Monday, April 30, 2012

Sir Paul Coleridge to launch Marriage Foundation this week...

...patrons include Baronesses Deech, Shackleton and Butler-Sloss.

Sir Paul Coleridge: 'End the scourge of divorce' - The Telegraph, 30th April 2012

LoreCast for the week to the 30th April 2012

Natasha and I return to bring you the top family law news stories and cases from the last week, in a short, easy-to-listen podcast:

(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Something for the Weekend: Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)

I was reminded of this yesterday. Quite simply one of my favourite songs of all time, from one of the greatest concerts of all time:

Friday, April 27, 2012

BLEAK SPOUSE: Chapter 9 – Bellend House

PRISSY had not intended to keep her promise to visit Matt O'Gridley at the homeless shelter, but now she thought it might impress Allan Plastic, who spends his time helping the less well-off. Accordingly, she donned her oldest SIHT-brand tracksuit, and headed for Bellend House.

*            *            *

Matt is obviously grateful to have someone to talk to. In fact, he is grateful that someone will actually listen to him. He tells Prissy all of his woes – how he was divorced, how his wife got the children and how he used up all his money on legal fees, in a fruitless attempt to get contact with his children.

Prissy is soon left regretting that she changed her mind.

Becoming quite agitated, Matt points at a plastic bag full of papers on his bed. "See that?" He asks, in a raised voice.

Prissy recognises the bag that Matt had been clutching when she met him in the street, although she hadn’t thought much of it at the time. "What is it?" She asks, not really wanting to know.

"That's all the court papers and solicitors' letters from my contact case." Says Matt, his voice rising still further.

"Oh." Says Prissy, trying to sound interested.

Undeterred, Matt carries on with his monologue. "Bloody solicitors." He says. "And the worst one of all is that leech who acted for my wife, Edgar Venal." The mention of that name causes his face to blush purple with rage.

Prissy recognises the name, but says nothing. She is thinking how she might make her exit. She looks around the room, and spies what looks suspiciously like a Batman outfit draped over a chair.

"That bastard made sure I wouldn't see my Kids!" Continues Matt. "Him and all the other family lawyers - they're all part of a conspiracy against fathers!" He shrieks.

Prissy finds herself sympathising with Matt's ex-wife. She starts to edge towards the door, but Matt closes her escape route.

"And the judges are all in it too!" Screams Matt. "And the social workers, and Cafcass and the whole f-ing lot of them! They're all child traffickers!"

For a moment, Prissy wants to disagree with what Matt is saying, but then thinks better of it.

"Secret courts, lawyers only in it for the money - the whole system is corrupt!" Yells Matt.

Someone bangs on the wall. A muffled voice tells Matt to keep the noise down.

Matt ignores the warning. "Bigots, the lot of them!" He screams. "Asset stripping families for financial gain. It makes me sick!"

Prissy realises that the man is obviously completely mad. She desperately wants to get away.

Her prayers are answered when there is a loud knock on the door, and a man enters the room. It is the shelter manager. "What's going on here?" He asks firmly.

"N-nothing." Stammers Matt, anxious not to be thrown out.

The manager looks at Prissy. He can see that she is distressed, and asks if she is all right. She considers making a complaint against Matt, but decides against it. She is just glad to leave.

As she does, she hears the manager talking to Matt. "I've had enough of you, with all your ranting. You're upsetting everyone else here. Any more trouble, and you're out!" He says.

Quite mad, thinks Prissy.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

New NYAS website

I thought I would add my own small amount of publicity to that already generated by Family Law Week for the new NYAS website.

For those who don't know, NYAS (the National Youth Advocacy Service) is a charity which offers "information, advice, advocacy and legal representation to children, young people and vulnerable adults through a network of dedicated paid workers and volunteers throughout England and Wales".

The services offered on or through the new site include confidential online advice (on the home page - the adviser will reply straight away unless there is a queue), a freephone helpline and a range of specialist legal services for children, including separate representation for children in family matters.

You can find the site here.

Venal & Grabbit family law tweetup a huge success

Venal & Grabbit's first family law tweetup has been described as 'a huge success' by Senior Partner Edgar Venal. The tweetup attracted over 61 Tweeters, two of whom said that they had actually sent tweets to one another beforehand. Another attendee said that he had been using Twitter for a whole week, and thought it was "a great new idea in information technology".

Elaborating on his recorded address at the event, Edgar Venal said: “At Venal & Grabbit, we like to think that we are at the cutting edge, and that's why we organised a meeting for family lawyers who use this new Twitter-thing. We are also quite pleased at the amount of publicity that it generated. We look forward to more such events taking place in future, and I might even attend myself next time.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Chapman v Jaume: There is no presumption of advancement between co-habitants

The case of Chapman v Jaume [2012] EWCA Civ 476, reported today on Bailii, serves as a reminder that there is no presumption of advancement between co-habitants, and that therefore proof of payment by one cohabitant to another imports a prima facie obligation to repay upon the recipient.

