Posted on | June 10, 2013 | 24 Comments
[Update from Lucy : Today judgment in this case was handed down (see press summary). The parents' appeal was dismissed. Some comments which were held back pending judgment have now been published.]
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will give judgment In the matter of B (a Child).
It will be less than four months since Lady Hale observed,
It is some indication of the importance of the issues that the apparently simple words [of the legal threshold for the making of a care order for a child] have been considered by the House of Lords and the Supreme Court in no less than six cases… [ J (Children), Re  UKSC 9 (20 February 2013) at paragraph 3]
This will be the seventh. And possibly the most important. The Supreme Court is once again considering when the State can remove children from their families. A number of the earlier cases have dealt with issues around the nature and burden of proof, problems arising from the fact that unlike the criminal courts, we are dealing with protecting from future harm, rather than punishing for past harm. Unquestionably important, but dry.
Posted on | June 5, 2013 | 23 Comments
Genuine Question :
Is THIS report in the Daily **** (I cannot bring myself to type its name) “Secret court jails father for sending son 21st birthday greeting on Facebook after he was gagged from naming him” (riddled as it is with obvious misstatements of the law in the real world and bound loosely together by hyperbolic nonsense)
connected in any way to the emergence this week of THIS new supplementary PD on Committals in Family Proceedings less than a month after the last one (relating to Family and CoP proceedings – see earlier post in which it also appeared there was a back story)??
h/t to @thesmallplaces who pointed out the news report, at which my mind duly boggled, but given the overall *cough* quality of the report I rather took it with a pinch of salt, assuming that it would be unlikely to have been reported in any event as it was County Court proceedings – although I note that on 13 May 2 judgments in unrelated County Court committal proceedings were published on BAILII: North Tyneside Council v Kornas  EW Misc 4 (CC) (13 May 2013) and North Tyneside Council v Kornas  EW Misc 5 (CC) (13 May 2013), so it does happen.
In the event that a judgment does appear on BAILII in the wake of this perhaps someone can post a comment to update?
I note from the PD that it is now expected that robes will be worn in all committals – perhaps I will get my six hundred quid’s worth out of it after all (notwithstanding my obvious brilliance I don’t spend all my time in the Court of Appeal you know). Invariably in my experience (admittedly not recent) you drag ‘em along just incase, and endure 10 minutes of itchy forehead only to be told to take the fancy dress off as soon as the hearing begins.
PS The PD can also be found on BAILII here.
Posted on | May 31, 2013 | 5 Comments
Haven’t had time to read this other than to glance at the revised table of what happens on what day and notice the words “appoint solicitor for child only if necessary” against Day 2. (It then goes on to say sol for child should sort out the advocates meeting – which rather begs the question of why they aren’t a necessary appointment in every case, for that if for no other reason – but hey ho).
It’s all been much trailed but I wasn’t expecting that… Who knows what other delights will be uncovered on a proper read through.
Anyway, roll up roll up get ‘em while they’re hot etc etc… :
Posted on | May 29, 2013 | 3 Comments
Scarcely a month goes by when there is not some consultation that touches on some aspect of legal aid or justice. But this one is a biggie (Transforming Legal Aid: Delivering a more credible and efficient system).
It’s not for lack of interest that I have not so far blogged about it, I’ve just been a bit overwhelmed with work, trying to snatch a moment here and there to digest the consultation document and ponder its ramifications for family law. There are an astonishing array of other excellent blogs and articles which will tell you about the ramifications of the consultation for criminal law – none so far as I can tell saying “Yay! These really are truly excellent proposals, which I wholeheartedly support”, and plenty along the lines of “this will result in a catastrophic collapse of the criminal justice system – what ARE the government thinking?”. I’m not going to bother with a ham fisted attempt to articulate the concerns raised by the criminal legal community – but suggest you try the following examples : Read more
Posted on | May 23, 2013 | 7 Comments
Upon being introduced to me: “Oh – you’re the one who argues endlessly with the whole world on that blog!”
Me : “Erm. I prefer to call it engaging”.
Posted on | May 18, 2013 | 18 Comments
This week I attended a lecture by our new Designated Family Judge here in Bristol, His Honour Judge Wildblood QC, to inform the legal community about modernisation, the new PLO and how things will be in the new world order. Although some of the lecture dealt with local approach to particular issues, the majority of it will, I think, be illuminating for those practising further afield. So below are my notes of that lecture. Lawyers beware.
- Collaboration (team work)
- Change (recognise and accept)
Posted on | May 15, 2013 | 27 Comments
Just thought I’d pop in and say hi. I am still here, not-blogging away quietly.
I’m freshly arrived back from completing the annual bar survey, which prompted all sorts of deep consideration of life and the future. To respond to the questions I had to tot up how many hours a week I work (don’t ask) and rate my feelings about life at the bar and such things as where I think I might be in 2 years time (cue ambivalent and contradictory responses). Frankly who knows. It occured to me as I box ticked my way through said survey that I could have had four children adopted by then, if only I could gestate them quick enough…
According to all the despondent solicitors I’ve been grimly sipping coffee with this week (actually I’ve been slurping tea but you get my drift), we’ll all be sailing down the swannee in a gravy boat with a corpulent pussy cat and a five pound note. I paraphrase…
You see what happens when my work life balance is all wrong and I’m working too many hours? I’m getting slightly hysterical and surreal. But the problem is we are surrounded by other over worked slightly hysterical family lawyers and the only time we pause for breath is over coffee, when we compare how depressed we are, like Mel Gibson and Danny Glover with their competitive battle scars. It’s not healthy.
