Tuesday, January 31, 2012

LoreCast for the week to the 31st January 2012

Natasha and I present you with all the top family law news stories from the last week (and a bit):

(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Protecting Our Children: BBC Two 9pm tonight

Social worker Louise takes a call

Just a quick heads-up for an important new 3-part BBC documentary series on child protection, commencing at 9pm tonight on BBC Two and BBC HD. Created with the help of the Open University, Protecting Our Children "follows Bristol's child protection teams over the course of a year [or 18 months, according to the OU] to see frontline work first-hand".

The BBC were offered special access to film the series, through a protocol drawn up with Bristol Council and ratified by the family court. The Head of Bristol Children's Services has indicated that the Council agreed to the series out of a belief that there needs to be more accurate reporting of the challenges social workers face and what they do in practice, as was the case when Bristol agreed to the 2004 BBC series Someone to Watch Over Me, and that need is perhaps even greater post-Baby P. Whether the series does improve the public understanding of social work will of course remain to be seen, but it is encouraging that the OU describes tonight's first episode as "an unbiased observational film where we get to understand both the professionals’ and parents’ points of view both revolving around [the child] and his future welfare".

You can read more about the series here.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Divorce apps: The lengths solicitors go to make a quick buck out of other people's misfortune

The latest addition to the growing list of divorce-related apps comes from Colchester solicitors Armstrong Family Law. Inspirationally named Armstrong Divorce Law, the app "is designed to be a comprehensive and easy to use reference for Divorce Law in England and Wales". It "does not replace the need for a Solicitor, but provides much needed advice and explains in detail the procedures, law and key points associated with divorce and separation", including financial information. The app is available in the iTunes store for £4.99.

[The title to this post is not just me being facetious - it comes from the highly predictable first comment to this article about the app in the (Colchester) Daily Gazette.]

Something for the Weekend: Stoning

I thought of this when I wrote a post during the week about a Jehovah's Witness - how much better the world would be if everyone could laugh at the absurdities of religion. A Python classic, and still just as funny as it was all those years (and viewings) ago:

Friday, January 27, 2012

R v Kayani and Solliman: Any damage to welfare of children does not justify reduction in sentence for abduction

Lord Judge
Should a prison sentence for child abduction be reduced because it may adversely affect the children, who are now in the care of the abducting parent?

That was the question to be answered by the Court of Appeal in the conjoined appeals of R v Kayani and R v Solliman [2011] EWCA Crim 2871, which have just been brought to my attention thanks to Family Law.

As these are criminal cases, I will not go into detail, as there are obviously matters beyond my area of expertise, such as the discussion of sentencing under the Child Abduction Act 1984 (for which the maximum is 7 years) compared to the offence of kidnapping, for which the maximum is life. Instead, I will concentrate on those areas of interest to family lawyers.

In the Kayani case, the father abducted the two boys, then aged 5 and 4, in January 2000, and took them to Pakistan. The mother has not seen them since. In May 2009 the father returned to the United Kingdom with both boys, who continued to live with him. The boys are now 17 and 16, and refuse to have contact with their mother. In 2011 the father pleaded guilty to two offences of abducting a child and was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment. He appealed against the sentence, suggesting that the judge failed to consider the consequences of the sentence of imprisonment on him, given that he was the sole carer for the boys, and that the sentence involved serious consequences for them.

In the Solliman case, the father abducted three children, then aged 8, 7 and 5, in April 2002 and took them to Egypt, returning to the UK with them in November 2009. As a result of the abduction, "the natural bond between mother and children has been permanently severed", and there is no chance of them having any contact with her. In 2011 the father pleaded guilty to three counts of abducting a child and was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment on each count. He appealed against the sentence, claiming that the children were hugely distressed at the absence of their father in prison. The issue was whether the interests of the children should lead to a reduction in sentence.

