Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Strong stuff from the President

I just thought I should do a quick post linking to the speech Changing the culture, given by Sir Nicholas Wall, President of the Family Division, to the Law Reform Committee of the Bar Council last night. You can find the full speech here, and a summary in Solicitors Journal, here. In the speech the President made a number of important points, including the headline-grabbing one that he does not consider that a Family Justice Service, as recommended by the Family Justice Review, is either practical (at least in the short term) or necessary. In any event, he doubts that the recommendation will be implemented by the government, for cost reasons.

He also sprang to the defence of family lawyers, saying that in his experience, they do not prolong cases or cause undue expense, and that good ones give "sensible, realistic advice". "Against this background", he says, "it is a matter of considerable anxiety to me that the government propose to take nearly all private law family work out of the scope of public funding". He has "considerable concern" that the public funding of mediation "will not be sufficient to resolve the problems of the myriad of unrepresented litigants who will come before the family courts".

Venal & Grabbit launch Uncollaborative Family Law

Twenty of the country’s leading family lawyers, Judges and other family professionals gathered at the Honest Lawyer pub in King's Lynn last night to celebrate the launch of Venal & Grabbit's latest initiative, Uncollaborative Family Law. Uncollaborative Family Law is a group of lawyers who share the aim of ridding the family justice system of expensive mediators and collaborative lawyers, and getting back to couples dealing with their breakup in an adversarial manner, through non-cooperation and respectless bickering.

Senior Partner Edgar Venal said: "We are a group of leading family lawyers committed to resolving family differences through litigation and argument. Instruct an Uncollaborative Family Lawyer and you will get someone who will fight your case tooth and nail. You know the old ways are the best."

*      *      *      *      *

The launch of Collaborative Family Law - Press Release

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Fame!

What a handsome devil...
My In Practice post last week has clearly been picked up by the Solicitors From Hell 2 website, which has honoured me with the above post. In answer to the question posed in the post, no I certainly don't mind, just so long as no one thinks I'm a solicitor from hell...

I'm Sorry.

Bedlam, from A Rake's Progress, Hogarth
I've just noticed that I've now written six hundred posts this year. I apologise to all readers for putting them through such torment, and hope that their therapy is going well. As for anyone foolish enough to have read all six hundred, I hear that these days Care in the Community isn't so bad...

Meanwhile, I'm off to find a darkened room (well, until the next post...)

Fathers4Justice response to the Family Justice Review

To get a different perspective, I've been looking at the response of fathers' rights group Fathers4Justice to the Family Justice Review. Their website states that:

In a detailed response to David Norgrove, Chairman of the panel, F4J Campaign Director Nadine O’Connor wrote [my (purposely brief) comments in italics]:

  • This was a review the Conservative Party committed to scrapping before it was elected in a coalition government, saying it was not ‘credible nor far reaching enough’ in terms of its remit. The reports primary function was to look at procedure, not principle. I don't know what promises the Conservatives made, or whether they had to drop a promise to scrap the Review as part of the coalition agreement, but if F4J are saying they want another review, that seems highly unlikely now. 
  •  
  • The review panel was not impartial – it excluded parents and users of the system. Would Sir Bob Geldof be impartial (see below)? I'm not sure that someone who is or has been 'just' a 'user' of the system would have sufficient expertise to be on the panel.
  •  
  • The report has rejected the testimony of over 10,000 parents submitted by Fathers 4 Justice. Sounds impressive, but this isn't a numbers game.
  •  
  • The report supports secret courts and rejects transparency and public accountability. I'm not sure that's true - the terms of reference did mention transparency, but the Review didn't really deal with it.
  •  
  • The report rejects a parents right in law to see their children. Surely, we should be talking about children's rights, rather than parents' rights?
  •  
  • The report rejects claims of gender bias despite 93% of residencies being awarded to mothers. But is this due to a 'gender bias', or other (societal) factors, which make it more appropriate for children to reside with their mother?
  •  
  • The report rejects the principle of equality and shared parenting, saying it was ‘not in the bests interests of the child’. Yes, but I don't think there is any 'establishment' bias here - many family lawyers are in favour of such a presumption.
  •  
  • The report states that grandparents ‘can be a risk to their grandchildren.’ I don't know where it said this, but grandparents can be unhelpful, especially when they 'take sides' with their own child.
  •  
  • Yet the report acknowledges that no records have been kept on the outcomes for children. How can the Family Justice Review panel know what is in the ‘best interests of a child’ without empirical evidence? Yes, but the Ministry of Justice did of course undertake research on outcomes, to provide evidence for the Review.
  •  
  • The report fails to address the massive increase in the number of warring parents going to court and the impact government cuts to legal aid will have in the increase in the number of unrepresented parents going to court. Well, yes (save for saying that the impact of the reforms should be monitored), but the reforms were, of course, announced long after the Review was commissioned.
  •  
  • On the issue of delay, F4J says delay is caused by through the systemic incompetence of organisations like Cafcass who have been repeatedly condemned by Ofted and the court system itself which is run by an ‘unelected, unaccountable and unsackable judiciary operating in complete secrecy.’ I'll make no comment on that, but I do find the Review's proposals for dealing with delay to be somewhat unconvincing.
  •  
  • F4J says the courts are for criminals and are entirely inappropriate for dealing with family cases. Well, not all courts are for criminals, but they may have a point here. Certainly, family cases should not be dealt with alongside criminal cases, as I've said before.
  •  
  • F4J is calling for a full, independent public enquiry into the Family Courts headed by Sir Bob Geldof and former Home Secretary David Blunkett. He may be a saint, but I'm not sure how the Sir Bob is qualified for such a task...

Trashy

This has been around for a few years, but I only came across it today:



Cute, but it gives me a much better idea: a bin that asks if you want a divorce! It could say something like: "Is there any other rubbish you'd like to get rid of, such as your spouse? If so call [insert name of solicitors here]."

Right, now if I can just find a bin big enough to fit in...

Monday, November 28, 2011

LoreCast for the week to the 28th November

Natasha and I bring you this week's helping of the top family law news stories, in a short, easy-to-digest podcast:



(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Record rant

As we all know (and as I've commented about before) lawyers do like to hyperventilate. I had noticed over the last couple of days Lucy Reed of Pink Tape, Giles Peaker of Nearly Legal and others on Twitter getting all of a lather over Ken Clarke's recent comments about the profession's opposition to the proposed legal aid cuts (I thought he made the comments several weeks ago, but the reason for the delayed reaction may be that this interview has only just gone online). Sure enough, last night Lucy published a real humdinger of a rant, launching into poor old Ken. By my calculation (or, more accurately, Microsoft Word's calculation), the rant comes to a massive 3,110 words. As can be seen above, I've notified the ghost of Norris McWhirter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Firms encourage staff to divorce

Small British firms are encouraging staff to get divorced, to keep them focused on work, a law firm has said.