The facts were that Mr Chapman moved into Mrs Jaume's property. He then claims to have spent more than £130,000 on renovating and improving the property. After the relationship broke down he instructed solicitors who first tried to register a unilateral notice at the Land Registry, claiming that:
"The applicant has acquired a beneficial interest in the property as he has financed an extension to the property as well as extensive improvements. It was agreed with the proprietor that in return he would have a beneficial interest in the property."
This application was cancelled, and a second application was made, this time for the entry of a restriction, once again asserting that it had been agreed between Mr Chapman and Mrs Jaume that as a result of his expenditure Mr Chapman would acquire a beneficial interest in the property. Mrs Jaume lodged an objection and Mr Chapman did not pursue his application.

Mr Chapman then issued a claim for £162,589.42, "being money lent by the claimant to the defendant between 2001 and 2005 together with interest thereon." He distanced himself from the basis on which the applications to the Land Registry were put, and instead claimed that:
"At all material times, it was expressly agreed in discussions between the claimant and the defendant that the sums spent by the claimant as set out above would be repaid by the defendant upon the sale of the property or upon her youngest child attaining the age of 18, whichever was the earlier."
The judge found that there probably was an agreement, but held that the claim failed entirely, as Mr Chapman had failed to prove the precise conditions about the time at which the money would be repaid.

Mr Chapman appealed.

Giving the leading judgment in the Court of Appeal, Lord Justice Lewison took the view that the judge's decision had been wrong. He said (at paragraph 21):
" my judgment, if the judge came to the conclusion (as he did) that the precise conditions had not been proved but there had been some sort of agreement, then the obvious inference was that the monies were a loan repayable within a reasonable time after demand."
He then quoted the authorities, including Baroness Hale in Stack v Dowden, to the effect that proof of payment imports a prima facie obligation to repay upon the recipient, in the absence of any circumstances tending to show anything in the nature of a presumption of advancement, and that there is no presumption of advancement between co-habitants. Accordingly, the judge ought to have drawn the inference that the money was repayable within a reasonable time after demand, at the very latest when the house was sold. (The property had already been sold by the time of the trial.)

Lord Justice Lewison therefore allowed the appeal, and remitted the matter to the County Court to determine issues of quantum.

Lord Justice Thorpe and Lord Justice Etherton gave concurring judgments.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Another special award for BabyB

After laughing out loud whilst reading the latest from BabyBarista this morning, I knew I had to dig out another old Post of the Month trophy to re-cast as a special award for BabyB.

I have always admired BabyBarista's instructing solicitor SlipperySlope. In With prejudice he excels himself by the use (not for the first time) of a deliciously underhand courtroom trick.

Read it and learn.

New report calls for reform of the law on child neglect

As mentioned in my news podcast this morning, a new report commissioned by the charity Action for Children claims that the criminal law on child abuse is failing to protect children suffering neglect and emotional trauma, and needs updating. The report is part of the charity's campaign asking the Government to review the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, which the charity considers is no longer fit for purpose, as:

  • It fails to reflect the full range of harm neglected children suffer
  • It leaves parents unclear about their responsibilities towards children
  • Rather than trying to improve parenting, it only seeks to punish parents after neglect has happened

You can read the report, here. There is also a Press Association story about the report, here.

Happy St. George's Day!

News for the week to the 23rd April 2012

A summary of the top family law news stories from the last week, in a short, easy-to-listen podcast:

(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Something for the Weekend: Monty Python - Marriage counsellor

I normally purposely try to make the 'something' totally unrelated to the subject of this blog, but this weekend I am making an exception. Marriage guidance à la Monty Python:

Friday, April 20, 2012

BLEAK SPOUSE: Chapter 8 – Prissy’s Story

GRIM GRANGE. John Jaundiced has taken an avuncular interest in the children's futures, now that it seems they will be denied the rich-kid lifestyle they had expected before their father's once substantial assets evaporated, coincidentally with the evaporation of their parents' marriage.

"What kind of work do you want to go into after you leave school?" He asks Chantelle.

Chantelle gives him a look of horror. The prospect of having to go out to earn a living had never before entered her pretty but vacuous head. She thinks for a moment, then her face brightens. "I won't need to work!" She exclaims. "I'll become a footballer's wife!"

John lets out a sigh, although he admits to himself that Chantelle does have all of the required qualities for that calling: blonde, brassy and, above all, stupid. He turns to her brother.

"What about you, Clint, what do you want to do?" He asks.

“I haven’t the faintest idea what I will be.” Replies Clint, musing. “Except that I'm quite sure I don’t want to go into the law - those lawyers are all crooks!”

"Well, quite." Replies John. "What about the army?" He suggests.

