Posted on | March 24, 2013 | 3 Comments
The Family Justice Knowledge Hub. Sounds modern dunnit?
It’s not really. It’s a newsletter in word format with a boxy design, which collates details of recent and current research bearing upon matters of family justice.
Boxy but useful. Like a volvo.
You can subscribe to it by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Not that you’d know because there isn’t any information about it on justice.gov.uk (a search for “knowledge hub” brings up various things, but no direct information about the hub or where to find it). Read more
Posted on | March 18, 2013 | 4 Comments
So. Leveson then.
Not just for newspapers but for lil ol’ blogs too it seems.
Is it chilly in here?
Posted on | March 8, 2013 | 3 Comments
I revisited the case of Re H (Children)  EWCA Civ 1797 recently, having read a blog post about it on Suesspicious Minds entitled Oh Lord, won’t you buy me, a McKenzie Friend? (Yes I know, my song title is inferior to his). As pointed out in that post its an authority which is not on Bailii although it is accessible on subscription services. This blog post will probably make more sense if you read the Suesspicious Minds post first.
It’s been like an itch I had to scratch. The question that was bothering me having read the Suesspicious minds post was really this : what amounts to “conduct of litigation”, and if it is right to give it the broad interpretation apparently endorsed by the CoA in this case, should courts be requiring formal applications to be made by McKenzie friends as a matter of course (which plainly does not happen at the moment)?
At the moment the McKenzie friend guidance provides for a right of reasonable assistance (which on a layman’s interpretation one might think could include assistance with preparing documents), but correctly points out that conducting litigation is a criminal offence, and that the court should only grant such rights exceptionally, not just for convenience. Read more
Posted on | March 8, 2013 | 23 Comments
I came across a chap called David Gale recently when he posted a comment on my blog, and in one of my more idle moments I clicked through to find out about who he was. David Gale it seems, is a UKIP activist, an unsuccessful candidate for Police Commissioner, and the man behind a campaign called “Kids for Cash Court Scandal” – and it’s this campaign which interested me (I don’t usually spend much time trawling UKIP websites).
I’ll just give you a flavour of the article in which this campaign was launched, as a plank it seems of the unsuccessful bid to become Police Commissioner for Derbyshire (a plank not entirely consistent, I note in passing. with his promises to focus police resources on anti-social behaviour and gang related crime):
“Judges and lawyers will go to jail if a new Police Commissioner has his way.
David Gale, UKIP’s candidate to become Derbyshire’s first Police and Crime Commissioner, is setting out his stall to tackle what he says is corruption and criminality within the family justice system. Accusing judges and lawyers of routine involvement in perverting the course of justice, Gale says that where parents are encouraged to fabricate allegations and the court turns a blind-eye, there must be a formal criminal investigation.”
Alright. Let’s take this piece by piece shall we? Are you sitting comfortably? Read more
Posted on | March 7, 2013 | 3 Comments
It’s Official! Self Represented Litigants are OUT. Litigants in Person are back IN.
And I have PROOF. Which is good, because I’ve been chasing my tail trying to track the source of the rumours trickling out and beyond working out there was some form of guidance being circulated around the judiciary, and being told that the MoJ were terribly exercised by the fact that LiP was a term used in primary legislation (although scarcely) I had drawn a blank.
So, here it is. March 2013 guidance for the judiciary from the Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson. I’m not sure what it is Annex A of, but it has been pinged around this morning. Could someone forward it to Lord Neuberger? I don’t think he got the memo before his interview earlier this week.
Remember campers, the most important thing when preparing for the flood of LiPs forecast in the months to come is knowing what to call them. Name your fear people. Name your fear.
Posted on | March 3, 2013 | 25 Comments
Transparency is edging closer. After the Childrens Schools and Families Act 2010 fiasco (provisions reforming privacy in family proceedings which were much criticised, never brought into force and finally repealed by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012), we’ve been left with the small step introduced in 2010 that was allowing reporters to sit in – but not report. Not that this stopped them reporting. Or complaining about not being able to report the things they had reported.
But as irritating and lopsided as some reports were, they did always have a valid point of principle : transparency.
Sir Nicholas Wall, in his time as President, was increasingly keen on the publication of judgments, and his replacement Sir James Munby has already let it be known that significant changes are on the drawing board, announcement expected soon. I imagine that, short of an announcement that there will be primary legislation (which would be for someone in Government rather than the judiciary to announce), this can be little more than a Practice Direction, President’s Guidance or possibly some amendment to the FPR 2010, either of which would probably bear upon the appropriate exercise of discretion vis a vis reporters and publication of information, rather than complete removal the various protections upon privacy that span numerous pieces of primary legislation. But whatever it is, change is afoot and it is probably going to alter the way we work. We’re getting used to change around here.