Venal & Grabbit, the London-based law firm, said that bosses were increasingly taking a "divisive" approach to their employees' marriages, so that they concentrated on their work, rather than their spouses.

It said that there had been a "marked increase" in the number of companies contributing to legal costs for divorces. Some firms even considered their employee so vital they were willing to arrange for them to have affairs where they did not have grounds for divorce, so that their spouses would divorce them.

The law firm said it had not heard of any cases of employers encouraging divorces until five years ago. But the number of cases has doubled in the last three years.

It said that "economic necessities" in the recession made small companies increasingly concerned to do whatever it took to retain the full attention of skilled and experienced members of staff.

Edgar Venal, Senior Partner at the law firm, said: "They notice the effect which a spouse can have on someone's productivity far more than a much larger company would. Given the current economic climate, they can ill afford such distractions, especially if the individuals involved are senior and important to a business's fortunes.

"More than doing someone a favour which allows them to sort out their private life while keeping a career on-track, getting rid of a spouse represents a gesture of commitment and support from the firm which, in turn, generates reciprocal loyalty from the staff concerned."

Firms weigh up the cost of encouraging divorce against their profitability, the law firm said.

Marriages can last up to 40 years and can affect an employee's ability to concentrate on work, it added.

Mr Venal said: "The firms with which we have had dealings are quite pragmatic. They regard any contribution to an employee's divorce as money well spent if it helps maintain the volume and quality of work done."

*      *      *      *      *

Firms help staff pay for divorces - The Guardian, 26th November 2011

Something for the Weekend: It's a banana - Red Dwarf

Lister attempts to teach Kryten a new skill essential to all lawyers:

Friday, November 25, 2011

In Practice: Solicitors from Hell Edition

I reported last week that the High Court had ordered Rick Kordowski to "cease, forthwith, to publish the website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk". This week The Lawyer informs us that following that court action "similar websites attacking UK firms are appearing online, with some said to be hosted abroad to protect them from the British authorities". The article mentions four sites, but quickly admits that only one of them, Solicitors From Hell 2 (which does indeed tell us that: "For freedom of speech the domain name is owned by a USA Citizen and the website is hosted on US servers"), was registered after Mr Justice Tugendhat's decision, although somewhat confusingly that site appears to have an archive going back to 2009.

OK, so these sites may not all have their genesis in the demise of Rick Kordowski's site. This is hardly surprising, given the special vitriol that dissatisfied clients can have for their former solicitors and the ease of setting up a website, but are any of these sites likely to gain the same notoriety? I have had a quick look at each of them:

Cowboy Solicitors (or is it Cowboy Solicitors From Hell?) eloquently tells us that: "Solictors have ruled the roost for far too long, the law society is completely bias against any complaints. The truth is that many UK legal practices are filth ridden and need exposing.", and invites visitors to: "Become a free member and start shaming your solicitor within minutes." It appears that some nine solicitors and (despite the site's name, whatever that is) one barrister have thus far been so 'shamed' since the domain was registered on the 21st September last (there is also as category for judges, but that has had no takers yet).

Avoiding Bad Solicitors is actually just a page on another site (the purpose of which escapes me - if you know it, don't bother telling me), rather than a site itself. The site owner has actually commented on the article in The Lawyer, and denies that the page mimics the Law Society website as The Lawyer suggests - must be just an amazing coincidence then. As for the contents of the page, this seems to comprise primarily of some 'advice' about how to choose a solicitor, and a copy of a list of solicitors taken from Rick Kordowski's (former) site.

solicitorsfromhell.com looks like something from the very early days of the internet (love the clip-art). I quickly lost the will to live whilst reading it, but, despite the domain name being in the plural, the site seems to be just a rant aimed at the senior partner of the firm that the author instructed.

Lastly, back to Solicitors From Hell 2. This somewhat cryptically tells us on the front page that: "Based on the mistakes made on the Solicitors from Hell website and the fact that I the owner of a website that was falsely removed from the Internet, I have been allowed to be the Editor on this website." Whatever that means. The site "will allow people to upload articles about Solicitors from within the UK free of charge and automatically." However: "Should a complaint arise we will require evidence to substantiate your complaint. or the removal of the offending post or words will take place. This will be at the sole discretion of Solicitors From Hell 2 editors. Further should anyone claim that any item is defamatory and can prove the information wrong then the post will be removed free of charge." So that's all right then.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Down Memory Lane: Breaking Up is Hard to Do

No, nothing to do with that hideous Neil Sedaka song, but a booklet published by The Law Society, intended for handing to clients involved in divorce or separation. I found the above copy with some old papers.

The first edition of the booklet was published in 1988, and the second edition (above) in 1992. I don't know if any further editions were published, but I don't recall seeing any and can find no trace on The Law Society's website.

The booklet gave basic advice on a number of topics including divorce, arrangements for children, property and maintenance, and cohabitation. It also had a glossary of legal terms. Written in plain English, it was particularly useful in helping to make sure that the client was aware of things that weren't covered in the initial interview.

The booklet always seemed a good idea to me, and I remember I created my own notes to give to clients when it was no longer available. Perhaps with the impending abolition of legal aid for divorce The Law Society could consider a new edition?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

News Brief: Legal aid, a report, a busy blogger and a rant

A round-up of  family law-related happenings:

The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill continues its inexorable progress through parliament, although both the Law Society Gazette and Solicitors Journal reported that it took a considerable mauling when it had its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday. This prompted justice minister Lord McNally to promise ‘to listen’ to the 'strong concerns' raised, particularly in relation to domestic violence and clinical negligence, although he will not respond in detail until the bill reaches its committee stage, which will begin in the last week before the Christmas break, at the earliest.

On the subject of legal aid, Mark Keenan of Divorce-Online has today posted that, according to his calculation following a freedom of information request of the Legal Services Commission, 75% of divorces are paid for by the state under the Legal Help scheme. If true, then this gives an indication of how huge will be the effect of the abolition of Legal Help for most family work. Quite how all these people will proceed without Legal Help I don't know. Mark speculates that this is the reason for the Co-op entering the family law market, but even so there could be an awful lot of people who simply won't be able to afford to divorce, with all of the implications that entails.