Clint screws up his face. "And get blown up in some pointless foreign war? No thanks!" He says.

John concedes that Clint has a point. "How about medicine - saving lives, rather than taking them?" He asks.

Clint ponders for a moment. "Yes," he says, "I'd like that."

"Excellent!" Declares John. Then he has an idea: "I know a young doctor in town - Allan Plastic - why don't I invite him to dinner, so that he can give you some advice?" He asks.

Clint begins to wonder whether his enthusiasm was such a good idea - he had planned to do an all-nighter on World of Warcraft tonight. "Err... OK." He says reluctantly.

*            *            *

Early that evening. Prissy is preparing the latest recipe from Irish celebrity chef Jamie O'Liver: Pan-fried eye of bullock with squid purée, in a whiskey and pineapple jus.

As she does so, she spies William Piranha outside again. As Mrs Lucrative is no longer at Grim Grange, she realises that he can't be a paparazzo, so she goes outside to find out who he is.

Piranha is clearly nervous as she approaches. He lies to Prissy that he has been instructed by Mrs Lucrative to make sure the children are OK. (In fact, unable to follow Mrs Lucrative abroad, he has stayed at Grim Grange to await her return.) Prissy is dubious about his explanation, but she decides not to press the matter. There is something about Piranha that gives her the creeps. As she turns to leave, Piranha calls out.

"Wait!" He exclaims. "Don't go!"

"Why ever not?" Asks Prissy, eager to get away from the seedy Piranha.

"Will you go out with me?" Piranha blurts out.

"What?" Gasps Prissy. The thought of going out with anyone as squalid as Piranha sends a shiver down her spine.

"Please," says Piranha, with a note of desperation in his voice, "I've fancied you from afar since the moment I first set my lens on you!"

Prissy gathers her wits. “Piss off, you little oik.” She replies.

Piranha is crestfallen.

*            *            *

Prissy's feelings are quite different over dinner later that evening. Meeting Allan Plastic is, for her, love at first sight. He is truly that knight in shining armour that she has been waiting for.

Allan cannot help but notice Prissy's interest in him. He, on the other hand, is not so sure...

In Practice: Dealing with litigants in person

Unfortunately, these days it seems that it's not sufficient simply to apply common sense to any given situation. Adding to the ever-growing body of guidance upon every eventuality, the Law Society yesterday published a practice note for dealing with litigants in person.

The practice note is intended to be for "all solicitors who may need to deal with litigants in person (LiPs) as part of their work", which means pretty well all solicitors who deal with litigation at all, especially once LASPO comes in.

In section 2 the practice note helpfully explains exactly what a LiP is, for the benefit of anyone who may be unsure, and where one might be encountered.

Section 3 basically reminds solicitors not to take 'unfair advantage' of LiPs, and to keep calm when responding to emotive correspondence and telephone calls from them.

Section 4 covers the solicitor's duty to the court when there is a LiP on the other side, such as assisting in explaining procedure to the LiP and preparing bundles, written arguments and draft orders (there seems to be an erroneous sentence at the beginning of section 4, mentioning interest for late payments on qualifying debts). The section goes on to mention the specific issues that may crop up in employment tribunals (section 4.3.1) and family law matters (section 4,3.2).

Section 5 covers dealings with persistent unmeritorious claims/vexatious litigants.

For information, paragraph 6 outlines some of the resources available to LiPs, including McKenzie friends and the CAB.

The practice note may be found here.

*            *            *

UPDATE: The erroneous sentence at the beginning of section 4 has now been removed.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Venal & Grabbit Family Lawyers of the Year Awards 2012

It's that time of year again. Nominations have just closed for the annual Venal & Grabbit Family Lawyers of the Year Awards.

The nominations in each category are:

Best Family Lawyer: Edgar Venal

Best Family Law Partner: Edgar Venal

Best Family Law Firm: Venal & Grabbit

Best Family Law Chambers: 1 Crooked Orifice Row

Best Family Law QC: Quentin Pompous-Arse QC

Best Legal Aid Family Lawyer (Sponsored by K. Clarke):

Best Family Mediator (Sponsored by J. Djanogly):

Best-looking Family Lawyer: Edgar Venal

Best-dressed Family Lawyer: Edgar Venal

Most Aggressive Family Lawyer: Edgar Venal

Outstanding Contribution to the Field of Fee Earning: Edgar Venal

Commenting on the Awards, Senior Partner Edgar Venal said: "Family lawyers just can't have too many of these orgies of self-congratulation. To reflect that, this year we have introduced several new categories including, dare I say it, legal aid and mediation. Despite that, the standard of the nominees remains as high as ever."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

LASPO: What will the options be for those who can't afford representation?