Giving judgment, Lord Judge said (at paragraph 54):
"The abduction of children from a loving parent is an offence of unspeakable cruelty to the loving parent and to the child or children, whatever they may later think of the parent from whom they have been estranged as a result of the abduction. It is a cruel offence even if the criminal responsible for it is the other parent. Any reference in mitigation to the right to family life ... is misconceived. In effect the submission involves praying in aid and seeking to rely on the very principle which the defendant has deliberately violated, depriving the other parent of the joy of his or her children and depriving the children from contact with a loving parent with whom they no longer wish to communicate."
He continued (at paragraph 57):
"The mothers have suffered extreme emotional hardship, and although the children themselves are unaware of it, they have been deprived of one of the foundations for a fulfilling life. The periods of abduction were prolonged, many years in duration, and the relationship with the mothers was irremediably damaged. In the case of the mothers, the hardship will be life long. Given these stark facts, making every allowance for the impact on maturing teenage children of the imprisonment of their father in the light of their current living and educational arrangements, any damage to their welfare is a direct consequence of his actions. This does not justify a reduction in what would otherwise be entirely appropriate sentences."
Accordingly, both appeals were dismissed.

In Practice: Debarred and down

A briefer than usual In Practice this week, for reasons that will shortly become obvious.

The biggest piece of professional news this week is undoubtedly that @Geeklawyer has been struck off (alright, it may not be the biggest, but I'm a bit short of other news, as will be seen). I suspect that there may be some within the profession who have been hoping for this news for years, although whether Geeklawyer actually gives a damn, I'm not too sure. The story has already been covered in detail by Charon QC, so I won't say much more, save that whatever Geeklawyer turns his hand to in future, I hope that he will continue to amuse those of us who still have a sense of humour.

OK, at this point I was going to talk about a couple of stories that appeared in the Law Society Gazette this week, but I can't, as the Gazette's website is down AGAIN. The site has been slow and unreliable for as long as I've been using it (which is about as long as it's existed), and hardly gives the best impression of the body that represents half of the entire profession. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT LAW SOCIETY. (As I write this the Gazette has tweeted: "Apologies once more for current Gazette website issues. The site will be back up soon." Note the words "once more". As for it being back up soon, I've got other things to do, so I can't wait, sorry.)

Holocaust Memorial Day

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Child maintenance news

It was good to see Lord Mackay opposing the government's plans to charge parents for using the CSA, although it seems that the chances of obtaining any form of concession are remote. Nevertheless, in 'response' to such opposition the Department for Work and Pensions has today announced an additional £20 million to help families work out their own child maintenance arrangements (although exactly how this money is to be used is not entirely clear).

I'm sorry, you can throw as much money as you like at helping families agree child maintenance arrangements, but that will have no effect whatsoever upon the real problem with child maintenance: the absent parents who refuse to pay. All the new system is doing is penalising the parent with care by charging them to use a service that was previously free, with no improved likelihood of the CSA actually recovering anything from recalcitrant parents.

Still, the most important thing with any government is spin, and the headline '£20 million to help separating families' looks good.

Meanwhile, the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission has today released the latest CSA performance statistics, for the quarter ending December 2011. Key facts revealed by the statistics include:
  • The percentage of cases with a child maintenance liability in which maintenance is being paid rose from 77.8% as at September 2011 to 78.0%.
  • 882,600 children were benefiting from maintenance, up from 876,100 in September.
  • £1,180.1m maintenance was collected or arranged in the 12 months to December 2011 of which £121.1m was arrears. This is up from £1,168.7m in the 12 months to September 2011 of which £122.1m was arrears.
  • 89.4% of cases received in September 2011 were cleared within 12 weeks, which was actually slightly down from the 89.7% figure for cases received in June 2011.
So, generally improving performance, although I can only imagine the horrific effect that the government's proposed changes are likely to have upon the figures.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Don't believe a word...

Ken Clarke says mediation "is quicker, cheaper, less confrontational and it encourages people to resolve their issues rather than turning to judges and lawyers" - Ministry of Justice, 23rd January 2012

Religion rears its ugly head

Causing trouble wherever it goes as usual, the subject of religion has cropped up a couple of times over the last few days in relation to family law matters.