Ofsted has published its annual report. You can find it here, either as a shiny Zmags interactive document complete with embedded video, or as a more conventional PDF. I have not read the report (it runs to 182 pages), but the headlines it created have been varied. The Telegraph reported that: "Children are still at risk of "significant harm" in almost one in five council areas as social workers struggle to cope with mounting workloads, according to Ofsted", while Children & Young People Now took a different tack, telling us that: "Inadequate ratings handed to settings and local authorities are sparking improvements across children's services, Ofsted has concluded in its annual report". Meanwhile, Community Care informed us that: "Ofsted has praised the work of adoption panels after the Family Justice Review recommended they should be scrapped".

Turning to the blogs, Marilyn Stowe has been her usual busy self. Not only has she been overseeing the building of a new office in High Holborn (which will be fully open and operational from the beginning of January), she has also found time to write a post on the recent pre-nuptial case Z v Z, and another on Meeting “reasonable needs”: matrimonial v non-matrimonial assets. Otherwise, fresh from creating a new website for the FLBA, Lucy Reed has published her latest rant, with the somewhat unlikely subject of section 20 of the Children Act. Head over to Pink Tape for the details.

Calls to parent helpline on children's aggression increase, but charity fears many more parents feel too ashamed to seek support

I have received the following press release from Family Lives, a national charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life:
CALLS TO PARENT HELPLINE ON CHILDREN’S AGGRESSION INCREASE, BUT CHARITY FEARS MANY MORE PARENTS FEEL TOO ASHAMED TO SEEK SUPPORT

Family Lives’ updated aggression report finds calls to its Parentline regarding aggressive behaviour have increased by 2% and only 56% of respondents to an online survey had sought help for their child’s problem.

As part of its ‘Instructions Not Included’ campaign, Family Lives reveals that a growing number of parents are seriously concerned about their child's aggression and that many are unsure as to why their children display aggressive behaviour.  The updated report, ‘When Family Life Hurts: Family Experience of Aggression in Children’ calls for Government to recognise – in addition to early years support - the particular needs of many parents of older children and teenagers.

The updated report shows that:

Between July 2010 and June 2011, of 39,258 calls made to Parentline, 27% of callers were seeking advice from the charity’s helpline regarding their children’s behaviour with parents frequently reporting feelings of desperation, helplessness and shame.
 
Key Family Lives Aggression Facts and Figures

Statistics from Parentline, Family Lives’ free helpline for families showed that:

·         Calls about a child’s physical aggression have risen by 2% and calls about a child’s verbal aggression have risen by 4%

·         42.9% of calls about behaviour related to children aged 13-15 years

·         Parents calling about their child’s aggression were 30.3% more likely to suffer from stress than other callers, and 8.3% more likely to be suffering with anger

·         Children are more likely to suffer from identified or unidentified depression if they have behavioural concerns compared to other issues raised in long calls. They are more likely to self-harm, feel suicidal and suffer from    hyperactivity and feelings of isolation

·         Compared to June 09 - June 10 statistics, child stress, confusion, isolation and anger have increased by an average of 5.3% where a child is being verbally aggressive and by 5.4% in calls where a child is physically aggressive

·         Children who are physically aggressive were significantly more likely to be using drugs -(10.1% compared to 3.2% of all calls)  and to be in with a bad crowd - 10.9% compared to 3.4% of all calls.

Jeremy Todd, Chief Executive, Family Lives says: “Family Lives’ updated report highlights that children’s violent and aggressive behaviour in the home is a hidden and stigmatised issue and we must all continue to support families to help change their child’s behaviour and ultimately improve life chances.  There are many reasons that can explain why children behave in an aggressive way at home.  Answers commonly include an inadequate approach to parenting, a lack of respect, sudden and unpredictable changes to the family routine, parental domestic violence or bullying at school, which causes the anger and hurt to spill out at home. Children or young people often feel that home is a safe place to vent ones feelings.  Divorce and separation is considered to play its part in displays of aggressive child behaviour if co-parenting strategies are not discussed, agreed and implemented. Children can end up playing one parent off against another, or the non-resident parent may end up taking a back-seat with regards to discipline as they spend less time with the child. Whatever the reasons, children, parents, families and ultimately society will pay a huge cost if this growing area of concern is not addressed and parents must feel able to come forward to seek support without worrying about being judged.”

Family Lives asked respondents via a recent online web survey why they felt that their child behaved aggressively, what they felt influenced that behaviour and why they felt it was worse in the home.  Large numbers identified their children’s friends, or other members of the family as influences on their child’s aggressive behaviour, but a significant number (38.8%) were unsure, expressing their frustration with comments such as “That’s the $10,000 question”.

Parents talked about bullying, domestic violence, disabilities and mental health problems as triggers for the aggressive behaviour and identified inconsistent parenting and divorce and separation as other contributing factors.
 
Seeking help

Family Lives’ most recent online survey found that only 56% of parents had sought help for their child’s aggressive behaviour. This figure remained consistent with the findings from our 2010 survey, showing that families are still trying to cope alone with difficult behaviour.  An alarming 35% had not sought help because they did not know where to go to find that help, and a further 11% did not seek help because of they felt there was stigma attached to it.  Despite the impact on their family life, 20% of families did not seek help for fear of damaging their child’s life chances and instead suffered in silence trying to manage the behaviour themselves.

Family Lives Recommendations

The Charity is calling for the Coalition Government:

·        To ensure in its response to the Family Justice Review that Parents receive the support they need to meet their child’s needs during separation as early as possible in the process. Divorce and separation has been identified by a number of families responding to our online survey as a trigger for their child's aggressive behaviour.

·        To ensure that in focussing support on the early years, they do not lose sight of the problems of older and teenager children,  further stigmatising the seeking of support for families experiencing difficulties with children in this age bracket.

·        To commit to looking for sustainable ways to better integrate family support services with universal services.

To review the report visit http://fmly.me/wordshurtreport

Parents concerned about verbal or physical abuse from their children can call Family Lives’ free and confidential helpline, Parentline, on 0808 800 2222, or email parentsupport@familylives.org.uk for a personalised reply within 3 days.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

New report on children and domestic violence

Refuge and the NSPCC have today published a report, Meeting the needs of children living with domestic violence in London, which details the findings of research "examining how children and young people affected by domestic violence are recognised and responded to by professionals in a range of services". The research was conducted between October 2008 and March 2011 throughout the 33 London local authorities, and included interviews with 74 professionals, 37 mothers and 23 children and young people who had lived with domestic violence.

I have not read all of the report's 258 pages, but the Executive Summary sets out the three main findings of the research:

1. There are significant gaps in services addressing the needs of children and young people living with domestic violence in London.

