum of £2,500 per month, for at least 3 months. The grants will be backdated 3 months from March 2020. The Chancellor announced that the scheme is still currently being set up and the grants will not be begin to arrive until the start of June 2020.

The Government have published some guidance, but this is evolving as the scheme is being set up and there are still many unanswered questions.

How is the grant calculated?

HMRC will add together the self-employed individual's total trading profits for the last 3 tax years and then divide this by 3, to calculate a monthly amount. Individuals that do not hold 3 years' worth of accounts can still apply for the scheme and HMRC will look at the accounts that are available.

The Chancellor highlighted that they are covering the same amount of income for self-employed individuals as they are for furloghed employees, who also receive a grant of 80%. Unlike the employee scheme, the self-employed can continue to work and receive support.

Read more: Employment Law Update 2020: The Coronavirus and Self-Employment Income Support

A Quick Guide for Businesses 

In March, the Chancellor announced his plans to support employers and employees to endure both the immediate and long-term effects of COVID-19. 

In the uncertain economic climate, the key focus for employers over the coming months is going to be on keeping costs to a minimum wherever possible. The Government recognised that this would no doubt lead to redundancies amongst the work force, which ordinarily would not have taken place. The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is designed to avoid businesses having to take those drastic steps. 
The guidance is ever evolving and there are still many questions unanswered.  

Read more: The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme & Furloughed Workers

With COVID-19 dominating the news, having an unprecedented effect on the economy, trading and key commercial sectors as well as tragic worldwide consequences; is the global pandemic enough to protect your business from a breach of contract claim if you are unable to perform your contractual obligations?

Force Majeure?

A party to a contract will only be able to rely on force majeure to excuse non-performance if there is a force majeure clause in the contract.
A force majeure clause, in English law, has the effect of relieving a party from its contractual obligations on the occurrence of specified events that are beyond the parties’ control. For instance, a flood, natural disaster or war are common features of a force majeure clause. These clauses cannot be implied and arise solely from the existence of an express clause in the contract. The starting point is to check your contract or agreement to see whether it contains a force majeure provision.

Can you rely on a Force Majeure clause?

Even if the contract contains a Force Majeure clause, it is not guaranteed that a party will be able to rely on it for protection against claims for breach of contract.
English Courts traditionally take a stringent approach to interpreting these clauses, and typically a party will need to show:
  1. A force majeure event has occurred beyond the reasonable control of the affected party;
  2. It has prevented, hindered or delayed the performance of its obligations under the contract; and
  3. It has taken all reasonable steps to avoid or mitigate the event or its consequences.
Is COVID-19 a force majeure event?

Whether the disruption caused by COVID-19 is a force majeure event, will depend on the particular wording of the clause (rather than the parties’ intentions). Force Majeure clauses vary from contract to contract, and generally deals with political and/or natural events. If the clause makes no specific reference to epidemic, pandemic or quarantine (as it most likely will not), COVID-19 may be caught up by catch-all wording such as ‘Act of God’, or ‘other circumstances beyond the parties’ reasonable control’.
It is, of course, easier to bring a force majeure claim for COVID-19 if the clause expressly refers to a pandemic, though it is clear that COVID-19 would also qualify as a circumstance beyond the parties’ reasonable control.

Read more: COVID -19 UPDATE: Can it be a Force Majeure Event?

In a somewhat surprising decision in Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports, the Norwich Employment Tribunal have given a judgment at a preliminary hearing to determine that ethical veganism can amount to a philosophical belief and is thus a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The effect is therefore that the individual holding that protected characteristic has rights to bring claims under the Equality Act 2010, including claims for discrimination. Ethical veganism means that the Claimant, Mr Jordi Casamitjana Costa, follows a vegan diet and also opposes the use of animals for any purpose. This differs from health vegans, who choose a vegan diet related to reasons of individual health. His employer, the Respondent, is an animal welfare charity which campaigns against sports which rely on animals and hunting. 

The Claimant discovered that the Respondent's pension funds were being invested in companies which harmed animals, which in his view was unethical. The Claimant took steps to change his own fund to an alternative ethical fund, and also emailed a number of his colleagues to inform them of this and the steps he had taken to change his fund. This included supplying a table of fund choices and his opinions on the same.

The Claimant was dismissed for gross misconduct on the basis that had given financial advice in breach of repeated instructions not to do so. The Respondent denied that the dismissal was by reason of or connected to the Claimant's philosophical belief.

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination based on "religion or belief". This is widely defined, however, case law has established that for a belief to be a protected philosophical belief, it must:

1. Be genuinely held;
2. Be a belief not merely an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available; 
3. Be a belief as to a weigthy and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
4. Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
5. Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Employment Judge Postle, who heard the issue at a Preliminary Hearing, confirmed that they were satisfied that the ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and was therefore a protected characteristic. EJ Postle commented that it was easy to conclude this given the overwhelming evidence before the Tribunal.

There is a full-merits hearing which is currently taking place and is due to end on 6 March 2020. Watch this space.

This is contrasted by the decision of EJ Postle, again sitting in the Norwich Employment Tribunal in Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd which held that vegetarianism is not capable of amounting to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

Whilst statistics show that an increasing number of couples are choosing not to marry, many couples still choose to formalise their partnership, opting for a religious ceremony which reflects their upbringing and beliefs. 

Making the commitment to spend the rest of your life with another person brings with it a number of decisions. To the average person, the minute details of the day take precedence over particulars contained within the Marriage Act 1949 - which sets out the requirements for a valid marriage in England and Wales. Whilst some ceremonies will comply with the requirements laid down, other cases will not be so clear-cut meaning that the Court must decide whether there is a valid legal marriage through a careful analysis of the facts.

