Friday, November 30, 2007

Hill v Haines, Charman revisited

This afternoon I attended an excellent seminar organised by Kent Resolution and given by the Family Law Team at Hardwicke Building. The theme was 'Recent Developments in Ancillary Relief', but the seminar essentially concentrated on two recent cases.

First up was Richard Buswell, who discussed Hill v Haines, a case I have mentioned here before. Richard began by stating that he does not believe the case has changed the law. Instead, its importance is that it significantly increases awareness of the impact of bankruptcy on ancillary relief applications. To recap, the case decided that divorce financial orders made in contested proceedings can be set aside, so that the trustee can utilise assets that the court ordered to be transferred from the bankrupt spouse to the other spouse, to pay the bankrupt's debts. Richard envisages trustees in bankruptcy mentioning Hill v Haines to family lawyers and expecting them to instantly capitulate, so listed a set of 'tools' that we can use to 'fight back'. He pointed out that the case does not say that orders can be set aside where consideration in money or money's worth has passed between the parties. Accordingly, we should look for examples, such as money already received/spent, or assets 'ring-fenced' and kept by the transferring spouse, such as a business. It could then be recited to the order that, for example, 'the wife has relinquished her claim to the husband's business, worth £x'. Very useful. [Note that Hill v Haines recently went before the Court of Appeal, and we are awaiting the judgement.]

Richard was accompanied by Simon Buckhaven, who gave a fascinating talk about the Charman case, detailing the facts and summarising the pertinent points. Simon considers that Charman has considerably clarified the principles to be applied when deciding an ancillary relief case, following a string of muddled and contradictory decisions. In particular, he says, equality of division is no longer just a 'yardstick' or check, it is a principle of financial law, so that property should be shared equally unless there is good reason to depart from equality. Importantly, Charman applies not only to big money cases but to all cases so, for example, it made clear that where need is greater than what can be achieved by equal sharing, need prevails; where need is met by sharing, sharing prevails. Charman then went on to clarify such issues as special contributions, short marriages and other reasons for departure from equality. As Simon says: "It is a welcome decision", and clearly essential reading for all family lawyers (assuming you've not read it already!).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fight the Virus

In a decision that makes me despair for the human race, a Sudanese court has sentenced teacher Gillian Gibbons to 15 days in prison for "insulting religion, inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious beliefs" by allowing her class to name a teddy bear 'Muhammad'.

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I am reminded of a quote by Arthur C Clarke. When asked what is the greatest threat humanity faces he answered: "Organised religion polluting our minds as it pretends to deliver morality and spiritual salvation. It's spreading the most malevolent mind virus of all. I hope our race can one day outgrow this primitive notion". Amen to that.

Immaculate Concept

Following on from this post, may I recommend the perfect Christmas gift for anyone of a religious/gullible persuasion. A pair of Virgin Mary Holy Toast presses. As the blurb says, don't leave it to chance to receive your religious effigy, and in any event: "The problem with your everyday religious apparitions is that, well, for the fainthearted at least, they're a bit rubbish. Often it takes an almost suicidal leap of faith to see your chosen deity appear in your breakfast." The Holy Toast presses "will guarantee you a highly visible (even to the faithless), and perfect Virgin Mary every time".

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Gratuitous Lex

Just a quick post to say that I've updated my page on sources of free legal advice, including adding a number of new links and updating existing links.

A Definite Maybe

It can sometimes be a nightmare advising clients upon financial settlements on divorce. Parliament has just given us a very basic outline as to how settlements should be calculated, with the result that we rely upon case law for the specifics. We lawyers therefore scour the case law hoping to find clear guidance upon particular matters. Unfortunately, clear guidance is rarely to be found. Take for example the simple and common problem of how to approach inheritances - should they belong to the party who received them, or should they go into the matrimonial 'pot' for division?

I don't propose to go through the law on this point, but yesterday I read the case of Berkeley v Bulliqi [2007] EWCA Civ 1101 (thanks again to Family Law Week), hoping for some enlightenment. What I found, in the judgement of Lord Justice Hughes, was the following:
good reason to [depart from equality] may be found in the source of the family's money, if it was inherited or provided by one spouse from resources acquired independently of the marriage, and especially if before the marriage
Great, that's clear then: inherited money should belong to the recipient. However, I read on and find this:
in a particular case there may on the facts be a justification for an equal sharing, despite the fact that a significant part of the available wealth was derived from inheritance rather than from joint effort
In other words, we are back to 'maybe', or 'it depends'.