2. Some of the most vulnerable children and young people are the least likely to be able to access help when they need it. There should be a stronger emphasis on equality of access to help for children and young people, regardless of their ethnicity, age, gender, disability or parental immigration status.

3. Children are rarely given opportunities to express their own views, and some professionals are reluctant to talk directly with children and young people and to involve them in decisions which affect them.

Obviously, the third of these findings is of direct relevance to the legal process involved in applications for residence and contact orders, particularly the report's 'key recommendation' addressing this finding: that children should have the right to say 'no' to contact. As far as I can see, the report gives no detail as to how this would work, for example dealing with the obvious questions of the age and understanding of the child, and 'coaching' by the other parent. The courts, of course, should already consider the wishes of the child when going through the welfare checklist (although they do usually rely upon other professionals to ascertain those wishes), but those wishes are not of course binding upon the court.

Whatever the issues involved, I'm not sure of the likelihood of such a radical change happening. More likely, perhaps, is a change of emphasis. The report states at paragraph 4.1:
"Courts and family lawyers should be more aware of the research evidence on the risks to children from abusive contact and should be more willing to stop contact from happening in circumstances where a child’s safety cannot be guaranteed." 
I am not, however, certain that there is much room even for such a change of emphasis. There is, of course, already considerable guidance for the courts when dealing with children applications involving domestic violence, see Practice Direction 12J and the leading case of Re L, Re V, Re M & Re H (Contact: Domestic Violence) [2000] EWCA Civ 194. In particular, paragraphs 26 and 27 of the Practice Direction set out the factors to be taken into account when determining whether to make residence or contact orders in all cases where domestic violence has occurred. Paragraph 26 states that the court:
"...should only make an order for contact if it can be satisfied that the physical and emotional safety of the child and the parent with whom the child is living can, as far as possible, be secured before during and after contact."
Clearly, this cannot be altered to read that the child's safety must be guaranteed before the court makes an order - no one can guarantee any such thing. Possibly, the wording could be strengthened in some way, although whether that would satisfy the report's authors I don't know.

Anyhow, those are just my initial observations. The full report can be read here.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Venal & Grabbit launch 'Make sure the kids spend Xmas with you' campaign

I have received the following press release from Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, Solicitors:

===PRESS RELEASE===

London, 21st November 2011: Venal & Grabbit has today launched its "Make sure the kids spend Xmas with you" campaign, aimed primarily at fathers seeking orders that they have contact with their children over the Xmas holidays.

Senior Partner Edgar Venal said: "Xmas is all about children, so don't let their bitch mother stop you from seeing your kids this Xmas. Give your children the best gift of all - time with their favourite parent. Instruct us now and for a very reasonable fee we will ensure that you get to have your children with you on Xmas day."

===ENDS===

Judges give evidence to the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions

Sir Nicholas addresses the Committee
Four Judges, including President of the Family Division Sir Nicholas Wall, have this afternoon been giving evidence to the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. You can watch all the action, here.

LoreCast for the week to the 21st November

Natasha and I bring you the top family law news stories from the last week. (Note to self: must learn how to pronounce 'statistics'.)



(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Special Blog Post Award: BabyBarista

I've dug one of my old Post of the Month trophies out of the bin trophy cabinet this morning to give my first Special Blog Post Award to BabyBarista for his post Those pesky solicitors, which appeared in The Guardian today.

The post movingly tells of the trials and tribulations faced by modern-day members of the Bar. As if it wasn't enough that those pesky solicitors keep poking you in the back whilst you're trying to mesmerise the court with the brilliance of your eloquence, now they are even allowed to get up and speak themselves! Worst still, they even have the temerity to challenge your fees...

As TheBusker said: "Just what is the world coming to?"

Sunday, November 20, 2011

New FLBA website

As part of her grand plan to take over the internets, Lucy Reed of Pink Tape and her web-designing husband Michael Waugaman of Straybark Productions Ltd have created a shiny new website for the Family Law Bar Association.

Not having visited the old site that often, I can't say exactly what is new on the site, but we are told that it "now features news and regular updates". If so, then it could prove to be a useful resource, even for those of us who will never aspire to the lofty heights of FLBA membership. The news section (all of which thus far seems to have been written by Lucy) could be particularly useful.

I've noticed that the site can be a little slow at times - perhaps due to all the excited new visitors having a look at it - but no doubt that will be resolved. Oh, and if you think the site looks a bit like a blog, that's because it is. It was designed using Wordpress, just like Lucy's own blog, also designed by hubby.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Happy retirement

Growing number of over-60s seeking divorce - The Telegraph, 19th November 2011

Something for the Weekend: The Jam - Eton Rifles

I remember being shocked when I discovered that many public schools had their own cadet corps - I had naively grown up thinking that this wasn't a militaristic country (my how that illusion was subsequently shown to be false). Naturally, I was drawn to "The Eton Rifles" by The Jam, particularly the line: "What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?" - a line that is surely as relevant now as ever.

Like many, I felt appalled and cheated when I heard that the song was one of the favourites of our Old Etonian leader David Cameron, but at least this earned the superb riposte from Paul Weller: "Which part of it didn't he get? It wasn't intended as a fucking jolly drinking song for the cadet corps." Enjoy:

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seduction

Nothing to do with family law, but I don't care that I have no excuse for showing this great advert for the Fiat 500 Abarth:


 [Found on BuzzFeed.]

In Practice: Regulation, cooperation and termination

Three stories this week caught my eye:

Firstly, Solicitors Journal reported that the SRA has called for all legal services to be regulated. This surely makes sense. It's not just about a level playing field - if the public (many of whom I suspect would think that all legal services are already regulated) are entitled to protection from some legal services providers, then shouldn't they be entitled to protection from all?

Secondly, solicitors also of course face the possibility of investigation by the Legal Ombudsman, as Howard Young found to his cost, when he was fined £5,000 plus £15,500 costs by the High Court, for not responding to the Ombudsman’s request for information and “apparently ignoring the ombudsman’s process entirely”. Mr Young has the distinction of being the first lawyer to be fined for failing to cooperate with the Ombudsman.

Thirdly, the biggest news of the week was undoubtedly the order of the High Court requiring Rick Kordowski to "cease, forthwith, to publish the website solicitorsfromhell.co.uk". I'm sure there are some who will breathe a sigh of relief at this news. Others, however, may be disappointed at the demise of a source of much amusement within the profession. Either way, things will never be quite the same.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ramblin'

In the absence of any family law news to speak of this week (in stark contrast to the excitements of the last two weeks), I thought I would go for a short ramble around the internets.