I'm afraid I never really got that excited about the progress of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill ('LASPO') through parliament, probably because the virtual ending of legal aid for private family matters was always really a fait accompli. OK, there was a Government concession yesterday for victims of domestic violence but, in the scheme of things, I would hardly call that 'major'. The Bill still has some 'ping-ponging' to do between the Commons and the Lords before it reaches its final form, but I'm sure that my initial pessimism will be justified.

The question, then, is: once LASPO comes into effect, what will be the options for those who cannot afford representation? Well, unless firms are prepared to offer some sort of 'no win no fee' scheme for those cases involving money (and many family cases do not), then it seems to me that there are really only two:

Do it yourself: As someone who has written a do it yourself guide to divorce, you might think that I am enthusiastic about this. However, as I point out in the book, there are times when matters can become so complex that proper legal advice is required. Of course, there are plenty of ways to seek some advice, including free or one-off interviews with a solicitor (although any advice given in such interviews is likely to be only general, not specific to the case), through the internet (with the risk that the advisor may not be competent to advise) and from the local Citizens Advice Bureaux (again, general advice only). Imagine, though, the wife who can't afford representation in a complex financial remedy claim coming up against the high-powered lawyers that her husband has instructed, and it is easy to see that irrespective of what advice she has obtained, without proper representation she will always be at a serious disadvantage.

There is the possibility of instructing a McKenzie Friend, but I suspect that post-LASPO the demand for experienced McKenzie Friends will be such that their availability will be extremely limited.

Mediation: The Government's great white hope. Yes, I'm sure that it will be possible for more cases to be settled through mediation. I remember when I was practising I would inform every client of the possibility of mediation, but few were interested, and most of those who tried it were not impressed. Such attitudes were and are being addressed by increased awareness and, hopefully, better trained and more experienced mediators.

However, I often wonder whether Messrs Clarke, Djanogly & Co understand just how awkward many people going through family disputes can be. In many cases, mediation will be little more than throwing a teacup of water at an inferno. It's all very well the Ministry of Justice constantly promoting the benefits of mediation (the latest example appearing just today) but, as has been said many times before, mediation is not, and can never be, a panacea. No matter how enthusiastic one party is, mediation is worthless if the other party does not want to cooperate.

The outlook for those who will not be able to afford representation is, I'm afraid, bleak.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tribute to Christopher Hitchens

A tribute to the late, great and much missed Christopher Hitchens. Watch out in particular for the part where he touches upon circumcision, something that would surely be child abuse if it weren't shielded by religion:

Monday, April 16, 2012

News for the two weeks to the 16th April 2012

A summary of the top family law news stories from the last two weeks, in a short, easy-to-listen podcast:

(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Friday, April 13, 2012

BLEAK SPOUSE: Chapter 7 – On the Firm’s Time

WEDLOCK HOUSE, which by a strange coincidence happens to be next-door to Grim Grange.

From her attic window, Lady Virginia’s au pair Elena Brezhnev watches through tearful eyes as a Bentley Continental pulls up on the drive outside. She is upset because, not for the first time, she has just had to fend off the amorous advances of Sir Basildon. That man has the hands of an Octopus she thinks.

A debonair figure steps from the Bentley. Elena recognises it as Edgar Venal, a frequent social visitor to Wedlock House.

On this occasion however, Edgar has come on business. He would not normally travel to the home of a client on business, but he makes an exception for his most important client. Besides, he can charge the travel expenses.

Lady Virginia shows Edgar into the drawing room, where they are soon joined by Sir Basildon. Edgar notices that Sir Basildon appears to be annoyed about something, and his clothes are slightly dishevelled.

"Do you have any news about BigWad123?" Asks Sir Basildon, straightening his tie.

"I certainly do." Replies Edgar. He glances across at Lady Virginia. He thinks he sees her face tighten.

"Go on." Says Sir Basildon, adjusting his jacket.

"I have discovered BigWad123's real identity." Announces Edgar. Lady Virginia's expression hardens.

"Who is he?" Asks Sir Basildon impatiently, as he smoothes a crease out of his shirt.

"Larry Lizzard." Replies Edgar. Lady Virginia's eyes widen.

"Lizzard!" Exclaims Sir Basildon. "That fool. He lost everything though his own silly fault, not because of any advice I gave him! I want you to sue him for every penny he's got left!"

"I'm afraid that won't be possible." Replies Edgar. Lady Virginia looks quizzical.

"Why ever not?" Asks Sir Basildon angrily. "I want him to pay for the damage he's done to my reputation!"

"I'm afraid he's dead." Responds Edgar. Lady Virginia lets out a gasp. She and Edgar stare at one another for a moment. Edgar thinks he sees a hint of guilt in her eyes.

Oblivious of this exchange, Sir Basildon asks Edgar what happened. Edgar describes the sad scene he witnessed at Dilapidated House. He does not, however, mention anything about Larry's laptop.