OK, I'm being a little facetious above (previous case law already indicated a 'maybe' answer), but I set it out to illustrate the problems faced when called upon to advise on financial settlements. I know it's a point I've made on more than one occasion previously, but surely it must be possible for parliament to give some clearer statutory guidance?

Monday, November 26, 2007

Let freedom ring

Charon QC today discusses the rights and wrongs of David Irving and Nick Griffin being invited to speak at the Oxford University Union. I agree with Charon that they should. So long as nothing they say constitutes a criminal offence, I don't care if they may be taking advantage of the right to free speech to propagate their extreme views (although I hope our intelligentsia will give them a hard time). I would far rather we have that right than not, and denying them the right erodes the right.

I am glad, for example, that I do not live in a country like Sudan, where the BBC reports today that a British school teacher has been arrested, absurdly accused of insulting Islam's Prophet, after she allowed her pupils to name a teddy bear 'Muhammad'.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

No right to know

Further to this post, the Court of Appeal has decided that the "ultimate veto" over who is told about the birth of a child lays with the mother. I do not agree with this decision. As I have already indicated, I believe both that the father has a right to know and, more importantly, that the child should have the chance to be brought up by one of her natural parents. I do not see that just because she bears the child, the mother should have the right to keep the birth a secret - this seems to send out an appalling message about the status of fathers, and reminds me of the anti-father article that appeared in The Times this week, and that was discussed so well by Pink Tape in this post.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Protect Yourself

So, with a staggering ineptitude that would make even an England goalkeeper proud, HM Revenue and Customs has lost the records of twenty-five million child benefit claimants. Since the vast majority of my clients and visitors to this blog will have minor children and will be worried about their details falling into the wrong hands, I thought it might be helpful to provide some links to useful information and advice that may help put minds at rest. The BBC has a page of general questions and answers about the matter here, and answers further queries here. The Telegraph gives advice on how to protect your finances here, as does Metro here. As to the possible long-term consequences (even if the data does not fall into the wrong hands), I recommend this article in The Times today.

In-Court Conciliation

The Ministry of Justice has published a report upon the longer-term outcomes of in-court conciliation in children matters. The findings of the report suggest that conciliation has a very high success rate, but that in the following two years the majority of parents had required further professional intervention, and 40% had been involved in further litigation.

I would say that these findings are in line with my own experience. There have been occasions when I have attended hearings in cases where the parties were so far apart that it seemed impossible that any agreement could be reached, only to find that the CAFCASS officer had brought them together. Of course, success rates can vary, depending upon a number of factors, not least the skills of the CAFCASS officers involved and the time they have available to each case. Typically each conciliation meeting is allowed about thirty minutes - to expect all matters to be resolved long-term in such a short time is obviously a little unrealistic, although an agreement reached in conciliation can be the catalyst for better relations between the parents.

I know it won't go down well with fathers' rights groups, but I agree with this conclusion to the report:
The family justice system has been subject to sustained criticism over the last few years. The findings in this study suggest that some recent criticisms, particularly from fathers groups, are misplaced. The courts do appear to be relatively effective at ensuring that contact occurs. Two years after the initial conciliation appointment significantly more children were having contact, and more contact, than they had been prior to coming to court.

[Hat-tip to Current Awareness for pointing out this story and, in turn, to Charon QC for pointing out Current Awareness!]