Firstly, Carl Gardner at Head of Legal wrote a post taking issue with the absurd claim that "Islamic law can be compatible with the toughest human rights legislation", and expressing the view that decisions of sharia councils in family matters could not have legal effect through the Arbitration Act 1996. I'm afraid I rather put a spanner in the works of that argument (which I believed to be correct myself) when I referred Carl to this article on Family Law Week (after being reminded of it by Marilyn Stowe), which explains a family law arbitration scheme which is due to be launched next month. In the light of that, Carl now asks whether there is anything in the Act to prevent sharia tribunals acting as binding arbitrators in family disputes

This is a very important and disturbing question. The mere thought of family disputes being adjudicated by reference to some ancient religious text must surely be of serious concern to any right-minded person.

I don't care if sharia councils rule on religious matters - such things are of no consequence in the real world. As to matters of English family law, clearly sharia councils could not have jurisdiction to dissolve legal marriages, but they could (and may already) be used to 'resolve' financial matters on divorce and (even more worryingly) to deal with private law children disputes.

I have no expertise in arbitration whatsoever, so I will wait with interest to see what conclusion Carl reaches.

Meanwhile, yesterday Bailii reported the case of Re N (A Child: Religion: Jehovah's Witness) [2011] EWHC B26 (Fam). As the title suggests, this case dealt with the issue of one parent (the mother) being a Jehovah's Witness, and the other parent's concerns regarding the upbringing of the child.

Now, don't get me started about Jehovah's Witnesses - if dragging your children around door to door as you try to convert those with more sense than you to join such a mad sect isn't child abuse, then I don't know what is. Clearly, I'm not the best person to report on this case, so I won't. Instead, I'll leave it to the interested reader to look at and draw from it what they will.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Luck of the draw...

New Chair of Cafcass appointed

Baroness Tyler
The Department for Education has today confirmed the appointment of Baroness Tyler of Enfield as the new Chair of the Cafcass Board. The appointment takes effect today, and will last for three years.

Baroness Tyler has been Chief Executive Officer of Relate since 2007, and is a working Liberal Democrat Peer in the House of Lords. She previously held a number of senior positions within the government, most recently Director of the Vulnerable Children’s Group at the Department for Education and Skills. She was raised to the peerage in January 2011.

I thought I would take this opportunity to briefly explain what Cafcass is, for the benefit of the uninitiated. Cafcass (the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, to give it its full name) was set up on 1st April 2001 under the provisions of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. It brought together the Family Court Welfare Service (which was a subdivision of the probation service), the 57 panels of the Guardian ad Litem Service and the Children’s Division of the Official Solicitor’s Office. Cafcass is a body corporate, governed by the Board and managed by a Corporate Management Team, with Anthony Douglas as Chief Executive.

Its principal functions are to:
  • safeguard and promote the welfare of the children,
  • give advice to any court about any application made to it in such proceedings,
  • make provision for the children to be represented in such proceedings,
  • provide information, advice and other support for the children and their families.
Describing its work, Cafcass says that it "champions the interests of children involved in family proceedings, advising the family courts in England [Wales is covered by Cafcass Cymru] on what it considers to be in the best interests of individual children". The matters in connection with which Cafcass's trained Family Court Advisers advise courts include care proceedings, adoptions and private law proceedings, such as residence and contact disputes.

LoreCast for the week to the 23rd January 2012

Natasha and I return to bring you this week's top family law news stories and cases, in a short, easy-to-listen podcast:

(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Something for the Weekend: Laurel and Hardy - Towed in a Hole

I came across this whilst looking for another Laurel and Hardy video recently. One of my favourite clips from one of their best films:

Friday, January 20, 2012

In Practice: The Bar Barometer

I said when I started writing these In Practice posts that I might occasionally delve into the 'dark side' of the profession, where they have strange arcane customs (i.e. the Bar), and so it is today.