The case of Akhtar v Khan

This case involved a 20-year marriage between Nasreen Akhtar and Mohammed Shabaz Khan. Whilst the High Court originally ruled that the couple's islamic ceremony constituted a valid marriage under English Law, in February 2020 the Court of Appeal reversed this decision finding that the ceremony was legally invalid. Importantly, the ceremony had not been conducted in accordance with the Marriage Act 1949 meaning in the eyes of the law that it was a 'non-marriage' (or non-existent marriage).

Why does it matter?

Marriage brings with it a number of benefits associated with the legal status of husband and wife. These benefits are wide-ranging, spanning tax, pensions and inheritance. When a marriage irretrievably breaks down, either party has the right to apply to the Court for a financial order. In deciding what order to make, the Court will consider a range of factors whilst placing an emphasis on achieving a fair outcome in light of the needs and circumstances of the parties.

If there has been no valid marriage, there can be no divorce, meaning that separating couples are left with limited rights in the face of law. The case of Akhtar v Khan emphasises once again that the construct of common law husband and wife does not exist.

Get in touch

Our expert team of family solicitors can advise on a range of issues, from pre-nuptial agreements through to divorce, finance and child arrangement matters.

To discuss any of the issues raised in this note, or to find out how we can assist you further, please telephone us on 01494 451355 (High Wycombe office) or 020 3443 9576 (City of London office) or alternatively email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

By Nicola Corby, Trainee Solicitor

Up to a fifth of the UK workers could be "off sick at the same time" if there is a coronavirus epidemic in the UK, says the Government in its latest plans. It comes after Prime Minister Boris Johnson warned there could be "significant expansion" in UK cases.

The coronavirus disease (officially called covid-19) was declared a global health emergency by the World Health Organisation in January 2020. In light of the increasing health risk, it is important to act now and ensure your organisation is prepared and has plans in place to protect the health and safety of its staff, and others. It is time to be proactive.

Does your organisation have a plan in place? What will you do if you or your employees become infected or have been travelling in areas at risk of infection?

The employer's duty

Employers have a legal duty to protect health, safety and welfare of their employees and other people who might be affected by their business. Employers should take all reasonably practicable steps to achieve this. This includes making sure that workers and others are protected from harm and effectively controlling any risks to health that could rise in the workplace.

Reducing the risk of contracting coronavirus: good practice

The risk level of contracting coronavirus in Europe has been increased to "high". At this stage, it is important that we all keep monitoring guidance and advice issued from the Government, the World Health Organisation and health professionals.

We suggest that employers appoint a particular person (we would suggest a senior HR person) to take the lead; to conduct a workplace assessment, to provide general updates to staff, to consider the employer's policies on sick pay, home working, etc, and to be a point of contact for those employees with queries and concerns. We suggest that emails and guidance are circulated regularly, and prominent notices about careful washing of hands and the using and disposing of tissues when coughing and sneezing are placed around the workplace. Although obvious, it is important that sufficient hand wash, hot water and hand sanitiser are available and kept stocked up. Ensure that desks, phones, computers, etc are routinely cleaned. Employees contact details should be updated and accessible, so they can be kept in the loop if out of the office or if workplace arrangements quickly change. Emergency contact details should also be accessible. It has been suggested that a private room or space be set up in the workplace (if possible) in case an employee becomes ill at work, so they can follow NHS direction, isolate themselves and call 111. Employees who are due to travel to high risk areas on business should cancel or change their plans, and employers should consider any insurance policies in place to cover related costs.
This is an evolving situation. It is therefore important to be flexible as a business and be prepared to make (urgent) changes in the workplace and take all necessary steps if/as the outbreak develops. This may include, in extreme cases, complete business closure for a temporary period. Communication will be key. Some further considerations follow.

Read more: Employment Guidance on covid-19 (Coronavirus)

2020 in upon us. Now is the time to refresh and remind yourself of what lies ahead this year and start to prepare for employment law changes which could affect you or your business (putting Brexit to one side!). Some of the key changes follow, effective 6 April 2020.

1. Written statement of terms to be provided on Day 1

Current law

Employees who have been continuously employed for more than one month must be provided with a written statement of terms and conditions of their employment within two months of commencing.

What is changing

All new employees and workers must be provided with a written statement on or before their first day of employment; a day one right. More detailed information will have to be included in the written statement, too. This includes: the hours and days of the week the worker/employee is required to work; whether they may be varied and how; entitlements to any paid leave; any other benefits such as healthcare, vouchers, lunch, etc; details of any probationary period; and details of training provided by the employer. If it has not been done already, employers should start preparing new contracts for new recruits from 6 April 2020.

Read more: 2020: Upcoming Employment Law Changes

Before looking into the proposals that have been introduced regarding no fault divorces, it is necessary to understand the current position of divorce law in England and Wales. It may come as a surprise to many that, as it stands, there is only one ground of divorce in England and Wales. This ground is known as irretrievable breakdown and it must be evidenced by one or more of five facts as listed in the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973:

1. Adultery
2. Unreasonable behaviour
3. Desertion
4. Two years of separation and consent
5. Five years of separation

The first three of these facts are fault-based and the last two facts concern separation over two of five years, respectively.

Focusing more on the fault-based facts, these have been subject to wide-spread criticism and have even led to the Ministry of Justice publishing a consultation paper in September 2018 seeking views on replacing the current system of divorce.

Read more: No Fault Divorce Proposals

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