Sunday, December 31, 2006

Old John's Almanac

Old Father JohnIn time-honoured tradition here are my predictions for the family law news stories of 2007:

January - The Courts Service announces a 1000% rise in court fees. The cost to issue a divorce petition will now be £3000. The Lord Chancellor's Department denies that the rise is motivated by the desire to reduce court waiting times.

February - The Lord Chancellor gives himself a 1000% pay rise, but denies that this has anything to do with January's announcement.

March - The Child Support Agency announces that uncollected child support payments now total more than £4 billion. The Agency responds by cutting staff.

April - Breakaway fathers' rights group The Real Families Need Fathers 4 Justice carries out it's most audacious stunt to date when group Chairperson Ollie Nosworthy dresses up as Tony Blair and announces that this year he will be paying for his own holiday.

May - Sir Paul McCartney and Heather Mills decide to settle out of court. Their lawyers are spotted in a bar near the Law Courts crying into their dazzle cocktails.

June - The Child Support Agency announces that uncollected child support payments now exceed £5 billion. Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton responds by granting himself a pay rise.

July - Lord Carter is mugged by a group of tramps in Chancery Lane. Reports that the muggers were all out of work legal aid solicitors are denied by the Legal Services Commission.

August - Ollie Nosworthy is seen holidaying at Tony Blair's new villa in Tuscany.

September - The Child Support Agency announces that uncollected child support payments are now more than £6 billion. The average time between a parent claiming child support and receiving any payment is now 17 years and 11 months.

October - The House of Lords gives its judgment in the landmark case of Black v Black. On divorce, wives will now receive all of their husband's assets, save where the husband can show a 'galactic contribution', in which case he gets to keep the family pet.

November - The Child Support Agency announces that uncollected child support payments now total more than £7 billion. The agency's replacement, C-MEC, denies that recovering the arrears will prevent it from doing its job.

December - The last firm to offer a legal aid service, Messrs. Brow, Beaten & Bankrupt of Little Sodbury finally closes it's doors. The three-mile long queue of new clients reluctantly makes its way to the nearest C.A.B..

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Season's Greetings

Merry Xmas!Just a quick post to say thank you to all who have taken the time to come to Family Lore, and to wish all readers a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

[Animated gif courtesy "Free Gifs & Animations".]

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

One For All

Do law and religion mix?Last week's Law Gazette contained an interesting article highlighting "the difficulty of squaring English and Muslim family law". The article makes some good points, such as that solicitors will be better able to help their clients if they understand the client's religion and culture (although as an atheist I don't think I'll ever understand why intelligent people spend their lives believing in some imaginary sky-god). However, what bothers me here is the increasing recognition of religious systems of law, driven by the ever-increasing pressure to be politically correct. Obviously, there can only be one system of law, and it should be a secular system, especially in a multicultural society such as ours.

Government funds 'safe rooms'

In a widening of the 'safe rooms' scheme that I mentioned in a previous post, the government has announced a £74 million fund to provide victims of domestic violence with a secure room within their homes, equipped with alarms and CCTV. As I said before, while this may be useful in some cases, it will be of little help to victims who will not have time to get to the room, and it could even encourage some to stay put in their homes when they would be better off moving to an address that their attacker does not know.

Friday, December 15, 2006

C-MEC: Substance or Spin?

Spin Doctor?Further to my last post, the White Paper "A new system of child maintenance" can now be found here. I notice that the acronym for the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission is given as "C-MEC", although I don't know where the hyphen comes from.

The White Paper emphasises the "new focus" of encouraging parents to make their own arrangements - see chapter 2 - but parents who agree support/maintenance for their children were never the problem. The primary problem is those parents who refuse to pay.

As I mentioned previously the arrears of the CSA are not to be written off, but I wasn't sure who would have the job of seeking to recover those arrears. Paragraph 19 of the 'Executive Summary' makes it clear that this is to be the responsibility of C-MEC. Won't this enormous burden drag it down and tar it with the same brush as the CSA? Paragraph 44 states that: "Following legislation in 2007–08, the Government will move quickly to establish C-MEC" - this does not leave the CSA much time to make much of a dent in it's £3.5 billion arrears. If C-MEC is to be a smaller body than the CSA, how will it have the resources to recover what the CSA cannot? Much is made of the new enforcement provisions, but I hardly think that they are going to be a panacea. If the arrears don't decrease (or worse, increase), then C-MEC will soon be regarded as much as a failure as the CSA.

I hope my pessimism turns out to be misplaced, but the more I look at the proposals the more I think "government spin".

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

New name, same problems?

Definitely NOT the Child Support AgencySo the body that will replace the Child Support Agency is to be called the "Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission". I wonder whether in a few years time that will be a name that is held in any higher esteem than "Child Support Agency". Gone is the term 'child support', and we return to the old term (still used by the courts): 'child maintenance'. I also note the emphasis on 'enforcement', more of which in a moment.