Before I do so, however, I should just say that, for the first time, I am using Blogger's new interface to write this post, so bear with me. Being the reactionary type, I prefer Blogger's old interface and have been sticking doggedly to it, but yesterday Google/Blogger buggered messed up the old interface, forcing me to use the new one. Now, I'm not saying that this is a conspiracy to force us old farts to use the new interface, but quite why they altered it when it has already been replaced, I don't know.

Anyhow, what nuggets have I spotted on my travels?

A motley crew...
Firstly, we had the spectacle of bloggers giving evidence this week to the Joint Committee on Privacy and Injunctions. Not having the least interest in the work of parliamentary committees, I can't tell you why they were asked to give evidence, but presumably it was on the basis that the views of the blogging community might be useful to the work of the committee. The problem with this is of course that by their very nature, bloggers do not have 'representatives', so the views of a few bloggers do not represent the views of the blogging community. I'm sure that none of the bloggers who gave evidence considered that they were representing anyone but themselves, but they certainly were not representing me.

Still on the subject of blogging, what was it that legal bloggers chose to hyperventilate over this week? Why, it was a couple of articles in the Comment is free section of The Guardian, written by members of the 'Occupy London' movement. Well, what do you expect, they'll let anyone write in the Comment is free section these days...

Elsewhere, I see that Lucy Reed at Pink Tape has taken to publishing reviews of her own book. Oh well, I suppose that any (self-) publicity is good publicity...

Penultimately, it gives me no pleasure to see the Gazette today agreeing with what I've been saying for some time: that the virtual abolition of civil legal aid is a fait accompli. The article points out that vastly more people in this country seem to care about a few pence more on a litre of petrol than about access to justice, which is, of course, precisely why the Government can happily ignore the cries of 'greedy' lawyers, and proceed with its "ideological crusade" aimed at "removing the state from another area of civil society". The article concludes bleakly:
"So will the Lords ride to the rescue? We can hope for scope concessions on clinical negligence and domestic violence. But with opposition to the cuts fractured, even that might be too much to expect. At this late stage, alas, it seems hope is all there is."
Ultimately, some might find it strange but I certainly don't find it unexpected that the Catholic church dislikes an image of love and religious harmony:

Achieved the desired publicity...

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Job Ad

VENAL & GRABBIT

LONDON

OPPORTUNITIES FOR FAMILY LAWYERS

Venal & Grabbit are looking to expand the current team.

We can offer:
  • Long hours,

  • Victorian working conditions,

  • An efficient billing system,

  • Access to manual typewriters,

  • Endless working for greater profitability,

  • Plenty of clients to fill all your waking working hours.

Successful applicants will work in the dungeon basement at Venal House, SW1. Applicants must be old school tie, and don't even think of applying if you don't have an Oxbridge first.

For an application form email EVenal@venalandgrabbit.co.uk.

We are not an equal opportunities employer, so no women, faggots or cripples please.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Z v Z: Radmacher applied

Z v Z [2011] EWHC 2878 (Fam) is, I believe, the first reported pre-nuptial agreement case since Radmacher v Granatino.

The facts: Both parties are French. They married in 1994, and there are three children of the family. They moved to England in 2007. The marriage broke down in 2008 and the wife commenced divorce proceedings in England. Decree Nisi was pronounced in 2010, after a jurisdiction dispute. The wife then proceeded with her application for financial remedies.

Prior to the marriage the parties entered into a pre-nuptial agreement in France, which provided for separation of assets, i.e. that each party should retain their own assets.

The wife's case was that everything should be shared equally and that she should not be held to the pre-nuptial agreement. She put forward several arguments in support of this, such as that the husband had promised her that he would not enforce the agreement.

The husband argued that the agreement excluded sharing of the assets, and that, following Radmacher, it was fair to hold the wife to it. However, he accepted that the agreement did not exclude maintenance claims, and quantified the wife's needs at about 35% of the assets.

The total assets were agreed at some £15 million, of which some £13.8 million belonged to the husband.

Held: Mr Justice Moor made clear (at paragraph 31) that, absent the prenuptial agreement, "this would undoubtedly be a case for equal division of the assets", as each party had contributed equally to the marriage (all of the assets had effectively been generated during the marriage). The question therefore was whether the agreement took the case out of "sharing" (paragraph 32).

Before dealing with the evidence, he reviewed the law as to pre-nuptial agreements, particularly the Radmacher decision, where the Supreme Court of course held that:
"The court should give effect to a nuptial agreement that is freely entered into by each party with a full appreciation of its implications unless in the circumstances prevailing it would not be fair to hold the parties to their agreement".
Mr Justice Moor went on (at paragraph 36):
"... the [Supreme] Court clearly took the view that it would be easiest to show that an agreement was not unfair if it excluded sharing but did not prevent the court from providing for the reasonable needs of the applicant."
He did not accept an argument put forward on behalf of the husband that that this was a French case and that he should take into account what the wife would have got in France, saying (at paragraph 40):
"There is no doubt that in this jurisdiction, when dealing with an application for financial remedies in English divorce proceedings, the court will normally apply English law, irrespective of the domicile of the parties, or any foreign connection (see Paragraph 103 of Radmacher). Nevertheless, Paragraph 108 of Radmacher makes it clear that issues of foreign law are relevant to the intentions of the parties (eg whether or not they intended that the ante-nuptial agreement should be binding upon them). It follows that it is relevant to the issue of fairness to know what the position would have been in France but not to reduce the award simply because the Wife would have got less there."
He then went on to reject all of the arguments raised on behalf of the wife to say that it would not be fair to uphold the agreement in so far as it excludes sharing (paragraph 64). He did, however, say that: "It might have been very different if the Agreement had also purported to exclude maintenance claims in the widest sense but the Agreement does not, of course, do so."

He then proceeded to calculate the wife's reasonable needs, which he assessed at some £6 million, or 40% of the assets, saying (at paragraph 86) that:
"I have decided that sharing is not appropriate in this case. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to perform a cross-check against the overall assets if only to make sure that the award is not in excess of half the assets. On the basis that the overall assets are £15 million, this award amounts to 40% ... In my view, that is a suitable departure from equality to reflect the Agreement."

An end to strife

Prenups signed: 0

WARNING: Loud.

Monday, November 14, 2011

LoreCast for the week to the 14th November 2011

The weekly summary of the top family law news stories and cases, in a short, easy-to-listen podcast:



(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Facebook... again...

When I first saw the headline for this story I dismissed it as just being another piece of spouse-having-an-affair-on-Facebook nonsense, but now I realise that it is (or at least appears to be) considerably more serious.