Sir Basildon's anger subsides. "Well," he says, "at least he won't be defaming me any more."

Lady Virginia shows a little more compassion. "So the poor man died alone?" She asks.

"It appears so, My Lady." Replies Edgar.

"And... there was nothing with him that mentioned anyone else - family, friends, perhaps?" Enquires Lady Virginia.

"Not that I was aware." Says Edgar, noting Lady Virginia's interest. "The flat was a complete mess - nothing there but rubbish."

"So... there was nothing there of value?" Asks Lady Virginia.

"Nothing." Lies Edgar.

"In that case," interjects Sir Basildon, "he wouldn't have been worth suing anyway."

"Quite." Says Edgar.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

M (A Child): S.91(14) prohibitions must be made with caution

Lord Justice Thorpe
M (A Child) [2012] EWCA Civ 446, reported today on Family Law Week, tells a classic tale of a father losing patience with the system.

On the second day of the hearing of the father's applications for contact and parental responsibility he "lost his self-control" and "ranted at the injustice of the system and at the performance of the guardian". He then applied to withdraw his applications, the judge refused and he walked out of the court. The judge proceeded in his absence, made an an order for contact less generous than that recommended by the guardian, and made a blanket s.91(14) order for two years.

The father appealed against the s.91(14) order.

Giving the leading judgment, Lord Justice Thorpe considered that the judge's reaction to the father's actions had been wrong:
"...standing back, it seems to me apparent that from the standpoint of child welfare, which is and always remains the judge's paramount signpost, the father's outburst was a disaster and if the interests of the child were paramount the judge had to ask herself: how can we recover from this low point? Surely, asking herself that question, an obvious answer would be to give the father time to repent, to give him an opportunity to come to his senses, to adjourn at a minimum for 24 hours to allow [the father and his counsel] to discuss developments and possibilities."
As to the s.91(14) prohibition, Lord Justice Thorpe made two points:

Firstly, that the court must be cautious in making these prohibitions, which "should properly be advanced by application supported by evidence", with the person who is sought to be prohibited being given every opportunity to respond to the application.

Secondly, the limitation should specify the nature of future applications which are not to be issued without permission, rather than be a blanket notice, as here.

Accordingly, the appeal was allowed and the s.91(14) order was set aside.

Dimo Higgins: Attorney At Law

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Family Justice Modernisation Programme: Fourth update of Mr Justice Ryder

Mr Justice Ryder
Mr Justice Ryder's fourth update on the progress of the Family Justice Modernisation Programme has been published. In a change to the format of his previous updates, this one comprises "the bones of a speech" which he "made recently to colleagues in the Family Justice System".

The speech talks of implementing "a dramatic change programme". For example, Mr Justice Ryder says that:
"During the course of the next year I expect to see the launch of a new court of record: the Family Court, to replace the Family Proceedings Court, the family jurisdiction of the County Court and the general family work heard by High Court Judges... The new Family Court will for the first time bring together all judges and magistrates exercising family jurisdiction into one court across England and Wales"
The speech also talks about the Case Management System which was launched on the 2nd April, which will track every public law case issued from that date:
"The system is able to monitor the progress of cases which the judiciary decide can and should be completed within 26 weeks and where that is not in the interests of the child concerned it will monitor the progress of the timetable for the child which is set by the court. It will record all adjournments, use of experts and the reasons for the same."
He describes this as "a major innovation", saying that:
"For the first time the family courts will have a record of baseline information so as to understand where public law cases are allocated and what is the consequence in terms of delay of the case management decisions that are made"
The speech also talks about the good practice "pathways" that were mentioned in the third update, about "a project to identify the court’s expectations of unrepresented parties and vice versa so that cases involving unrepresented parties are not unfairly prejudiced in terms of their process" and about a project looking at private law reforms, once Government intentions in this area are clear.

Annual care applications exceed 10,000 for the first time

Cafcass care statistics graph

Cafcass has today released its care demand statistics for March 2012. These show that there were 886 care applications in March, and that between April 2011 and March 2012, it received 10,199 new applications, 10.8% more than last year. This is the first time that the annual number of applications has exceeded 10,000, according to Cafcass Chief Executive Anthony Douglas.

Clearly, the desire to avoid risk post-Baby P is putting a considerable strain on the system, and appears to be on-going (see the graph above - although the monthly figure has dropped slightly from the record figure of 912 in January). One has to wonder how much longer the system will cope with such a workload (if, indeed, it is coping).

You can find the statistics here, on the Cafcass website. There is also a BBC report here, and an article on Community Care here, which quotes Sue Kent, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers, as saying that child protection work is now facing a “major crisis” and that soaring referrals combined with government cuts are preventing social workers from doing their jobs properly. Barnardo's have also issued a press release on the statistics, which may be found here.