Much of the rest of today's announcement by Work and Pensions Secretary John Hutton is not news, having been mentioned/hinted at/leaked already. However, there are some interesting points:

  • Importantly, the CSA's 3.5 billion pounds of debt will not be written off - good news for those thousands of parents waiting for payment, although how much of this will ever be seen is another matter.
  • The proposals include a plan to make it compulsory to have the father's name recorded on the birth certificate 'to help future enforcement', although I'm not sure exactly how this is going to work.
  • Extra enforcement powers "will include the imposition of new curfews and the surrendering of passports, piloting mandatory withholding of wages as the first means of collecting maintenance and exploring [with?] the financial services sector new powers to collect maintenance from accounts held by financial institutions". So, we may have attachment of earnings without any failure to pay, and garnishee "orders".
  • Removal of the requirement to apply to the courts for a liability order before taking enforcement action. It makes me nervous that the Commission will be free to take enforcement action without the independent 'check' of the court.
  • Powers to recover debt from estates of the deceased. I was going to make a joke about not being able to rest in peace, but then I remembered that some parents have been driven to suicide by how much they have been required to pay.

  • Lastly, the CMEC will charge the non resident parent for it's services. I'm sure this will go down well with NRPs.
Hands up if any of you are confident that these proposals will dramatically improve the assessment and collection of child maintenance. No, I thought not. Still, I suppose the CMEC can't do any worse than the CSA, or at least I hope it can't.

Monday, December 11, 2006

The perfect Xmas gift

God DetectorI've found the perfect Xmas gift. The Yo-God God Detector. As it says on the site: "We all want to know if God exists; maybe He just needs a reliable method to let us know He's here. The Yo-God God Detector gives God a way to send a simple, unambiguous message of His presence". Ingenious in it's simplicity, the detector comprises a dial that God can move from 'No' to 'Yes' to indicate that He is there. Movement of your God Detector's indicator dial can be reported on the site.

What better gift to give on the anniversary of His son's birthday?

[Edit: I suppose to be PC, I should mention other religions, especially in these sensitive times. Unfortunately, however, I can't vouch for whether the God Detector will work for Allah, Zeus, Wotan or whichever other god you are waiting to hear from.]

Sunday, December 10, 2006

More futile gloss?

BBC NewsFollowing on from yesterday's post, the BBC reports today that one of the new child support measures to be announced by the government this week is the 'naming and shaming' of absent parents who refuse to pay, by putting their details on a website. This is, of course, an idea that has been used before, particularly with convicted paedophiles. However, whilst I can imagine worried parents looking at the paedophiles website, I can't imagine many people going to the non-payers site, especially as it is likely to contain thousands of names. Is this really going to encourage determined non-payers to cough up?

It seems to me that this is yet another example of government 'gloss' - showing that they are doing something, when it will probably make little, if any, difference. As usual, all of the measures are driven by cost, rather than by how effective they will be.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

A litany of failures

BBC NewsAhead of next week's government announcement about the 'improvements' to the child support system, the BBC has a report today entitled 'CSA steps up enforcement action', but if you are a parent waiting for payment, don't get your hopes up.

The report tells us that the number of parents going to prison for non-payment of child support rose to 22, from six in 2005. A hard-liner would be disgusted that only 22 out of thousands of parents who wilfully refuse to support their children are sent to prison. On the other hand, those who are more liberally-minded would be appalled that anyone has been sent to prison - after all, it is over 130 years since imprisonment for debt was abolished. Who benefits from imprisonment? Certainly not the children, who are denied contact with one of their parents.

The report also confirms that the Child Support agency has been making greater use of debt collectors to collect unpaid money, as they are apparently far better at doing this than the Agency itself. This makes me nervous. I am sure there are many reputable debt collection agencies, but there are also many unscrupulous ones that use intimidatory methods that are of dubious legality.

Lastly, the report mentions the "fear that more than £1bn owed to parents will be written off when the agency is replaced", and gives the example of one parent to whom some £10,000 is owed. This may not be much if you are a premiership footballer, but to most ordinary people (and, more importantly, their children) such a sum can make all the difference.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Hear No Evil

GazetteStill on the subject of legal aid, I read today in the Law Society's Gazette that, according to Lord Justice Wall, there "is unanimity among the judiciary 'from the President of the Family Division downwards' that the implementation of the Carter review would have a devastating effect on the practice of family law". Apparently, he "feared the disappearance of many valuable firms and competent family practitioners, who would be priced out of the market and forced to abandon the work", which "would lead to an increase in the already large number of litigants in person, with a consequent increase in the time spent by the court on each case, and decrease in the number of settlements".