A judge in Connecticut has ordered a divorcing couple to hand over the passwords of their respective Facebook and online dating websites to each other's lawyers, after the husband looked at his wife's Facebook profile and found certain evidence about her feelings toward him, the children and her ability to take care of them. His lawyer sought the order, believing that the online evidence would help his client in arguing for full custody.

The order appears to be in breach of Facebook's terms of service, despite the judge including in it a provision that: “Neither party shall visit the website of the other’s social network and post messages purporting to be the other".

That, however, is of no concern to me; what interests me is whether such orders might in future become commonplace, including on this side of the Atlantic, in proceedings relating to children. I realise that the occasions when one spouse may know that the other has posted something 'incriminating' may be few, but there is also the possibility of 'fishing expeditions'. The thought of prying into the other party's feelings in this way fills me with unease.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

This manly art...

I don't know whether this is a real advert or a spoof, or whether the idea is disciplinary or sexual (she does seem to be enjoying it). According to Boing Boing it is from the 1970s, but it looks earlier to me. Whatever, I now have the subject for my next book...

Something for the Weekend: Lynyrd Skynyrd - Free Bird

Great to hear this on the radio during the week. Took me back to my 'hippy' days. This is also a particularly good live version, recorded in 2003, in the band's beloved homeland of the South. Of course, the singer is not Ronnie Van Zant (see included clips), but his brother Johnny, who does an excellent job. Note also how Rickey Medlocke breaks the tremolo arm off his guitar near the end. Wonderful stuff.

Friday, November 11, 2011

In Practice: Naming, shaming and striking

"I think it would be very boring dramatically to have a film where everybody was a lawyer or doctor and had no faults. To me, the most important thing is to be truthful."
- Spike Lee

The biggest story this week emanated from the Legal Ombudsman on Monday, when they (?he - they refer to themselves in the plural, although their title is in the singular) issued a Press Release announcing that: "It is right to publish the names of lawyers in specific circumstances." The particular circumstances are: "where there is a pattern of complaints or when it is in the public interest to do so". In addition, we are told:
"Every three months the Legal Ombudsman will also publish lawyers’ names and firms involved in all complaints that have been resolved by a formal Ombudsman decision. This means that examples of good practice as well as bad will be there for all to see."
So, in this brave new world having a complaint against your firm could actually be a good thing.

Unsurprisingly, consumer organisations have welcomed the move. Equally predictably, the Law Society has not. The Gazette quotes 'a Law Society spokesperson' (wonder why they are not named?) as saying:
"The lack of data about the size of firms or the number of transactions they undertake means that publication will penalise firms who do high volumes of work even where they have had relatively few complaints. It will also disproportionately affect those solicitors who work in certain areas of law where the level of complaints are higher."
... such as family law. Further:
"... as the ombudsman does not have jurisdiction over all legal service providers, many of which are unregulated, such as will writers, the name and shame approach does not give the consumer a true reflection of the market and is far from transparent."
All of which seem to me to be perfectly reasonable objections to naming and shaming, but then I would say that - I am one of those awful solicitors, aren't I? The objections are, however, cursorily brushed aside in this article, that appeared in The Guardian yesterday.

This emotive issue was also taken up by Solicitors Journal, which told us that Liz France, chair of the Office for Legal Complaints, believes that, rather than large firms, it will be sole practitioners and barristers who will be most at risk from the new policy "because they are individuals". She has a point - being named and shamed could potentially put an individual lawyer out of business. Now, the public may say that that is no bad thing...

Moving on, but still on the subject of barristers, the Bar held its annual conference on the 5th of November (is there any significance in that date?). The Gazette reports that the other side of the profession were in a militant mood, with Max Hill QC, the chair of the Criminal Bar Association, warning that criminal barristers were ready to take ‘direct action’ - including withdrawing their services - if the government presses ahead with its plans for price-competitive tendering. I know nothing at all about this issue, but somehow I doubt that the threat of barristers going on strike is going to be of much concern to those in Westminster. Still, it might be interesting to see our be-wigged brothers picketing the courts...

Finally, Legalweek informed us that: "Many of the UK’s top law firms are reporting rising revenues for the first half of 2011-12, despite protracted instability across Europe and lingering fears of a double-dip recession." Nice to hear, but to be honest it wasn't the story that attracted me to this piece, but rather the picture of poor Tim Eyles, managing partner of Taylor Wessing, who suffered a particularly severe scalping by the News Editor. Just glad they won't be doing a piece about me...

Venal & Grabbit offer new service for suspicious clients

I have received the following press release from Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, Solicitors:

===PRESS RELEASE===

London, 11th November 2011: Venal & Grabbit are pleased to announce a new service for clients who suspect that their spouses may be having an affair. Called the Discreet Undercover Matrimonial Patrol ('DUMP'), the service employs the very best private investigators in the country, who will leave no stone unturned in their quest to find clients the evidence they need to divorce their spouses. DUMP's investigators will pursue straying spouses using every method at their disposal, but always ensuring the spouse is unaware they are being followed.

Senior Partner Edgar Venal said: "We are delighted to offer this new service. DUMP will dig the dirt on your spouse, and provide everything we need to divorce them, and make them wish they'd never two-timed on you. DUMP's PIs are professionals too - unlike other services, they won't give your spouse a clue what is happening. So remember - if you suspect they are playing away: DUMP your spouse!"

===ENDS===

Thursday, November 10, 2011

More on Jones v Kernott...

More on Jones v Kernott (you're not getting bored with this yet, are you?), this time James Carroll, co-chair of the Law Society Family Law Committee, discusses the judgment with Jon Snow on Channel 4 News:

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Lady Hale gives judgment in Jones v Kernott

For those who can't be bothered to read it:

Venal & Grabbit welcome decision in Jones v Kernott

I have received the following press release from Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, Solicitors:

===PRESS RELEASE===

London, 9th November 2011: Venal & Grabbit welcome the decision of the Supreme Court in Jones v Kernott today. We have always been concerned that the interpretation of the Court of Appeal would discourage litigation, by making people think that they could not argue with what the deeds say. Happily, that will no longer be the case.

Senior Partner Edgar Venal commented: "This is marvellous news, and should open up the floodgates of litigation, with every Tom, Dick and Harry (or should I say "Thomasina, Richenda and Henrietta"?) arguing the toss over what they said (or didn't say) and did (or didn't do) throughout their relationships, to change their 'common intentions'. We are expecting a deluge of new business, and are gearing up accordingly."