Edgar Venal Family Justice Narration

Eager as always to 'give something back', Edgar Venal has agreed to share his perspective on a career in family law, by answering a few questions for our 'Family Justice Narration':

Where do you fit in to the family justice system?

I am the country's foremost divorce solicitor, senior partner at leading firm Venal & Grabbit.

What do you do in a typical week?

Bill about £20,000.

Why do you do the job?

The money.

What do you like about the system and what do you not like?

I like full-blooded litigation, no holds barred. Mediation and other types of ADR are for wimps.

How do you see the family justice system?

It's a cash cow.

What is an important influence on your work?

The money.

How do you combine your family with your work?

Both my wife and my mistress understand that my fee-earning comes first.

Will you be doing this job in ten years time?

No, I will be retired to my villa on Mustique.

What are your ideas for change?

Well, I will be increasing my charging rate each year.

[With apologies to Pink Tape.]

Dear Mrs Tiachi...

Dear Mrs Tiachi,

Re: Divorce Settlement

Thank you for your email, which I received this morning.

I am sorry to hear that your husband McConnell has only paid $183,000.00 out of your agreed divorce settlement of $496,500.00 plus legal fees, and note that you would like my firm's assistance in collecting the balance.

You say that your husband resides in my jurisdiction, i.e. England and Wales, and that you are currently on assignment in South Korea. I am somewhat confused therefore as to why you quote the settlement figures in dollars, rather than South Korean won or British pounds. Perhaps the divorce has left you a little... disoriented.

Of greater import, however, is your misapprehension that I have, or work for, a law firm. Unfortunately, I gave up practising three years ago, and therefore do not have a firm's bank account through which any money could be laundered collected.

You ask me to "kindly advice immediately". I am happy to do so. My advice is that you should stop sending these scam emails and get a proper job.

Yours faithfully,

John Bolch

P.S. One more thing: I am a solicitor, not counsel.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Practitioner Essentials: New rules, forms and PDs

"While you were enjoying your Easter break, some changes to the Family Procedure Rules 2010 came into force by virtue of the Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2012." So begins a news article in Family Law today, bringing you down from your Bank Holiday high with a rude bump.The article covers the Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2012, the new forms which came into effect on the 6th April and new Practice Directions.  Some of these have already been mentioned on Family Lore Focus, but Family Law does the best job I've yet seen of summarising "what new developments ... you need to be aware of if you are making an application as of 6 April 2012".

The Family Procedure (Amendment) Rules 2012 can be found here. The new forms are, as far as I have checked, already on the Ministry of Justice website, here. Practice Direction 5A – Forms can be found here, Practice Direction 33A – Enforcement of undertakings is here and Practice Direction 36A – Transitional Arrangements here.

Disaster avoidance

Those Scots know how to make an advert...

I couldn't resist posting this excellent advert for Irn-Bru:

For those who don't speak Scottish, the translation is as follows:
"Steamy windows, eh?
Nice rug Mum.
It's hotter than inside a cheese toasty in here. Do you mind?
Mr. McTaggert!
Lookin' trim. Keepin' active?"
Must get myself some Irn-Bru...

Monday, April 09, 2012

Is arbitration only for the mega-rich?

I've seen it suggested in a number of places that the new family law arbitration scheme is likely to be a method of dispute resolution that is primarily for the wealthy. It is a point that I have raised before. This morning, I came across two linked newspaper headlines that support the hypothesis.

Firstly, the Financial Times (a paper obviously written for those with wealth) ran a piece yesterday entitled "Super-rich drawn to new divorce arbitration". I have not read more than the first few words of this story and will not provide a link to it as it is behind the great paywall of Murdoch, but it seems to suggest that one of the big attractions of arbitration is that it "holds out the prospect of super-rich divorcing spouses squabbling over their wealth in private rather than in the full glare of the media" - a point to which I will return shortly.

The FT piece is referred to in the other story, which appears in today's Telegraph and is entitled "Wealthy couples turning to arbitration to settle divorce disputes". Obviously, the FT piece may be the sole source for this story, which uses similar language. It tells us that in the short period since they have been available, reports suggest that: "An increasing number of wealthy couples are turning to new arbitration schemes to settle divorce disputes rather than squabbling in public through the courts", and goes on to say that: "Lawyers say the scheme is likely to attract “super-rich” couples bickering over “big money” divorce settlements who want negotiations carried out discreetly".

One of those lawyers is my fellow blogger and one of the first tranche of trained family law arbitrators Marilyn Stowe. She is quoted as saying (in the FT) that one of the two groups of people that she thinks will find the scheme attractive are: "Those who are in big money cases who can circumvent the waiting period in the courts and also are prepared to pay the fees of the arbitrator to have the benefit of privacy." Obviously, one should add the words "and able" after the word "prepared".