On Wednesday the Bar Council and the Bar Standards Board published the first full edition of the catchily-titled Bar Barometer, an annual report on statistical trends within the Bar. The foreword tells us that this edition "considers the Bar of England and Wales over the period 2006-11, focusing in particular on the statistics and information relating to those who were successful in gaining pupillage".

I confess that I have not read all of its fifty-seven pages, but the summary of 'key facts' tells us much of what we need to know, including most of the following:
  • The number of practising barristers grew steadily in the five years to 2010, from 14,890 in 2006 to 15,387 in 2010, although the growth rate has actually declined.
  • 80.7% of the total 'practising profession' in 2010 were self-employed. 
  • The total 'practising profession' in 2010 comprised 65.2% men and 34.8% women.
  • Of the 15,387 barristers who held practising certificates in 2010, 1,564 were from a 'black and minority ethnic group' ('BME'), although 1,938 did not disclose their ethnicity.
  • 1,509 students were enrolled on the Bar Professional Training Course ('BPTC') in 2009/10 (out of 2,540 applications), of which 87% passed.
  • There were 3,100 applications for the BPTC in 2010/11, an increase of 18% over the previous year.
  • In 2010/11 446 First Six pupillages were registered, a decrease of 3%, and 477 Second Six pupillages were registered, a decrease of 3.6%.
  • In 2010 QCs constituted 9% of the practising profession.

    The chair of the Bar Standards Board Baroness Deech has expressed satisfaction that the report "demonstrates a positive representation of women, BME and disabled barristers", but the figures that have been making the headlines are the two that are not compatible: the increase in the number of applications for the BPTC and the decrease in the number of pupillages being offered. Clearly, there are going to be a lot of disappointed baby barristers out there, for whom the barometer will be registering extremely cold.

    Thursday, January 19, 2012

    Blood on the carpet

    Just  a quick heads-up for an article in the Gazette today regarding the increase in litigants in person. In it, District Judge Nick Crichton gives an excellent summary of the effect upon the family courts:
    "We are getting more and more people coming to court in private law cases without the benefit of sensible, structured legal advice, wanting to spill blood on the court carpet. Angry with each other, they shout across the court, they refuse to listen when you try to calm them down and it is very difficult to find a solution that they will go away and work with."
    And mediation isn't necessarily the answer:
    "The government wants people to stay out of court but it is very difficult to get people to mediate when they are still very angry and haven’t had the benefit of decent legal advice. These cases take an inordinate amount of time, which is having a knock-on effect on public law cases getting before a judge."
    You can read the article here.

    Just an idea...

    QualitySolicitors prepares for £15m ad campaign - Law Society Gazette, 19th January 2012

    The Purity Bear

    I have it on good authority that this is not a parody:

    Wednesday, January 18, 2012

    Do Your Own Divorce update

    I have added another update to Do Your Own Divorce. This one deals with the Statement of information for a consent order form. The update can be found here.

    Now We Are Six

    Coloured all by myself!
    It seems I've now been writing this nonsense blog for six years. To celebrate, here's a lovely cake that I coloured in all by myself.
    When I was five,
    I was just alive.
    But now I am six,
    I'm as clever as clever.
    So I think I'll be six
    now and forever.
    [Image: Coloring.com. Poem: A.A.Milne.]

    Tuesday, January 17, 2012

    News for the week to the 17th January 2012

    A day later than usual, here is a summary of the top family law news for the last week (or so):

    (Those without Flash can listen here.)

    Trust me, I'm a lawyer

    This morning I came across a recent US Gallup poll, in which members of the public were asked to rate various professions for their honesty and ethics. It will not have made good reading for the American Bar Association, with a full 37% of respondents rating lawyers "low" or "very low":

    This is even worse than the survey commissioned by the Legal Services Consumer Panel in this country last year, which found that only 47% of people in England and Wales trust lawyers to tell the truth. For a profession that is supposed to be based upon ethics and truth, the Gallup poll is not good news, and I suspect that it is indicative of a general downward trend in the public's respect for lawyers, at least in the western world.