===ENDS===

Jones v Kernott: Appeal allowed

The Supreme Court has allowed the appeal in Jones v Kernott, restoring the order of the county court (i.e. that Ms Jones was entitled to a 90% share of the property). The judgment was unanimous. Lord Walker and Lady Hale gave the lead judgment. Lord Collins agreed with Lord Walker and Lady Hale, and added some reflections of his own. Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson agreed with the result, but reached it by a different route.

For those unfamiliar with the facts of the case, see here.

Paragraph 51 of the lead judgment sets out the principles to be applied:
"In summary, therefore, the following are the principles applicable in a case such as this, where a family home is bought in the joint names of a cohabiting couple who are both responsible for any mortgage, but without any express declaration of their beneficial interests.

(1) The starting point is that equity follows the law and they are joint tenants both in law and in equity.

(2) That presumption can be displaced by showing (a) that the parties had a different common intention at the time when they acquired the home, or (b) that they later formed the common intention that their respective shares would change.

(3) Their common intention is to be deduced objectively from their conduct: “the relevant intention of each party is the intention which was reasonably understood by the other party to be manifested by that party’s words and conduct notwithstanding that he did not consciously formulate that intention in his own mind or even acted with some different intention which he did not communicate to the other party” (Lord Diplock in Gissing v Gissing [1971] AC 886, 906). Examples of the sort of evidence which might be relevant to drawing such inferences are given in Stack v Dowden, at para 69.

(4) In those cases where it is clear either (a) that the parties did not intend joint tenancy at the outset, or (b) had changed their original intention, but it is not possible to ascertain by direct evidence or by inference what their actual intention was as to the shares in which they would own the property, “the answer is that each is entitled to that share which the court considers fair having regard to the whole course of dealing between them in relation to the property”: Chadwick LJ in Oxley v Hiscock [2005] FAm 211, para 69. In our judgment, “the whole course of dealing … in relation to the property” should be given a broad meaning, enabling a similar range of factors to be taken into account as may be relevant to ascertaining the parties’ actual intentions.

(5) Each case will turn on its own facts. Financial contributions are relevant but there are many other factors which may enable the court to decide what shares were either intended (as in case (3)) or fair (as in case (4))."
Here, the intentions of the parties did change, and it was logical to infer that Mr Kernott's interest crystallised in 1995 (paragraph 48). The calculation of their shares on this basis produced a result so close to that produced by the judge that it would be wrong for an appellate court to interfere (paragraph 49).

The full judgment may be found here, and a press summary, here.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

BJ v MJ: Dealing with trusts on divorce

As its name suggests, BJ v MJ (Financial Remedy: Overseas Trusts) [2011] EWHC 2708 (Fam) deals with the issue of how trusts should be treated in the division of assets following divorce.

The judgment was handed down by Mr Justice Mostyn on the 27th November. It is essentially in two parts: paragraphs 1 - 24 contain a summary of the law of trusts and how they have been dealt with by the divorce courts, and the rest of the judgment deals with the case itself. The first part is, to me, the more interesting (and certainly more useful) part of the judgment. It includes an examination of the various types of trusts which are commonly encountered in proceedings for a financial remedy following divorce: cypher trusts, trusts of land, nuptial settlements and non-nuptial settlements.

Of particular interest is the discussion, with respect to non-nuptial settlements, of whether all or part of the trust assets can be attributed to the beneficiary spouse (paragraphs 15 - 17) and the related issue of drawing inferences, where "the trustees have refused to participate meaningfully or helpfully in the inquiry" (paragraphs 18 - 21).

The first part of the judgment concludes with an explanation of how the court may proceed once it has established the scale of the resources to be divided, but ends with a warning at paragraph 25:
"The only truly problematic situation is where the trust is not nuptial and where there are no or scant assets outside the trust. In such a circumstance the court might find that its findings as to the likelihood of advancement are frustrated by a refusal by the trustees to do what the court expects them to do. In such a case a deal of worldly realism is called for."
Moving on to the case itself (which I shall deal with quite briefly), this concerned a couple who were married in 1980 and have a 25 year-old son, C. The total assets were £5,914,537, of which £4,310,121 were held in trust. Mr Justice Mostyn found (at paragraph 79) that: "all of the assets in this case, including all of the trust property, amounts to matrimonial property and should, in principle, be shared equally".

However, he also found that: "the implementation of that equal sharing should reflect the clear arrangement made during the marriage, assented to by W, to set up a trust ultimately to benefit C and future generations". Accordingly, the wife's half share included a new settlement in which she would have a life interest, with remainder to C.

The award was on a clean break basis, even though the wife retained a share of the family business and a charge was imposed upon the property in which the husband resides, in favour of the trustees of the new settlement. As Mr Justice Mostyn stated at paragraph 85: "The court has to strive to make the break as clean as is reasonably possible, but I emphasise the qualification. Fairness is not to be sacrificed on the altar of finality".

Don't wear it with pride

Only yesterday I was idly wondering whether I was the only one who didn't like wearing poppies or other symbols of good causes. This article in The Independent today confirms that I am not, and that being a 'charity symbol refusenik' does not make me a bad person.

So, in future I shall not wear a poppy, a ribbon, a red nose or a silly moustache with pride!

They should provide sick bags on tube trains...

Monday, November 07, 2011

Children and young people's guide to the final report of the FJR published

The Ministry of Justice has published a summary of the recommendations of the final report of the Family Justice Review for children and young people. I'm not entirely sure why they've gone to the trouble and expense of doing this (or indeed how many children will read it), but it seems that the rationale is that children were asked to give their views to the panel, so they should be informed of the outcome.

You can find the guide on the MoJ website, here.

LoreCast for the week to the 7th November 2011

Natasha and I give you the top family law news stories for the last week in a short, easy-to-listen podcast:



(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Mis-leading



This is Barnardo's new TV advert. It "tells the story of Michael, a vulnerable child who has turned his life around with the support of Barnardo's".

To coincide with the advertising campaign, Barnardo's commissioned a survey upon attitudes towards children. The results, suggesting that many adults had a contempt for children, created many headlines last week, such as this one on the BBC. That, however, was exactly what Barnardo's wanted. To see how they achieved this, and to see that you should never believe a poll until you have read the questions it asked (even, or perhaps especially, if it is commissioned by a charity), read this excellent article on Straight Statistics.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

A few comments on the Family Justice Review

I know there have been and will be others far more learned than I who have/will comment on the Review, but I thought I would still give my views, for what they are worth. Specifically, the following recommendations are those upon which I have something to say:

The Family Justice System:

Establishment of a Family Justice Service: An excellent idea, which should be part of the establishment of a separate family courts system (see below).