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Breathtaking Risk

I have often complained (most recently only yesterday - I'm sure I'm not alone) about the irony that on the one hand the Government tells us (in Section 1 of the Children Act) that "in any proceedings in which any question with respect to the upbringing of a child arises, the court shall have regard to the general principle that any delay in determining the question is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child", and on the other hand, the Government fails to give sufficient resources to the courts or CAFCASS, with the result that children proceedings are subjected to huge delays. The subject of Government funding has been taken up by Alistair MacDonald, Co-Chair of the Association of Lawyers for Children, in his Opening Address to the Annual Conference of the Association:
...what can rightly be said about the reforms to family legal aid proposed by the Government and the wider chronic under-resourcing of the family justice system, what can rightly be said to be common ground amongst many eminent individuals and organisations whose opinions deservedly command respect, is that those reforms constitute an unprecedented threat to access to justice for vulnerable children and families in this jurisdiction.
On the legal aid reforms he said:
We have sought to make clear to the Ministry of Justice that the new Public Law Outline and the revised Children Act Guidance are designed to be implemented and operated by specialist legal practitioners; that those twin reforms can only be effective in reducing delay and improving outcomes for children if a sufficient and sustainable supplier base of such specialist legal practitioners is maintained. We have repeatedly highlighted that the Constitutional Affairs Committee has recognised, having heard evidence from all interested stakeholders from the senior judiciary to children's charities, that the proposed reforms to legal aid constitute a "breathtaking risk."
So, is Section 1 of the Children Act (which also of course states that "the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration") effectively no more than hot air, just another example of government spin? Is it really the case that the Government is more interested in hard economics than the welfare of children? The Government will, of course, continue to demand more efficiency, but MacDonald responds that "there is a level of chronic under-investment below which even the most efficient use of existing assets cannot mitigate the impact of that chronic under-investment". When that level is reached, the system will break down - a consequence MacDonald fears will surely happen if the Government continues on its present path.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Something Stinks


Now here's an interesting thing. The picture above is a screenshot (click for a full-sized image) of a blog I found today. Something is familiar about it - the post. Yes, it's exactly the same post I wrote earlier today (see below). But wait - what's this? - it says the post was written by 'TheGirl'. Funny, I don't remember giving my permission for someone to copy my post.

The blog is called 'Love Stinks' (www.lovestinks.info) and seems to comprise solely posts plagiarised verbatim from other blogs. There are a number of my posts, and also posts from DivorceSolicitor, all attributed to 'TheGirl'. Now, it's one thing copying other people's work, but but to copy it and take credit for it is in my view completely unacceptable.

If you're reading this post on 'Love Stinks', then perhaps you could leave a comment requesting the blog 'author' not to post other people's work without permission (save perhaps short extracts, with a suitable acknowledgement and link to the original), and certainly not to take credit for it.

[Edit: Well, the above post seems to have had the desired effect. 'Love Stinks' now appears to consist of posts comprising quotations and poetry. All very strange.]

Kent Law Clinic receives award

Congratulations to the University of Kent for being awarded a prestigious Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education for the work of the Kent Law Clinic. The Clinic is being honoured for ‘enriching the academic study of law through a casework service to the community’. As regular readers will know, I have done a few evening sessions for the clinic, and have been impressed by the enthusiasm of the students. For full details of the award, see this news story on the University's web site.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Not stupid

Still on a religious theme, when I saw a woman on TV this week holding a pancake that supposedly had a picture of Jesus and Mary on it saying that "it's a miracle!", my thought was - how can anyone be so stupid? How wrong I was. She is now reported as selling it on eBay for $338. Now I'm off to make some pancakes myself...

Church and State

Appropriate for a Sunday, here are three divorce-related stories from around the world, all with a religious theme:

First up, we have a story from America. In Mineola, New York, a pastor's wife argued that her husband's church should be considered a marital asset in divorce proceedings, as he had used it as his "personal piggy bank". The court was sufficiently convinced to order him to open the church's books to a court-appointed forensic accountant. This is thought to be the first time anyone in New York state has tried to treat a religious institution as a marital asset - and I say why not?

Meanwhile, from Egypt we have this story about women divorcing their husbands for strange reasons, following the introduction of khol'a divorces in 2000 (before that apparently a woman had to present strong evidence against her husband, such as physical abuse or adultery, in order to divorce). The reasons for the divorces are pretty colourful, such as that one husband had bad breath and smelly feet, but my favourite is the one in which the wife sought a divorce because her husband worked as a sorcerer. All of this may sound very good news for Egyptian wives in unhappy marriages, but the downside is that they can only obtain a khol'a divorce if they renounce their financial rights. I'm sure many husbands in this country would be quite happy for their wives to divorce them for having smelly feet, if it meant no financial claim against them.