    Still, it could be worse - we could be politicians.

    Sunday, January 15, 2012

    Google ad placement fail

    I found this the other day in Google Reader - a story in Pink News about Canadian gay marriages, with a Google ad for Muslim marriage site Muslima.com attached. Oops.

    Saturday, January 14, 2012

    Something for the Weekend: ELECTROSHOCK

    A great little animated film made by French students, with English subtitles, found on Neatorama this week:

    Friday, January 13, 2012

    Oh, the irony!

    A virtual prize of £850 if you can spot the irony in this story that appeared in The Galloway Gazette:

     [With thanks to the person who sent me this, who shall remain nameless.]

    In Practice: Competing, paying and helping

    This week, three stories that will have a bearing upon the future of the profession:

    Alternative Business Structures ('ABSs') continue to be the subject of debate. I particularly liked Catherine Baksi's post on the business blog in the Law Society Gazette, Should doom merchants have gone to Specsavers? In it, she tries to dispel fears about the competition from ABSs. She points out that a similar change took place in the optometry market in 1985, when the Opticians Act brought to an end the monopoly held by opticians to provide sight tests and dispense spectacles. At that time there were 3,500 independent optical outlets, and it was feared that most of these would be swallowed up or put out of business by new entrants to the market or established brands such as Boots. However, this did not happen and now there are more independent optical outlets than before. Of course, it remains to be seen whether the comparison between the optometry and legal services markets is valid.

    Turning to other news, the SRA has announced that it is to consult on whether it should continue to set the annual minimum rate of pay for trainee solicitors. The minimum wage policy, which dates back to 1982, was designed to protect trainees from being exploited and to encourage high calibre graduates into the profession, but SRA Executive Director Samantha Barrass, said: "Our consultation paper explains that there is no clear evidence that setting a minimum salary for trainees fulfils any of the regulatory objectives within the Legal Services Act ...  It would appear that setting a minimum salary does not address any identified risk to the public interest or the rule of law, nor is it clear that it improves access to the profession". The consultation will look at the potential impact of deregulation. Personally, I fear for trainees if the minimum wage does go, particularly in the present economic climate.

    Lastly, on the subject of access to the profession, I have somewhat belatedly come across PRIME, an excellent initiative aimed at helping students from less privileged backgrounds get work experience in the legal profession. If you also missed the launch of PRIME, have a look at this video:

    How the other half live

    St. Lawrence Giving the Wealth to the Poor, Palma Giovane
    Family Law has just published a summary of a financial remedy case that took place last April, heard by Mr Justice Coleridge, no less. It states that the total assets 'amounted to £4 million', and continues: "Use of White v White etc authorities not helpful in a case in which barely enough to cover needs" (my emphasis). I'm sorry? FOUR MILLION POUNDS IS BARELY ENOUGH FOR A FAMILY'S NEEDS? What exactly do they need? Gold-plated toilet paper?

    Now, I know that 'needs' are assessed with reference to the living standards previously enjoyed by the family, rather than the real needs of 'ordinary' people (you know, a roof over their heads and enough money to put a meal on the table each day, that sort of thing), but even so, I find it extremely difficult to imagine just what needs are so great as to use up such a sum. With 'only' half of a £4 million pot I could live like a Lord for the rest of my days, and still have enough left over to leave a decent inhertance for my butler.

    OK, I haven't read the full report of this case (it doesn't yet seem to be available on the free web). It may be that the assessment of needs was quite reasonable in the circumstances. Still, it does make one wonder just how in touch with reality is our judiciary, and also gives an indication that 'financial suffering' in recession-hit Britain is all relative.

    Thursday, January 12, 2012

    Hverra manna ert þú?

    Iceland: I guess when you live in an isolated country of only 300,000 people who don't use surnames, then the chance of an incestuous relationship must be pretty high, especially for those from smaller communities. This is where Íslendingabók ('The Book of Icelanders') comes in. Íslendingabók is a genealogical website linked to a database containing information on almost every Icelander since the 18th century.