All of this adds to the depressing prospect of a three-tier family justice system for those who are unable to agree their matters. At the top we will have those who can afford either litigation or arbitration, which will give them the added benefit of privacy, not available to lesser mortals. In the middle will be those who can afford litigation but not the expense of arbitrators' fees, and at the bottom, once legal aid is removed, it will be "fend for yourself".

I'm not saying that the extra option of arbitration is a bad thing, but it is sad that it is an option only available to those with money, and possibly only those with a lot of money.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

BLEAK SPOUSE: Chapter 6 – Our Dead Banker

AT THE OFFICES of Messrs. Venal & Grabbit, Solicitors. Edgar Venal is sitting at his desk perusing some documents that his client has 'acquired' from her husband's safe, when his mobile phone launches into his favourite ringtone, Money (That's What I Want). He sees that it is Steve Jobby. He glances up to make sure his office door is shut, and takes the call.

"What news Mr Jobby?" He asks.

"We've got a result, Mr Venal." Replies Jobby. "A name, and even an address."

"Excellent." Says Edgar, picking up his Conway Stewart Limited Edition Professional Series pen (Lawyer's Edition, of course). "Go on."

"Our man BigWad123 is one Larry Lizzard." Says Jobby. "Apparently, used to be a big-shot banker in the City, but now fallen on hard times."

The name rings a bell with Edgar. "And where does Mr Lizzard live?" He asks.

"Dilapidated House." Replies Jobby. "Block of flats owned by one Mr Crooked."

Edgar wonders how Jobby could have found the address, but knows better than to ask. "Good work, Mr Jobby." He says. "I'll see that you receive a proper reward for this, via the usual channel."

Edgar hangs up, grabs his Burberry trench coat, and leaves his office.

*            *            *

As Edgar enters the flats he hears a raised voice somewhere above him. He climbs the graffiti-decorated stairs (trying to ignore the slight odour of urine), and comes across a shady-looking man standing on the landing, shouting through a closed flat front-door.

"If I don't 'ave me rent by first fing tomorra, I'll send me boys rahnd!" Screams the man. "They'll make yer wish you 'ad paid!"

At that point the man noticed Edgar approaching. He looks round warily, his expression a mixture of anger and guilt. "Who're you?" He asks. "And whaddaya want 'ere?"

Edgar gives the man a withering look. The anger disappears from the man's face, and the guilt takes over.

"You wouldn't by any chance be Mr Crooked, the landlord of this establishment, would you?" Edgar asks calmly, but with a hint of menace.

The man now looks worried. "W-who w-wants ter know?" He stammers.

"Never mind that," replies Edgar, "do you have a Larry Lizzard living here?"

"M-might 'ave." Replies Mr Crooked suspiciously.

"Look, Mr Crooked," says Edgar sternly, "I'm a lawyer. I've seen your - shall we say - ‘unorthodox landlord methods’" - he points towards the door Mr Crooked has been shouting at - "you help me and I'll not tell the local authority what you get up to. Now, which is Lizzard's flat?"

Mr Crooked reluctantly points to the other door across the landing.

Edgar notices that the door is ajar. He pushes it open, and is hit by an overpowering smell of decay and putrefaction. He enters the flat. Mr Crooked follows.

The flat is completely dark, the curtains drawn. Edgar tries a light switch, but nothing happens. The electricity meter must be empty, thinks Edgar. "Mr Lizzard!" He calls out.

No reply.

As Edgar's eyes adjust to the darkness, he manages to pick his way across to a window, and pulls the curtain. The curtain and rail holding it fall to the floor in a cloud of dust. As that clears, a scene of devastation appears. The flat is a complete shambles, with rubbish, rotting food and God knows what scattered everywhere.

"Oh shit!" Cries Mr Crooked.

Edgar follows his gaze, and sees the body of a man slumped in an old chair in the corner, surrounded by what Edgar recognises as the paraphernalia of a drug addict.

Crooked grabs the man's wrist. "Nuffin." He says. "I fink 'es dead."

Silence. Edgar and Mr Crooked stare at the forlorn figure of Larry Lizzard. For a brief moment, Edgar is actually moved. He soon pulls himself together, however, and tells Mr Crooked to call an ambulance.

"I can do betta than that," says Mr Crooked, "there's a quack next door. I'll get'im." He rushes from the room, and returns a few minutes later with a young be-suited man in tow, who identifies himself as Allan Plastic, GP.

As Dr Plastic attends the corpse, Mr Crooked mumbles something about losing the housing benefit he has been getting for Larry, and starts rooting around the flat. Edgar sees him surreptitiously slip the only item of any possible value under his overcoat, an old laptop.