But seriously, I have been working too hard. It’s not often I can’t find time to blog and I haven’t lately. Every case I get is a mammoth read. And every brief arrives in the nick of time (if by “nick of time” you mean in sufficient time to allow all the papers to be read without making allowance for cooking dinner, sleep, or generally doing anything between the hours of 7.30am and bed other than work)…Oh how I long for those slender ex parte non mol briefs of my youth.
And by jiminee it is grim talking to family solicitors these days. I’ve listened to a number of utterly dedicated and highly experienced partners talk about how they are working themselves into the ground trying to keep their firms vaguely viable, about how stressed they are with responsibility for employees, clients, families – about how they feel they may no longer be doing good nor even doing “no harm”. I’ve heard an expert opine that “We didn’t come into this work to do shoddy child protection work” (a reference to the new style swift and short expert report). Yes. The froth has gone from our coffee…Even the inappropriate black humour is drying up. The bar (in pockets at least) remain a bit more blissfully distanced from reality. They’re still drinking lattes the fools.
A piece of legal advice – do not have coffee with a family lawyer. Ever. It might be catching.
On another coffee related note, several of the depressed tweeting lawyers (we are legion) have been pondering our next incarnation in a post-bar utopia. Barista was the obvious option since it requires only a small amount of tipex in order to enable us to recycle our business cards. But it lacks creativity. Personally I think my plan to launch a coffee shop replete with photocopy, print and internet facilities for disorganised litigants in person in the vacant shop next door to the Bristol Civil Justice Centre is a stroke of genius, if only because it presents an opportunity to think up mildly (very mildly) amusing names. “Copy Latte” is my fave. Or “Copyteria” or “Triplicup”… I could go on. My skill with words is a key transferable skill you know.
So anyway, in this coffee shop litigants in person (or disorganised and disguised lawyers) could access basic legal reference materials, quickly locate and print an authority from Bailli or wherever, photocopy that massive document they sent only to the judge – whilst the lawyers could use our app to order a coffee and sandwich surreptitiously under the desk whilst the judge isn’t looking (thereby dispensing with the need to take ANY lunch break at all – hurrah). Perhaps if I call my coffee shop a “Hub of Justice” (like Wheel of Fortune only with more arbitrary results) it will attract some social entrepeneurial start up tax relief or an MoJ grant…. (civil servants like HUBS).
Oh and I forgot to say – customers who could prove they had suffered domestic violence would get a free jammie dodger. I need to do some work on my business model and pricing structure but I’m pretty sure that the profit from the latte drinking lawyers could subsidise the photocopying costs of the litigants in person OR that the profits from the hordes of carrier bag wielding litigants in person might enable us to set up a project to feed impecunious lawyers or to carry out conservation work to save them from extinction. One or the other….
I think my Dragon’s Den pitch is really shaping up, don’t you?
Posted on | May 5, 2013 | 6 Comments
You know that thing when the Daleks get a bit hot under the carapace and spin around in confused fashion before grinding to a smokey halt, toilet plunger wilting at a jaunty angle? That. That is the feel of those of us struggling to absorb the vast amounts of new guidance, update and direction.
Oh for a sonic screwdriver. Or an alcoholic one. My inbox has steam coming out of its ears.
So. What do we have?
“A View From The Presidents’ Chambers” Part Deux, in which our hero Munby observes that said view is not so much of a distant horizon but a very proximate wall. Or – to depart from my foolish analogies and feeble sarcasm to give you some actual information – in which he tells us all about the revised PLO (or to be accurate the still-being-revised-PLO, since it’s not yet finished). Headlines : the first CMH will take place on day 12. Thresholds will be shorter (e.g. “the parents are flaky”). And (as if this were an idea no-one thunk of before) it will henceforth be the expectation that Local Authority documents will be replete with analysis and assessment will be evidence based. *paddington stare*. There will be new arrangements for disclosure of certain documents by list and on request, whilst others must be provided as a matter of course. So we are to expect Local Authorities to present their cases in shipshape fashion. I wouldn’t argue with that.
In truth, much of this sounds very sensible (although it’s difficult to get a grip on it without seeing the actual guidance), but it remains to be seen how effective it will be if one limb of the family justice system does not keep up its end of the deal. And Munby makes no bones – it’s 26 weeks or else*.
A new PD on Committals in the Court of Protection and Family Division – in essence, hearings may be in private only exceptionally, and where such a course is taken a public judgment must be given setting out the reasons for taking that course, and where a person is committed for contempt of court the court must state publicly the findings made and the punishment given. There is I suspect, some back story to this which I have not had time to pick up on. I don’t know if it relates to this or this or this (although that case appears now to be in the criminal arena).