How much more clearly does the government want it spelt out? The article also quotes a Department for Constitutional Affairs spokesman admitting, with typical government complacency and under statement: "we recognise that the details of the proposed family schemes were not quite right". Nothing gets past them, does it? He says they will be consulting on revised proposals in the new year, but I can't see the government listening to anyone, no matter how distinguished, although I hope I am wrong.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Not enough to pay the bills

The road to ruinIf there's one thing more depressing than watching the cricket, it must be costing legal aid work. Like many of my brethren, I gave up doing legal aid work a few years ago, but I do still do the odd agency legal aid work for firms that have not yet 'seen the light'. This morning I received a letter from one such firm, costing the work that I had done for them, at legal aid rates. For nearly three hours worth of work I will receive the princely sum of £114.10, an average hourly rate of about £38, or about a quarter of the average hourly rate in this area for privately funded work. Unfortunately for me, the job involved an hour waiting at court at £27.50 an hour, which brought the average down, although I have never understood the rationale for charging substantially less for travelling and waiting, when a solicitor's hourly overheads are the same no matter what he/she is doing.

Of course, many non-lawyers reading this might think that £38 per hour isn't a bad rate of remuneration, but that is because they have little inkling of just how much solicitors' overheads (premises, staff, equipment, insurance etc.) are, or the fact that a large proportion of a solicitor's average working day simply isn't chargeable.

It doesn't take a genius to work out why firms are giving up legal aid work in their droves - the only surprise to me is that so many are still prepared to do it. Obviously, they must be driven by a sense of public duty rather than the profit motive, but in the end a sense of public duty won't pay the bills.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Promoting the Ethos

ResolutionBack to the serious stuff. Resolution, the association of family lawyers, has announced a proposal that will, if implemented, substantially change the process of applying for membership, and is also tackling the issue of "adherence to the ethos and aims of the organisation".

Up until now prospective members of Resolution have had to be nominated by two existing members and recommended by the relevant regional committee. However, there have been concerns that some potential members have difficulty securing two nominations, for example those from minority groups and young solicitors. The regional committee review has also been challenged as "a closed shop which is capable of serving the business interests of those sitting on the committee". Accordingly, it is proposed that both requirements will be dispensed with, and replaced by a new requirement that applicants display a greater knowledge of Resolution's Code of Practice, by having to attend a course on the Code during their first year of membership.

Adherence to the Code by Resolution members has always been a thorny issue. What do you do if you feel that a fellow member is not adhering to the Code? The Code itself is being revised to make it shorter and to emphasise the approach to be taken by members to their work, thereby making it easier for members to identify what is required of themselves and their colleagues. In addition, members are being encouraged to discuss with other members why a particular communication from them could be construed as offending a particular paragraph of the Code, with the aim of resolving the issue by discussion. In this way, it is hoped that the complaints and disciplinary process will only be used as a remedy of last resort.

Personally, I'm in favour of anything that increases membership and promotes the constructive, non-confrontational ethos of the association. Unfortunately, much work remains to be done to dispel the public's perception of family lawyers as self-serving people who only make matters worse.

Online amusement

Line RiderHere's an amusing distraction, mentioned to me by my son. Line Rider is a simple but (I think) very clever Flash program written by someone who calls himself *fsk. As he says, it is not a game but a 'toy', as "there are no goals to [achieve] and there is no score". The idea is ingenious in it's simplicity - you just have to draw a line or lines on the screen for your tobogganist to slide down, but it's not as easy as it looks to keep him going.

Perfect for those times when you're waiting for your next appointment to show up!

Friday, December 01, 2006

New blawg sets sail

No sooner do I remove a legal blog from my blogroll, than I find another one to replace it. Head of Legal is a new blog by an anonymous 'barrister, specialising in European, human rights and public law'. What is more, he has kindly mentioned my post a couple of days ago about the Molly Campbell/Misbah Rana case (in which, incidentally, I learn today on the BBC that Molly/Misbah is refusing to return to Scotland), and lists Family Lore on his blogroll. I wish Head of Legal bon voyage in it's journey around the blawgosphere.

As rare as NHS dentists

ResolutionIn a press release issued a couple of days ago, Resolution legal aid spokesman David Emmerson warns that if the proposed legal aid reforms go through then legal aid lawyers will become as rare as NHS dentists. He says: "It is no exaggeration to say that if these reforms go through, it will result in the total collapse of the system with devastating effects on those vulnerable members of the public it was designed to protect".

Are you listening, Lord Falconer?

Times Passed

Times OnlineAs reported recently by Nick Holmes of Binary Law, the Times Online Law Weblog has, for unexplained reasons, ceased to exist, and has therefore been removed from my 'blogroll'. A pity - I, too, would like to know why it was stopped.

In another post Nick Holmes berates the use of Google ads on (most) blogs. As anyone who has been here before may know, I did run Google ads for a while, but I stopped a few months ago - why get paid peanuts for the privilege of having other people's adverts plastered all over your blog?

Bad news for The Bollo?

The Bollo, ChiswickNow for the big news story. Will this mean that Charon won't be visiting The Bollo after 30th June next year? Or perhaps passers-by will be seeing a distinguished-looking figure nipping outside for a 'quick one'? Of course, it could just be that their Rioja sales will increase as a certain patron drowns his sorrows...