Thursday, October 18, 2018

Research project to assess if biased online legal advice is distorting access to justice in family cases


A new research project will examine whether vulnerable people representing themselves in child court cases find themselves and their children put at risk by misinformed or biased online legal advice.

Academics at Birmingham City University and the University of Leeds have launched the new project which will explore the quality, and types of advice handed out through legal advisors, online help forums or social media boards.

Cuts to legal aid have seen a major rise in the number of those acting as their own representatives in court, with over 80 per cent of family court cases seeing a least one party representing themselves – a practice known as Litigants in Person (LIPs).

Without affordable face-to-face legal advice, many LIPs turn to online sources or McKenzie Friends – litigation friends who help LIPs represent themselves on a voluntary basis or for a fee.

The legal community has raised serious concerns about the quality of information and advice provided online by McKenzie Friends or online forum facilitators.

The study - the first analysis of its kind – will examine the quality and accuracy of free legal support made available online, to see if children’s welfare is being put at risk by incorrect or biased information designed to further a prejudiced agenda.

Most LIPs have no previous legal background, knowledge or expertise, leaving them reliant on scouring the internet for support or information to help build their cases.

The research will be carried out by English linguistics specialist Dr Tatiana Tkacukova, Senior Lecturer in English Language at Birmingham City University, and legal expert Hilary Sommerlad, Professor of Law and Justice at the University of Leeds.

Dr Tkacukova said: “People representing themselves in court often find themselves at an immediate disadvantage because the language of law, the documentation and the processes are all geared towards those who have previous working knowledge of it.

“For people without any background in law it is very difficult to know where to look for relevant information, which legal concepts are applicable to their case or how to present their side of the story in an appropriate way, so often they will look for help, support or information online.

“Unfortunately a lot of the information which is out there is either incorrect or has been designed to further a specific viewpoint of how justice should or should not work. This can not only lead to people unwittingly be used to further propaganda, but more worryingly can have a serious impact on the way justice is delivered and the lives of children.

“What we want to do with this project is find out what information LIPs are seeking online and what advice they are provided with so that we are able to help drive change and support people in searching for legal advice they need.”

The study will focus specifically on public and private child cases – including those related to child protection and children’s living arrangements – to see if the information and current processes are putting LIPs and their children at risk.

It will look at the key words and search terms most often used by LIPs to access online advice, and assess the quality of information found in the top Google hits.

Over 100,000 words will then be analysed based on questions asked by LIPs and the advice they are given.

The analysis will focus on:
  • Type of information and advice LIPs are seeking
  • Communication strategies LIPs are using to describe the issues in their case
  • Quality of information and advice LIPs are provided with
  • The legal knowledge shown by LIPs and online forum facilitators
  • The understanding of judicial processes and legal strategies shown by online forum facilitators
The project aims to produce clear guidance to help people avoid being given unreliable information and improve LIP’s awareness of the choices they have when seeking legal advice.

The research will be split between English linguistics specialist Dr Tatiana Tkacukova, Senior Lecturer in English Language at Birmingham City University, and legal expert Hilary Sommerlad, Professor of Law and Justice at the University of Leeds.

Dr Tkacukova, who has been researching the opportunities available to Litigants in Person for over five years, will use specially devised tools to find and analyse the language used online.

Hilary Sommerlad, Professor of Law and Justice at the University of Leeds, will examine the quality of the legal advice found.

Professor Sommerland said: “Access to the law is vital if people are to realise their rights and defend claims brought against them. Yet the law is alien and intimidating to most lay people.

“With the removal of legal aid from most private law matters more and more people are obliged to navigate the law’s highly complex procedures and deal with its esoteric language unaided, and often at points in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable.

“As a result many turn to online sources including ‘McKenzie Friends’, that is those who offer representation themselves on a voluntary basis or for a fee.

“As an unregulated source of legal aid, the quality of information and advice provided is inevitably highly variable. This research into the online activities of McKenzie Friends will therefore be extremely valuable in assessing the dangers and benefits of this form of advice.”

 It is hoped the project will spark a change in the quality of information and support available to LIPs online through more official channels.

The project will also produce new research evidence base which can support legal reforms currently underway at HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

The project has been funded by the British Academy/Leverhulme Small Grants scheme.