Following on from the LASPO detonation day on 1 April the Law Society have issued guidance for family solicitors who are now mopping up with assorted unbundled services to clients. The Bar Standards Board have issued new Public Access Guidance in light of the changes announced recently to end the 3 year call rule and the prohibition on taking on clients who might qualify for legal aid, and no doubt in anticipation of a significant post-LASPO increase in the use of public access cases. Incidentally, I’ve written an article in the Solicitors Journal about LiPs post LASPO which touches on issues relating to public access (you need to login to read it in full, but you can get a free 2 week trial).
“Finally, this case demonstrates again the crucial role played by the specialist family bar and solicitors. The role played by all of the representatives for all of the parties in this case has been of the utmost importance. All judges are very concerned at the prospect of an increase in self-represented litigants and the consequences for the family justice system. Not enough recognition is given to the contribution to the family justice system made by family lawyers.”
Also – see Suesspiciousminds blog on the recent JR judgment wherein the Legal Aid Agency (LSC if you’re old skool) got a slap in the face with a wet fish for arguing they didn’t need to give reasons for refusing prior authority.
I won’t bore you with the assorted local guidance and initiatives – which helpfully fill those tiny interstices between sleep and work just nicely. If we stop we might contemplate, so best keep busy.
Frankly, after all that, I find I have insufficient energy to return to my dalek analogy to wrap up…Save to offer you a quote from Davros himself : “The Children of Time are moving against us, but everything is falling into place” which sounds as if it ought to hold some profound meaning in this context even if I don’t quite know what that might be…pretty much how I feel about each piece of new guidance as it lands… (as you can see the daleks are an analogy brimming with potential, but I’m too knackered to care).
Tell me when I can come out from behind the sofa.
* for “else” read “tribunal”
Posted on | April 25, 2013 | 10 Comments
It is a truth universally acknowledged that at least 90% of people who work with children have not a clue about parental responsibility. Well, perhaps not universally acknowledged, and perhaps not 90%. And perhaps some of them have a little bit of a clue, but a little bit of a clue is a dangerous thing. A lot of the people you might expect to have a basic working knowledge of PR in fact operate on the basis of an entirely fictional version of parental responsibility. Teachers are the prime example. They’re good at being teachers, rubbish at understanding PR. This is not the fault of teachers – their employers, the local authorities – someone – ought to train them. It does matter because they have care and control of children who are under care orders, who are subject to orders restricting their contact or where there is parental conflict or uncertainty or disagreement about contact or residence arrangements. And they need to know whether or not they can, should, must release information or let the child go with a particular adult. And sadly they get it wrong alarmingly frequently – most often refusing to provide information a parent with PR is entitled to.
And the same is true of hospitals, particularly children’s wards. Of which I have had some recent experience. This week, on arrival at the ward with sprog 2.0, and in the course of answering the same series of obligatory questions for the umpteenth time, I gave my husband’s name and, reading ahead to the next question, volunteered that yes, he did have parental responsibility. “Oh no” said the lovely lovely nurse, “He doesn’t have PR if you’re married. Since 2000 he only has PR if he’s on the birth certificate”.
I couldn’t help it. I had to correct him. (Married dads always have PR. Since 2003 (not 2000) unmarried dads can also acquire PR by being on the birth certificate).
It wouldn’t have jarred so much, but the nurse had just given me the admission spiel about the ward rules, which included security – “Don’t let any other adult in to the ward, we have some sensitive cases here and some parents have restricted access (for which read care / child protection / suspected NAI cases, whose babies or children might be removed on discharge), and some of the parents whose children are here long term get quite frustrated”. So knowing who has PR really does matter. And professionals like our lovely young nurse, with the bedside manner that won over my reluctant three year old, really deserve proper training on this issue.
It’s probably not top of the list of priorities for teachers or health workers. But it does matter. And it is really a pretty simple topic to grasp.
Posted on | April 18, 2013 | 63 Comments
Today Margaret Thatcher was buried. I didn’t listen to the wall to wall coverage as I was in court, on a legal aid brief in the kind of case that would probably not attract legal aid if it commenced now (in fact there were dv issues, but I’m doubtful my client could have jumped the evidential hoops).
It is said that the cost of the funeral will be around £10 million. As I write, George Osborne’s tear is selling on ebay for £10 million – a mere drop in the ocean compared to the recent cuts to legal aid and the level of savings the government hopes it will make (£350 million).
Actually, I can’t tell you how much legal advice and representation £10 million would get you at legal aid rates. I had hoped to be able to give you a snappy stat. But the LSC is now the LAA, and the old labyrinthine but familiar website is gone and replaced with the labyrinthine and sterile justice.gov.uk where I can find even less useful information than even on the horrific LSC website. It’s like looking for a needle in a blindingly white haystack. And it’s late.
But I can tell you this. The same amount of money we’ve spent on affording respect and dignity to the importance of one person on this one day could cover the cost of representation on many days for many people : making sure fathers are remembered, victims of violence get their dignity back, and that the rights of all are respected.
Today many mourn Thatcher. Others mourn different losses.keep looking »