    To use the site (which incidentally is free), you simply input your name and that of your potential partner, and the database will return information about any family ties. Sounds like an excellent idea.

    For more information about Íslendingabók (in English!) see here.

    'Collaborative lawyers' is an oxymoron

    Wednesday, January 11, 2012

    Crash Corsage - The World's First App for Wedding Crashing

    Finally, you can crash any wedding, anytime:

    [Found on brandflakesforbreakfast.]

    The work of Cafcass' National Business Centre

    Just a quick post to mention a short but interesting article on Community Care today regarding Cafcass' National Business Centre. Typically, the centre screens at least 200 private law applications a day, to identify any child safeguarding issues before the first court hearing.The centre received a positive rating from Ofsted in December.

    Cafcass has suffered much bad press in recent times, so it makes a welcome change to see them receiving some good publicity.

    Interview with Edgar Venal

    In a rare interview with Edgar Venal, Senior Partner at Venal & Grabbit, we discuss LASPO, mediation and the latest divorce statistics.

    We meet him relaxing in the red leather armchair in his office, with his feet up on the back of a trainee who is acting as his footstool. Another trainee scurries in with a silver tray carrying a bottle of one of those boutique style gins for discerning high net-worth individuals who are driven by luxury and quality, together with two crystal glasses. Wishing to keep a clear head, I decline the offer to partake.

    Family Lore: Thank you once again for the kind offer to give an interview to Family Lore.

    Edgar Venal: The pleasure is all yours, but do do keep it brief - I have fees to earn. You do know my hourly rate, don't you?

    FL: Err, well, no. How much is it?

    EV: (Chuckling) As I always say, if you need to ask, you can't afford me!

    FL: Quite. Moving on, the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill is of course being debated in the House of Lords this week. What are your thoughts on that?

    EV: The best thing since sliced bread. Make people pay for going to law, that's what I say. In fact, I have been lobbying their Lordships in favour of the Bill. Amazing what a few backhanders in the right places can do. (He takes a sip of gin.)

    FL: But what of those who can't afford to go to law?

    EV: (Choking on his gin) Don't be absurd - the law is for those who can afford it, not for the great unwashed.

    FL: OK, but what about all the hard-working legal aid lawyers who will be out of a job if legal aid is abolished for their area of work?

    EV: Of course I always have sympathy for fellow lawyers (provided they're not in competition with me), even if they are foolish enough to do legal aid work, but they can always down-grade and become mediators. (He takes another sip of gin.)

    FL: Have you ever considered training as a mediator yourself?

    EV: (Choking on his gin again) Now if you're going to be offensive, you can leave my office immediately.

    FL: I'm terribly sorry, I meant no offence - I hear many lawyers are doing it.

    EV: (Calming down) My boy, I could not possibly be a mediator - how could one earn a decent living out of work that doesn't involve expensive court proceedings?

    FL: Well, quite. Moving on, there was of course another piece of good news for divorce lawyers prior to Christmas, when it was revealed that there had been an unexpected rise in the divorce rate. What do you think of that?

    EV: Yes, excellent news. Not entirely unexpected though. I don't like to take the credit, but much of the increase was due to Venal & Grabbit's advertising campaign promoting divorce. Money well spent - and tax-deductable, too.

    FL: Really? So advertising does work?

    EV: Of course it does. Tell the punters that life will be better if they get a divorce, and the new instructions come flooding in. (He pointedly looks at his watch.)

    FL: (Taking the hint) Well, I can see you're busy. Thank you for speaking to Family Lore.

    Monday, January 09, 2012

    Family Lore Focus Newsletter reaches 150th Edition

    Today I sent out the 150th edition of the Family Lore Focus free weekly email Newsletter. The Newsletter contains links to all the the top family law news stories, cases, legislation, articles and blog posts that are reported on Family Lore Focus each week. You can subscribe to it here.

    Seems quite reasonable to me...