Lastly, the Guardian yesterday reported that there has been a huge increase in the Spanish divorce rate since the government introduced legislation in 2005 that made the process easier and faster. Unsurprisingly, this has alarmed religious organisations and conservative family groups, but it seems that much of the increase is due to couples who previously separated now getting divorced. Interestingly, the report says that a leading Spanish family lawyer sees the new law "as reflecting social changes in Spain, which has undergone a transition from a deeply Catholic, conservative country under the dictatorship of General Franco to having some of the most liberal social laws". Whatever, if our falling divorce rate means less work over here, I'm sure plenty of English divorce lawyers will happily swap for the sunnier climes of Spain.

Non mea culpa

Apologies to anyone who was unable to access Family Lore yesterday. Unfortunately my domain host's nameserver went down on Friday evening, and the problem was not resolved until last night. I was not alone...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Patience...

Just a quick post about the Hill v Haines case, which went before the Court of Appeal this week, and which I've mentioned previously. Family Lore has had a number of hits over the last couple of days from people presumably wanting to know the outcome of the appeal. Unfortunately, spouses, ex-spouses, divorce lawyers, creditors and trustees in bankruptcy must wait a little longer, as judgement was reserved.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Embarrassing

Oh dear, Mr Justice Singer no less was today ordered by the Court of Appeal to step down from a case for making what Lord Justice Ward called "thoroughly bad jokes". The case, El Farargy v El Farargy and Others, concerns financial proceedings on divorce and involves a Saudi sheik, Khalid Ben Abdullah Rashid Al Fawaz, who claims to own the former matrimonial home. Singer had apparently made a number of remarks to which the Sheik took exception, including that he could choose "to depart on his flying carpet" to escape paying costs, and that his evidence was "a bit gelatinous ... a bit like Turkish Delight". Lord Justice Ward described the case as "a singularly unsatisfactory, unfortunate and embarrassing matter".

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ten Myths About Family Lawyers

I know this isn't going to go down well in some quarters, but I thought it about time I did my bit to improve the image of my profession, so here I 'debunk' ten myths about family lawyers. Yes, I know there are exceptions that prove each of these myths, but I believe that that is all they are - exceptions.

Myth #1. Family lawyers are only interested in their fees, rather than achieving a good result for their clients. Aside from the issue of professional pride, family lawyers are in business and much of their work comes from recommendations, so they have a vested interest in client satisfaction.

Myth #2. Family lawyers will follow their client's instructions no matter what. Good family lawyers will only follow their client's instructions up to a point. If it is obvious that to follow instructions would be against the client's interests, then the lawyer will refuse to act - see this recent post.

Myth #3. In children proceedings, family lawyers are biased towards mothers. Why should they be - they act for fathers as well?

Myth #4. In financial settlements, family lawyers aim to take the other party 'for every penny'. Most family lawyers are fully aware that this approach is unlikely to best serve their client's interests, and many subscribe to Resolution's Code of Practice, which requires them to conduct the matter in a constructive and non-confrontational way.

Myth #5. Family lawyers live off the misery of others. We provide a service at a time of great stress, and if it is a good service then that stress will be eased. Having said that, in a large number of our cases the parties are quite amicable - where they are not, the Resolution approach aims to reduce the misery.

Myth #6. Family lawyers are in cahoots with one another. This one is often raised when the lawyer for one party 'fraternises' with the lawyer for the other party at court. But why not? They often know each other, and just because their clients are 'daggers drawn', it does not mean that they must be too. And just because they are friendly, it does not mean that they are doing a deal behind their client's back either.

Myth #7. Family lawyers are resistant to any change in the law that will adversely affect their interests (i.e. do them out of work). On the contrary, family lawyers have supported changes that will do just that, such as encouraging mediation and supporting no-fault divorce.

Myth #8. Family lawyers encourage animosity, to draw-out matters and thereby increase their fees. See 4 above.