Edgar says nothing - Mr Crooked is, after all, considerably bigger than him.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Practitioner Essentials: Keeping up with the case law

Looking back through recent issues of my Family Lore Focus Newsletter, there are usually about half a dozen new family law cases reported each week. Obviously, some law reports should be read in full (the Supreme Court decision in S (a Child) being a recent example) and I will try to flag those up in Practitioner Essentials, but clearly there isn't enough time in the day for the busy practitioner to read the full report of every case, whilst simultaneously keeping up to date with other news and articles, and doing the day job.

Thankfully, there is help at hand, and it doesn't cost a penny (provided you have internet access - which, as you are reading this, I assume you do). Family Law Week provides regular quarterly updates of case law in various areas of family law, freely available on their site. The latest of these is the Finance & Divorce Spring Update 2012, which "deals with cases involving the severance of joint tenancies; modest assets; non-disclosure; pre- and post-nuptial agreements; pre-acquired wealth; piercing the corporate veil; guidance on procedure and dealing with third party claims." Save yourself the time, and let the experts tell you what you need to know from the recent case law.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Grubb v Grubb: "To be involved in ancillary relief litigation is a dire prospect for any husband or wife"

Lord Justice Thorpe, again
The report of Grubb v Grubb [2012] EWCA Civ 398, published on Bailii yesterday, may be brief but it is not without interest, particularly for the ubiquitous Lord Justice Thorpe's comments on the level of costs in financial remedy proceedings in London.

The husband had been ordered to pay the wife's costs of her claim for ancillary relief. Moylan J made a summary assessment of those costs "in a big figure", and the husband sought permission to appeal. The Court of Appeal considered that there was very little substantial material upon which the summary assessment had been based, so they granted permission to appeal and ordered the filing by the parties of a) the forms H and such other statement of costs as were before Moylan J, and b) detailed bills of each party's costs of the financial remedy proceedings.

The parties then agreed a figure of £320,000, which was to be substituted for the figure ordered by Moylan J. However, the husband, who was acting in person, still sought the filing of forms H and detailed bills, apparently to check whether the wife's solicitors, Payne Hicks Beach, had overcharged her.

The husband's application was refused by the Court of Appeal. Giving the leading judgment, Lord Justice Thorpe said:
" seems to me that the application must inevitably be refused, because as a matter of logic the documents can be of no benefit to Mr Grubb in any financial sense. If he were to conceive that his wife had been overcharged there would be absolutely nothing he could do about it because he has made a contract with his wife for the payment of those costs. Of course it would be open, I think, to Mrs Grubb herself to seek an assessment against Payne Hicks Beach, but there is no indication at all that she is herself contemplating such a course or has any reason to believe that she has been overcharged."
Prior to this, however, he said:
"To be involved in ancillary relief litigation is a dire prospect for any husband or wife. The level of costs that are charged nowadays in London by specialist solicitors and barristers seems to many, both within and without the profession, to have reached very high levels; certainly unacceptably high levels in comparison with other major capitals in which ancillary relief claims are litigated, admittedly under different systems of justice."
Everything, however, is comparative. In an exchange with Mrs Grubb's counsel Richard Anelay QC, he said:
"Although the figure ordered by Moylan J and the figure agreed today is a big figure, it is, in comparison with some other bills we see, a small figure. So it depends on the way you look at it, but if you look at it from Mr Grubb's point of view it has got to seem a big figure."
And also from my point of view! The moral, as suggested by the quote in the title to this post, must be to avoid litigating financial remedies on divorce, if at all possible.

Say it with flowers...

[Via BuzzFeed.]

Annual Report of the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales indicates increase in child abduction cases

The annual report on the activities of the Office of the Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales (for 2011) has been published.

The main headline from the report is the year-on-year increase in the number of cases referred to the Office since it was created in January 2005. The number of 'specific case requests' has risen from 3 in 2005, to 27 in 2007, to 180 in 2011, with a projected figure of 240 for this year. The Head of International Family Justice for England and Wales, Lord Justice Thorpe, speculated that the rise may, in part, be as a result of the continuing growth in international family litigation.

The number of jurisdictions with which the Office does business has also increased, from 13 in 2007 to 51 in 2011.

In 2011, 59% of the requests for assistance concerning specific cases came from practitioners, often directed by the Judge. 26% came from judges and the remaining 15% came from litigants, officials (Central Authority and Embassy staff) and charities (reunite).

The report may be read here (PDF).

Monday, April 02, 2012

News for the week to the 2nd April 2012

A summary of the top family law news stories and cases from the last week, in a short, easy-to-listen podcast:

(Those without Flash can listen here.)

Sunday, April 01, 2012

New guidance for interviewing clients

New guidance has today been issued for interviewing clients. The Client interview protocol sets out good practice for interviewing clients, in a series of easy-to-follow steps. The protocol has been written for family lawyers, but is equally applicable to lawyers working in other areas. All practitioners are therefore urged to read the protocol, and follow its guidance.

The protocol can be downloaded here (PDF).