    For some reason this was included in a list of vintage sexist adverts:

    Summary of the news since 19th December

    A rapid audio summary of the top family law news stories since my last news podcast on the 19th of December.

    (Those without Flash can listen here.)

    Saturday, January 07, 2012

    Something for the Weekend: Time is Nothing // Around The World Time Lapse

    I don't get to travel anywhere these days, so I rather liked this video that I came across on Neatorama during the week. It comprises 6237 photographs taken around the world, made into a five minute film (each 2 second scene comprises about 40-60 photographs). Enjoy:

    For more details of the video see here, and of the places visited see here.

    Friday, January 06, 2012

    @familylaw: Three thousand followers can't be wrong...

    ...well, maybe they can, but at least the followers of my @familylaw twitter feed are keeping up with all the latest happenings in the world of family law. For those who don't already know (where have you been?), @familylaw feeds all news items, cases and articles from Family Lore Focus on to twitter, thereby providing a convenient way to stay up to date.

    You can also keep up to date by subscribing to the free weekly Family Lore Focus Newsletter here - all that is required is your name and email address.

    To recap, Family Lore Focus is essentially a site that aggregates freely available family law content from the web, including news, cases, statutory instruments, articles and blogs. Several times every day I check every source that I am aware of including family law sites, general law sites, blogs, newspapers, Bailii and many others, and post links to items of interest. The most recent links can be found on the front page of Family Lore Focus, and older ones on the relevant blogs: Family Lore News, Family Lore Case Digest, Family Lore Articles, and Family Lore Blogs.

    [Post blatantly copied from earlier one, with minor amendments.] 

    In Practice: It's all happening...

    The rest of the country may may spent the last two weeks in blissful idleness, but there is no shortage of professional news to report.

    The biggest story, I suppose, is that on Tuesday, the 3rd January, the SRA began accepting applications from organisations wanting to be licensed as alternative business structures ('ABSs'). Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly was quoted on the Ministry of Justice website as saying that:
    "The addition of the Solicitors Regulation Authority marks another major milestone for UK legal services and the future of Alternative Business Structures.

    "Customers will find legal services more accessible, providing a much more competitive and efficient service."
    That may or may not turn out to be so, but the Gazette quotes Pearse McCabe, strategy and planning director at marketing consultants Rufus Leonard, as predicting a ‘titanic battle for the hearts and minds of potential customers’, between the old order on the one hand and established brands on the other. Only time will tell who will win that battle. Incidentally, if you are a solicitor or a law firm considering setting up an ABS, the Law Society has published advice and support, here.

    Meanwhile, as I reported in my last In Practice, the mySRA online renewals process is at last under way. Things have now moved on, and since the 5th January the process has been available to all firms and individuals, so get renewing, if you haven't done so already. Which reminds me, must get my membership of the roll renewed...

    Just before Xmas the Law Society published a practice note on the use of social media. You can find it here. I have not read it all myself, but I must congratulate the Law Society for keeping its finger on the pulse, and being aware of such new-fangled things as "forums and comment spaces on information-based websites", "social networking websites such as Facebook", "weblogs" and Twitter.

    Finally, the Law Society and the SRA are to move to 'The Cube', a new office building in Birmingham city centre, this summer. The Cube has "exceptional apartments, state-of-the-art offices, exclusive shops, water side cafe bars, Birmingham's first boutique hotel" and a "panoramic rooftop restaurant", run by Marco Pierre White, no less. I dread to think what the rent will be, but I'm sure solicitors will be glad to know that their practising certificate fees are keeping SRA employees happy in their shiny new workplace.

    Government to give both parents a right to contact?

    Tim Loughton, cropped à la Legalweek

    The Daily Telegraph appears to have obtained advance information regarding the Government's forthcoming response to the Family Justice Review.

    In an article published last night the paper informs us that the Government has apparently rejected Norgrove's recommendation that 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. On the contrary, the Government is intending to introduce legislation under which "courts will be put under a legal duty to ensure that both fathers and mothers are given access to children in divorce settlements". We are also told that: "Parents who refuse to accept the orders will be in contempt of court and risk serious penalties or even jail", as if that were something new and far stricter than the enforcement powers that the courts already have.