Myth #9. Family lawyers charge extortionate fees. Yes, some do, but for most their fees are based upon their experience and their expenses (see this post). Like any business, we have to be competitive, and if we overcharge, our clients will go elsewhere. We do not operate 'charging cartels' - in fact, lawyers rarely discuss their fees with one another. Further, if a client is unhappy with his/her lawyer's fees, they can always request the court to assess them.

Myth #10. Lastly, all family lawyers are rich. If only it were the case. True, some at the top of the profession earn very large sums of money, but isn't that true for most professions? On the other hand, the high-street family lawyer doing predominantly legal aid work will be struggling to make a living at all.

[I'm tempted to disable comments for this post, but I will not!]

Monday, November 12, 2007

All husbands should know

As any regular reader of Family Lore may have noticed, I take great interest in divorce-related ideas form America, where there seems to be an entire industry around the subject, quite separate from the legal process itself. My latest find is an idea that some may find a little controversial, especially this side of the pond.

Divorce PREP provides "secret divorce planning for men", the idea being that: "By arranging certain things early and understanding the reality of the divorce process, men may avoid a brutal divorce settlement that can financially cripple them for their entire life". For $179 Divorce PREP provides five CDs of advice upon preparing for a divorce, including how to hide the fact that you are preparing from your spouse. The advice is not just meant for those getting divorced either: "Even if you don’t get divorced or don’t want the divorce, you are better off knowing what to do if you are forced into it".

One of the things I liked most about Divorce PREP's web site is the image it uses in its logo, which shows a wife doing the washing up and the husband, tea-towel in hand, scratching his head as he looks at the drying up - the suggestion being that whilst it's OK for a wife to do the washing up, it certainly isn't OK for a husband to do the drying up. The image is named "dead zone guy".

I am often asked by clients, usually husbands, what they can do to protect themselves financially in the event of their spouse commencing divorce proceedings. The answer in most cases is "not a lot". You cannot, for example, transfer assets to a third party in order to defeat your spouse's claim against them, as the court has power to overturn the transfer (and the judge will also most likely take an extremely dim view of your actions). There are some practical steps that can be taken, but they are unlikely to have any great bearing upon the financial/property settlement, which in any event in most cases will be based upon equality, or the genuine needs of the parties and their children.

Last, but definitely not least, Divorce PREP offers an additional product: CheckMate, the "5 Minute Infidelity Test Kit", which you can use to find out if your wife is cheating, by testing her undergarments for semen stains. Nice. Something tells me that if it's reached this point, then the marriage is over, even if the tests are clear.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ceasing to act

I'm not going to speculate upon whether Heather Mills 'sacked' her lawyers, Mishcon de Reya, or they 'sacked' her, but this article in The Times this week includes a summary of the circumstances in which solicitors can decline to act for a client any further. It does happen, although one sometimes wonders whether it happens as often as it should, with firms continuing to act (and take fees) in circumstances when they should not. The circumstances when a solicitor must cease to act are set out in Rule 2.01 of the Solicitors' Code of Conduct, but the rule does not set out circumstances when a solicitor may refuse to act, save that he/she "must not cease acting for a client except for good reason and on reasonable notice".

Perhaps the most common scenario in family law work is where the solicitor is trying to conduct the matter in a constructive, non-confrontational way (in accordance with Resolution's Code of Practice), but the client wants a far more aggressive approach, despite being informed at the outset of the approach the solicitor will take. This can lead to increasing tensions and, ultimately, a loss of confidence by the client. The client may of course choose to instruct other solicitors, but if they do not, the solicitor may have to cease acting.

As Rule 2.01 states, the solicitor must give reasonable notice of his/her decision, although the guidance notes to the Rule accept that there "may be circumstances where it is reasonable to give no notice". The amount of notice depends upon the circumstances, for example: "it would normally be unreasonable to stop acting for a client immediately before a court hearing where it is impossible for the client to find alternative representation" - where it is, the solicitor "should attend and explain the circumstances to the court".

Friday, November 09, 2007

Never Surrender

Here's another great idea from America: Daddy Divorce Camp (love the name) "Offers a Weekend Retreat in Central Florida for Men Who are Divorced or Going Through a Divorce". The camp combines outdoor activities with lectures and workshops on such topics as divorce legal issues, dealing with anger and stress and the effects of divorce upon children, and culminates with “Learning to Fly - Never Surrender", an 'Interactive Ropes Course Challenge'. All this for a fee of $600.