In a separate but related development, this week it is reported in the Telegraph that Mostyn J has lifted an injunction prohibiting the reporting of proceedings in which Telegraph journalist Christopher Booker had taken an interest. Indeed, according to the Telegraph, Booker had already published a number of items referring to the case before the specific injunction was imposed. Booker is unsurprisingly bombastic. At present the judgment is not apparently on BAILII and it is unclear which of Booker’s many cause celebres (how does one pluralise that phrase?) is now clear for take off (it is referred to in this week’s column as Telegraph as LB Sutton v M and appears to be the case reported here). (If any reader of this blog can correctly identify the case and judgment could you post it in the comment thread below or email me and I will amend / update?)
It seems highly likely that the judgment regarding the press injunction in this case will be published in due course, if not the substantive judgment(s). It will of course only be at that stage that the public and the legal community are properly able to assess whether the reporting was and is as accurate as Booker promised Mostyn it would be, and can form a view about its journalistic balance (the “tendentious” quality of his reporting is something that he has been criticised for before by the judiciary).
Posted on | February 28, 2013 | 18 Comments
Some have speculated that once LASPO 2012 has been implemented on 1 April and pretty much everything falls out of scope there will be plenty of – erm – scope – for applications under the “exceptional cases” provisions (Legal aid cuts? What legal aid cuts?  Fam Law 1267, Peter Graham Harris, Oxford Centre for Family Law & Policy and Exeter College, University of Oxford). I don’t want to be the bearer of bad news but I fear that the The Man may have other ideas….
“The Lord Chancellor has now published guidance on exceptional cases in out of scope areas post April. These try to put the most restrictive emphasis on what cases might be brought. However what is absolutely not clear is who will be able actually to bring exceptional cases in those areas coming completely out of scope. As there will be no contracts in those areas and no specialist advisers/lawyers, who would actually be able to make a legal aid application in an out of scope area? Answers on a postcard please.”
So. The Guidane. It’s a long old document, so to try and focus on Family I’ll flag a few of the most striking paragraphs (this is emphatically not a systematic approach, I may have missed many more important bits). You can find the full guidance on funding here, and the separate document on exceptional funding here. Read more
Posted on | February 24, 2013 | 8 Comments
I rely heavily on Radio 4 in the mornings, both as antidote to early morning Cbeebies and in order to kick start my mental factulties. I’m usually animatedly berating Humph by the time I screech into my parking space of a morning, raring to get to court and exercise my lungs a bit more.
But sometimes something different is called for. Sometimes a case is heavy going and you need a different medicine. On those mornings, the ones where you seriously consider just staying under the duvet, a vocal workout of the musical variety is required to dispel the early morning despond. Oh yeah. Bad singing is excellent therapy. Good job I don’t car pool…
Thank god for my iphone and the bluetooth handsfree whatssit in my car. It must be familiar, tuneful, and somehow either dripping with pathos or just utterly banal. Ladies and Gentlefolk I give you the Country playlist…
I’ve been listening to the Country playlist a lot lately. And you know a case is getting to you when every song is about your case today. Or your case last week. Or that case in your diary that is worrying you. And with Country songs there are a whole lot of echoes for a family lawyer. Although it should be a sort of musical bussmans holiday, for some reason singing it, singing it loud and singing it badly makes the real stuff all much more emotionally manageable. I suppose it is a cheap psychological trick, the reassurance that at least sh*t happens within a narrative framework, with symmetry and rhyme: Order made of chaotic lives- that’s country. And on one level that’s what we are striving to do, to restore some kind of order to chaotic lives. The harmonious telling of the darker side of life suits the black humour of the family lawyer. Read more
Posted on | February 12, 2013 | 2 Comments
Whether you are not-for-profit or private sector, if you work (or did recently work) in any of the following areas of law under public funding (legal aid) the Centre for Human Rights in Practice are asking you to complete this survey and and pass it to anyone else you know.
It is fully anonymous and can only be completed once from each computer to prevent multiple submissions
The survey is open until 3rd March and is applicable to you if you work/worked in:
- Community Care
- Immigration and Asylum
- Mental Health
- Public Law
- Welfare Benefits
What is the survey for?
This survey has been created to gather robust evidence regarding the impact of the cuts to legal aid introduced by LASPO. Much of the focus to date has been on the immediate impact of the cuts on advice providers and the individuals they support. This survey aims to capture the lasting effects on the sector by documenting the cumulative loss of expertise that will result from service closures.
By exploring what will happen to individuals working in social welfare law once the cuts take effect, we hope to provide rigorous evidence demonstrating that LASPO cuts will inflict serious and permanent damage to the social welfare law sector and leave generations of vulnerable individuals without the high quality support that they need to access justice.