    The paper quotes Under-Secretary of State for Children and Families Tim Loughton as saying:
    "Our vision is to establish that, under normal circumstances, a child will have relationship with both his or her parents, regardless of their relationship with each other.

    "We must do everything we can to improve the system so that it gives children the best chance of growing up under the guidance of two loving parents."
    The news will no doubt bring much joy amongst the ragged ranks of fathers' rights campaigners. However, I'll let them and Mr Loughton into a secret: the courts already try to ensure that children have contact with both parents, so don't expect such a change in the law to have a huge effect.

    Otherwise, the article tells us that the Government apparently does agree with Norgrove's recommendations to encourage parenting agreements and for the establishment of an online information hub.

    *      *      *      *      *

    UPDATE: According to the Telegraph today (7th January), the issue of a 'right of contact' is far from resolved within the Cabinet, with Ken Clarke apparently opposed to any change.

    Thursday, January 05, 2012

    Do Your Own Divorce updated

    I have added another update to Do Your Own Divorce, this time dealing with completing the Statement of arrangements for children form. The update can be found here.

    Wednesday, January 04, 2012

    "Barman, a drop of the old "Wife Beater", please!"

    Reassuringly alcoholic
    The somewhat inept efforts of a lobbying company to "untarnish" the reputation of Stella Artois have rather backfired.

    Portland Communications decided it would be a good idea to clean up the image of Stella by removing references to its nickname "wife beater" from Wikipedia. Unfortunately for them, the changes were spotted and reversed, and now the nickname, which was probably on the wane anyway (there are now much stronger lagers available) has been revived.

    Edgar Venal launches Anti-Marriage Foundation

    Edgar Venal has launced an Anti-Marriage Foundation, to lobby for family lawyer-friendly policies, hold seminars and commission research into increasing the income of divorce lawyers.

    “Divorce, as the best structure with which to raise the income of lawyers, needs to be affirmed, strengthened and supported. Recycle your rubbish by all means, and that includes your partner,” he told The Times.

    "We have to promote the dream that we are going to find the partner who is perfect in every way: emotionally, physically, intellectually - you know it makes sense.

    "People want to change horses mid-stream - it’s the wonder of the modern age (and certainly something that never happened in the bad-old days). They should be encouraged find their new partner, and if that partner is as flawed as the last, then they should find another.”

    "Families that stay together are the scourge of the legal profession”, he added. “It affects everyone, from the President of the Family Division downwards. We can't go back to the old anti-lawyer ways. Why, in about 1950 you weren’t allowed in the royal enclosure at Ascot if divorced. That would now exclude half of the judiciary.”

    “It is a myth that lawyers don’t care. They care greatly and a marriage that doesn't break up shocks the whole foundation of the profession.”

    “My message is end it — don’t mend it. Over 40 years of working in the family justice system, I have seen the huge profits to be made from these broken relationships. Those profits would be seriously eroded if marriage were encouraged. I personally think that would be a complete scandal.”

    Tuesday, January 03, 2012

    Sir Paul climbs back on his hobby-horse

    Sir Paul Coleridge
    Sir Paul Coleridge is at it again. To coincide with 'Divorce Day', he has announced that he is launching a foundation "to defend marriage and reduce of the "scourge of society" of family breakdown".

    According to this article in The Telegraph, he told The Times that: "Marriage, as the best structure in which to raise children, needs to be affirmed, strengthened and supported." He therefore "plans to open a Marriage Foundation at a cost of £150,000 a year to lobby for family-friendly policies, hold seminars and commission research into strengthening marriage."

    Other family law luminaries involved in this latest attempt to turn back time are the three wise Baronesses: former President of the Family Division Baroness Butler-Sloss, chairman of the Bar Standards Board Baroness Deech and lawyer to the rich and famous Baroness Shackleton.