David Burrows

David Burrows is not a name I had expected to come across whilst reading the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal reports in the Gazette, but the SDT has ordered him to pay a fine of £1,000 for retaining in office account monies sent to him by the Legal Services Commission for payment of disbursements and costs, contrary to rule 22(1) of the Solicitors Accounts Rules 1998. Burrows admitted the facts but, in typical Burrows fashion, challenged the vires of the rules, an argument that unsurprisingly was not accepted by the SDT. Was this a genuine mistake by Burrows, or did he deliberately breach the rules in order to raise the ultra vires argument?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

A right to know

The Court of Appeal has this week reserved judgement on an appeal by a mother against a county court order that she should inform the father about their child. The baby is apparently the result of a one-night stand between two work colleagues and the father is said to have no idea about the birth of his child. The mother, who is aged twenty, wishes to put the baby up for adoption, but the local authority argued that they would like to approach the father to see if he is willing and able to take care of her.

I don't know the full facts of the case, but whilst the existence of the child may be an embarrassment for the father, who is said to be now back with his fiancée, it seems pretty clear to me that he has a right to know. More importantly, the child should have the chance to be brought up by one of her natural parents. I await with interest the Court of Appeal's decision.

Thanks to Family Law NewsWatch for their report of this case.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Meaningless

Another excellent post today on the Magistrate's Blog, contrasting the usual Government announcements about being tough on crime, with the reality. What I wanted to point out here, however, is the comment about the Integrated Domestic Abuse Programme, a programme for convicted offenders which addresses the issues behind domestic violence. Bystander describes it as "First Class", but states that "the programmes are nearly all full, and there can be a wait of many months to get an offender on to one", by which time "it increasingly ceases to mean anything to the offender". Wonderful. How many victims will suffer further domestic violence because of lack of funding for such programmes?

Quote of the week

"I do understand right now in my state of mind that shooting at the judiciary is not a proper form of political redress"

- Darren Mack, who murdered his wife and then shot the judge who was handling his divorce, in Reno, Nevada.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

A step in the right direction

I've touched previously upon the issue of child support and equal shared care arrangements, and the unfairness of one parent, usually the father, still being required to pay child support to the other parent even though the children spend half of their time with him. Now Carl Bridge has created an E-Petition addressing this issue:
We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to remove the child support liability in the new 'child maintenance and other payments bill' for 'non-resident parents' where equal shared care arrangements exist.

I initially hesitated to sign the petition as I did not think that it was necessarily fair that the 'wealthier' parent should have no child support liability just because there is an equal shared care arrangement. The details in the petition do suggest that parents be forced to enter into a private arrangement, but this would require them to agree a child support figure, which obviously they may be unable to do. Perhaps there should be a formula that takes into account the incomes of both parents and the time the children spend with each parent? However, I realise that it would be too much to ask the government to include such a reform in the Child Maintenance and Other Payments Bill 2006-07, so for now I think we should settle with the terms of the petition, which I recommend readers to sign.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Doomed to failure

It seems to me a straightforward enough decision, but Whig v Whig [2007] EWHC 1856 (Fam) deals with the much-feared situation of the husband making himself bankrupt just before the wife's ancillary relief (financial/property) claim is heard, apparently in order to defeat that claim. Here, he succeeded, simply because the court (on the wife's application to annul the bankruptcy) found that, on the date of the bankruptcy order, the husband was unable to pay his debts. Mr Justice Munby pointed out that even if he had annulled the bankruptcy order, it was probable that the husband's creditors would seek to have him made bankrupt again, and if this occurred then any order transferring the former matrimonial home to the wife "would be vulnerable to attack under section 339 of the Insolvency Act 1986 as a "transaction … at an undervalue"", so the wife's attempt to keep the property "was probably always doomed to failure".