This evidence will feed into the work being carried out by the Low Commission, amongst others.
A report analysing the findings of the survey will be published on 1st April 2013 to coincide with LASPO coming into force. Our hope is that the report will give campaigners both a robust evidence base demonstrating the impact of the cuts and provide a different angle from which to lobby for long term funding for the sector
Who is the survey for?
The survey is aimed at all individuals currently working in the categories of law listed above and those who may have already left due to the cuts and anticipated implementation of LASPO. It is sector wide – lawyers and non-laywers – and participation is not linked to membership of any particular advice network.
Who is the survey by?
The survey and attendant report is being run by the Centre for Human Rights in Practice based at the University of Warwick. The survey questions were developed in partnership with ilegal and the report will be published exclusively through ilegal in the first instance.
Contact ilegal for more information.
Posted on | February 8, 2013 | 14 Comments
You may not have noticed amidst the horsemeat hysteria and gay marriage news – but the Children and Families Bill was published this week. I haven’t had time to do more than glance at the Bill, but it looks more or less as we expected it to. The Bill will introduce a presumption of parental involvement, cap care proceedings at 26 weeks, put restrictions on the use of experts on a statutory footing and abolish residence orders in favour of child arrangements orders (although child arrangements orders include those which say where a child will live which is a residence order in all but name).
Having read a little bit about the rather unpopular bedroom tax this week I was struck by the way that the approach of two different government policies in separate areas appear to be in tension with one another. There is lots of criticism of the bedroom tax, but I’m interested in the impact on separated parents and their children (and on foster carers although I don’t deal with that here).
The C &F Bill is borne of an aspiration to ensure both parents are involved in a child’s life (this blog post is not the place to argue whether it will achieve that). From what I can tell the bedroom tax may well make it less economically viable for a separated parent who is not the main carer (by which in this context I mean less than 50% of the time) and who is living in social housing to have overnight contact or shared care. The difficulty already exists for parents in private accommodation who are in receipt of housing benefit because of the way that is worked out based on “need”, but the bedroom tax will mean that some parents in social housing who currently have a spare room that their children stay in may find it very difficult to continue in that accommodation, and by extension to develop or maintain extensive staying contact or shared care. In short separated parents in such accommodation will be treated as over-housed and taxed on the bedroom the kids stay in.
The benefits rules operate on a binary basis, they don’t fit well with shared care or flexible arrangements – when it comes to child benefit, child tax credits and no doubt other benefits, only one parent can be the primary carer, and from that entitlement flows. Some parents in shared care arrangements agree to apportion the child related benefits between them, but this is of course only helpful where there is goodwill between parents. So one can envisage cases where parents situations are polarised – at one end the resident parent is in receipt of child benefit, child tax credit, full housing benefit with no bedroom tax, child support (not significantly reduced by overnight stays) and has accommodation adequate for self and children, whilst the non resident parent is unable to secure or to maintain accommodation large enough for anything more than occasional overnights on a put up bed or sofa, and is liable for child support without reduction based on overnight stays (probably theoretical rather than actual as most HB recipients will be paying minimal CM). And of course if you are a dad stuck in a pokey 1 bed flat the reality is that you need to take the kids out and that costs money (or careful planning and identification of free or cheap activities). The alternative for the non resident parent who wishes to achieve or continue a shared care arrangement involving substantial periods in his home is to somehow absorb the bedroom tax in order to obtain or maintain suitable accommodation, but then he is left with the cost burden of maintaining and entertaining the child whilst in his care with no recognition or support from the state reflected in his benefits. OR….And this is what worries me – the other alternative is to go for broke and say “Well if I want a really meaningful relationship with my children I’ll have to go for sole majority care”.
Of course this rigidity in the benefits system and the mismatch with real life and the flexible approach in the Children Act is not new, but the possible knock on effect of the bedroom tax is an illustration of how there are multiple factors at play when we think about how we make aspirations for the full involvement of both parents in a child’s life a reality rather than a promise.
It is not inconceivable to suppose that for some families where it might otherwise be entirely workable and suitable, shared residence will not be economically feasible – and that this could lead to litigated residence disputes because the benefits system has forced the parties into a winner takes all mentality. It’s not uncommon to hear parents complaining that “s/he only wants residence for the benefits or to get a property” or “he only wants overnights so he can reduce his CSA payments” (often in high conflict cases this is preceded by the startling assertion that “s/he doesn’t love them at all” ). More often than not such assertions are the conflict talking, and of course people’s motivations are quite complex and multilayered. But for parents who desperately want to be able to provide for their children, to be able to spend time with their children, to regularly put their kids to bed and to eat breakfast with their children – the economics of it are important.« go back — keep looking »