Removal of charges to local authorities for public law applications: Common sense.

An integrated IT system should be developed for use in the Family Justice Service: Sounds good, but where is the money going to come from?

Judges and magistrates should be enabled and encouraged to specialise in family matters: About time. No disrespect, but I've always thought it absurd that judges deciding family matters may have no experience dealing with them.

A single family court, with a single point of entry, should replace the current three tiers of court: Another sensible decision, removing what was a complete nonsense, albeit improved somewhat by the Family Procedure Rules 2010. However, as mentioned above, we should really have completely separate dedicated family courts, rather than have family cases share buildings with civil and criminal cases, although of course there will never be the money for such a thing.

HMCTS and the judiciary should ensure routine hearings use telephone or video technology wherever appropriate: A good idea, which should reduce costs and speed matters, but may not be appropriate where litigants in person are involved.

Public Law:

Courts should refocus on the core issues: Not having done any public law work since the 1990s, I'm not perhaps the best person to comment upon this, but I'm not sure that it is a good idea to leave the care plan to the local authority.

The six month time limit for the completion of care and supervision proceedings: Sounds great, but the obvious question is: how is this to be achieved? The Review gives its ideas, but these are not entirely convincing. The real concern is that this will just put more pressure upon an already over-stretched system, and those who work within it. Obviously, delay is a bad thing, but it is clearly a lesser evil than getting things wrong more often.

A pilot on the use of formal mediation approaches in public law proceedings should be established: Interesting idea, but I'm really not sure that many public law cases will be suitable for mediation.

Private Law:

No legislation should be introduced that creates or risks creating the perception that there is a parental right to substantially shared or equal time for both parents: This has perhaps caused the most controversy of any of the recommendations, with many, including family lawyers, feeling that an opportunity has been lost. I was originally in favour of such a presumption, but I am tending now towards the view that it could put the rights of the parent ahead of the welfare of the child, which would obviously be wrong.

The need for grandparents to apply for leave of the court before making an application for contact should remain: I agree with this. Grandparents can be very supportive, but they can also be disruptive, especially where they have 'taken sides'. Besides, encouraging further litigation by making it easier for them to become involved does not sound like a good idea to me.

Child arrangement orders to replace residence and contact orders: Not really sure how much practical difference this will make. Hopefully, not going to be just a change in terminology (which I don't think will change the way orders are perceived - parents are concerned with how much time the children spend with them, not what it is called).

Establishment of 'online information hub': Again, how is this to be paid for?

‘Alternative dispute resolution’ should be re-branded as ‘Dispute Resolution Services’, in order to minimise a deterrent to its use: I can't see that this will make much difference. Anyway, 'ADR' is not a term used that much in connection with family matters, is it?

Where an order is breached within the first year, the case should go straight back to court to the same judge to resolve the matter swiftly: Sounds good, but will it make any difference to enforcement of orders? I'm not sure it will.

There should be no link of any kind between contact and maintenance: Of course.

The process for divorce should be dealt with administratively by the courts, unless the divorce is disputed: Not actually as much of a change. OK, it releases judges to do more important things, but that seems to be all. Will 'administrators' now make 'judicial' decisions, such as whether a petition has been proved, and who should pay the costs?

Government should establish a separate review of financial orders to include examination of the law: Good. When?

The Ministry of Justice and the Legal Services Commission should carefully monitor the impact of legal aid reforms: Well, this just made me laugh. As if legal aid would ever be reinstated to those areas from which it is to be removed...

Something for the Weekend: Diana Ross - I'm Still Waiting

Sentimental? Yes, but still one of my favourites. The beautiful Diana Ross (sorry for the poor video quality):

Friday, November 04, 2011

Bonfire night advice

In Practice: A light week

Not an awful lot of practice news about this week. Here is what I found:

Hope springs eternal, I suppose, but some just don't know when to give up. The Gazette reported on Monday that:
"The Solicitor Sole Practitioners Group (SPG) will this week stage a last-ditch attempt to block legislation allowing the creation of alternative business structures. The group, which represents 4,500 solicitors across England and Wales, claims it is still possible to prevent so-called ‘Tesco law’ from coming into force."
As the first commenter upon the report says: "You have to admire them....or perhaps pity them. Or maybe just laugh at them. Actually, I think the second and third options are what I'm going with." Quite.

Meanwhile, others have long since seen ABSs as a fait accompli, and are busily planning for a future with them. As Solicitors Journal reports: "Co-operative Legal Services (CLS) has announced that it will be applying for an ABS licence to offer fixed-price family law services and recruiting "large numbers of solicitors". " Perhaps those sole practitioners currently doing family work should be asking CLS for job application forms...

Lastly, you can tell it has been a light week for practice news when the Law Society has a news item referring to a research paper that was apparently published in September. The paper looks at comparison websites for legal services. Don't expect a definite finding as to the value of such sites though - the conclusion tells us that: "...this report raises many questions and does not pretend to know all the answers". I know how the writers feel...

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Will LASPO 'wipe out' specialist lawyers?

The Gazette has just published an article with the eye-grabbing headline 'Whole generation' of lawyers could disappear post-LASPO. It reports that: "Government proposals to slash legal aid have passed through the Commons, amid suggestions the legislation will wipe out specialist lawyers." The suggestion seems to have emanated from Labour MP Keith Vaz, who is quoted as saying:
"A whole generation of lawyers with expertise in welfare, immigration and education law will disappear. The only type of lawyers churned out of law colleges will be those who can do corporate litigation."
A little bit of an exaggeration I think, but he has a point. Obviously, those specialising in areas of work that exclusively or almost exclusively have a low-income clientele are likely to be put out of business, as are many of those who simply rely upon legal aid work. Otherwise, I'm sure there will still be specialists, for example doing private family work, albeit fewer of them.

I was amused to read that Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly said he was happy for people with disputes or grievances to get general advice and ‘not necessarily the expertise of specialist lawyers’. In other words, society's poor can make do with a second-rate service. A bit rich coming from someone who is reportedly a multi-millionaire.

And then we have Ken Clarke who says he has no intention of offending the legal profession, and promptly proceeds to do so by suggesting that they have been exploiting vulnerable people to advance their own agenda for preserving legal aid income. An obvious argument, and one that will no doubt find considerable favour in certain quarters, irrespective of whether it is true.

The Bill now passes to the Lords. I suspect that those opposing it will continue to do so with the same vigour, although some may now see the writing on the wall. Either way, all lawyers affected by it must surely consider their futures.