Thanks once again to Family Law Week for this case report.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Get a life

Naturally, as a divorce lawyer I take an interest in any news related to divorce. Unfortunately, however, most divorce news comprises stories of various major or not so major celebrities' marriage breakdowns, usually lurid and acrimonious. Recently these have included McCartney/Mills, Carlos Santana, Britney Spears and Chantelle (whoever she is). Now, I know that I've mentioned some of these on Family Lore, but only in jest or to make a serious law-related point. If there is anything more tedious or tiresome than having to listen to fireworks every evening for a fortnight, it is the sordid details of a celebrity divorce. Who reads this stuff, and why don't they have anything better to do?

House of Common Sense

I wonder how many of our lords and masters read blawgs. I suspect not very many, as the common sense shown by blawgers is in stark contrast with most of the spoutings from Westminster. Here are just three examples of that common sense over the last couple of days:

At the end of a week in which the Daily Mail made the alarmist but ludicrous claim that ALL new jobs created in the economy had gone to foreigners, Victorian Maiden points out: "It seems to be taken as read that immigrants are a bad thing, especially the non-pinky-orange ones. Yet any proof of that proposition is strangely lacking". She concludes: "scummy politicians who seek personal advancement by promoting peoples’ fears, instead of showing those same people that their attitude is wrong, often selfish and often more mean-minded than they really are should be shunned by all". What, politicians refusing to jump on a populist bandwagon? That'll be the day.

Copious Rioja and cigarettes don't dull Charon QC's cutting edge (perhaps they sharpen it?) when he imagines a conversation between the Duke of Edinburgh and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia which explains a number of things, including the workings of our 'moral foreign policy', which steadfastly and consistently refuses to deal with leaders of countries which have a bad record on human rights. (Victorian Maiden also did an excellent piece about the visit of King Abdullah earlier in the week.) Had we had to suffer an election recently Charon may have stood - see the comments to this post - he would have got my vote.

Finally, The Magistrate's Blog counterpoints the resources that Her Majesty's Courts Service is prepared to plough into obtaining a Charter Mark with the fact that many courts now have to manage without an usher. He calls the Charter Mark a "tired gimmick" whose "principal function is to enhance the career progression of the managers involved and to add gloss to their CVs", whereas ushers "know more about real customer ... service than all the managers put together". Quite.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The 'silver divorce'

The Times today has an article examining the rise in divorce among the over-sixties age group. The article speculates that the reasons for the rise are longer lives, higher expectations and the strains of living together after retirement, but concentrates on the fallout of such divorces for the wider family - the children and the grandchildren.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Seasoned without love

Well, I've come across a few cases of extreme behaviour on marital breakdown in my time, but never one like this. Quite put me off eating curry...

How the other half live

In her interview on GMTV Heather Mills stated that she is "£1.5 million in debt in lawyers' fees". Now, I don't know her lawyers' hourly charging rates or how many hours they have spent on the matter, but a legal aid lawyer in London receives (I believe) £66 per hour for County Court work. On this basis a legal aid lawyer would have to work 22,727 hours to earn £1.5 million. If a reasonable number of annual billable hours for a divorce lawyer is 1200, it would therefore take a legal aid lawyer nearly 19 years to earn such a sum. Heather Mills instructed her lawyers about 18 months ago. Does this mean they are worth more than 12 times as much as a legal aid lawyer, some £800 per hour?

Now, I know there are a number of flaws to the above argument, but I think the basic point is still valid. The level of skill, knowledge and general competence required by a 'big-money case' lawyer is surely not twelve times that of a legal aid divorce lawyer, or anything like it. I am not for one moment saying that they should be paid at legal aid rates, or indeed that legal aid lawyers should be paid £800 per hour, but I think that high profile cases like the McCartney/Mills divorce add to the public perception of all divorce lawyers being 'fat cats', when the reality for most is quite different. The answer, of course, is that legal aid lawyers are worth considerably more than £66 per hour. As for Ms Mills' lawyers, I will leave it to the reader to decide whether they are worth their fees.

[Non-lawyer readers may have done the maths and be shocked to have calculated that, on the basis of the above figures, legal aid lawyers earn £79,000 per annum (assuming they do no private work). However, this does not take account of the lawyer's substantial overheads such as insurance, rent, equipment, wages for non fee earning staff etc. The amount that a legal aid lawyer actually receives will be a fraction of his/her fee income.]