Monday, October 15, 2018

News Essentials: 15th October 2018


A brief summary of the essential family law news and cases from the last week:

NEWS
Cafcass publishes new assessment framework for private law cases
We have developed a new assessment framework to support our practitioners in assessing the harmful impact of a range of complex case factors on the children we work with in private law cases. Full story: Cafcass.

Judge condemns 'unacceptable' lack of secure accommodation for children
Judge Mary Lazarus had nowhere to send convicted 16-year-old involved in ‘county lines’ drug dealing. Full story: The Guardian. See O (A child : No Available Secure Accommodation), below.

Almost 17,000 newborn babies taken into care in England in past nine years
Many infants taken from their mothers in hospital within hours or days of delivery. Full story: The Guardian.

Family chief tells lawyers: 'The justice system won't collapse - you will'
The justice system may be 'under stress' but it will grind on - it is the people propping it up who will collapse, the president of the family division has warned. Full story: Law Society Gazette.

Banker’s wife may lose UK property worth £22 million
High Court dismisses challenge to unexplained wealth order. Full story: Family Law Week.

CASES
MB v TB [2018] EWHC 2035 (Fam) (31 July 2018)
Judgment in jurisdiction dispute between wife who had issued divorce proceedings in England and husband who had issued in Germany. Held, the English court was seised of the wife's petition and that seisin had not been defeated by a failure by the wife to take steps she was required to have service effected, as alleged by the husband. Full report: Bailii.

PM v CF [2018] EWHC 2658 (Fam) (03 October 2018)
Judgment in case in which, inter alia, father's parental responsibility was terminated, in the light of the risk he posed to the mother, and the children's need for protection. Full report: Bailii.

O (A child : No Available Secure Accommodation) [2018] EWFC B60 (08 October 2018)
Application for secure accommodation order. No placements available. Full report: Bailii.

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For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

To subscribe to the Family Lore Focus free weekly Newsletter (which includes links to all of the week's top family law news stories, cases, articles and blog posts), go here.

Monday, October 08, 2018

News Essentials: 8th October 2018


A brief summary of the essential family law news and cases from the last week:

NEWS
New measures announced to combat forced marriage
Consultation will consider a duty on professionals to report forced marriage cases. Full story: Family Law Week.

Irish court sanctions return of child taken from council care
The High Court of Ireland has given Lincolnshire County Council an order for the return of a child taken out of the UK by its parents while in the council’s care. Full story: Local Government Lawyer.

Civil partnerships: Law to be changed for mixed-gender couples
Heterosexual couples in England and Wales will be able to choose to have a civil partnership rather than get married, Theresa May has announced. Full story: BBC News.

Judge to decide whether baby can be first in UK history to be born without a mother in landmark trans rights case
Transgender parent says being forced to register as the child’s 'mother' breaches his human right to respect for privacy and family life. Full story: The Independent.

CASES
T (A Child) [2018] EWCA Civ 2136 (04 October 2018)
Appeal relating to the exercise of the inherent jurisdiction when called upon to make orders which, but for a lack of capacity in the statutory system, would be made as secure accommodation orders under Children Act. Full report: Bailii.

B (A Child) [2018] EWCA Civ 2127 (04 October 2018)
Mother's appeal from a fact-finding decision given in care proceedings, concerning injuries sustained by one year old child. Full report: Bailii.

Rogan v Rogan [2018] EWHC 2512 (Fam) (21 September 2018)
Judgment summons application by wife, in relation to non-payment of spousal maintenance. Full report: Bailii.

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For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

To subscribe to the Family Lore Focus free weekly Newsletter (which includes links to all of the week's top family law news stories, cases, articles and blog posts), go here.

Friday, October 05, 2018

New by me this week on the Stowe Family Law Blog


My posts this week on the Stowe Family Law Blog included:

Husband prevented from pursuing appeal until he complies with costs order - The Hadkinson case De Gafforj.

Is it time to put an end to the MIAMs farce? - The latest figures, showing that they are now at just a third of pre-LASPO levels, suggest it may be.

Justice exists only for the wealthy - The impact of legal aid cuts.

Pay the maintenance… or go to jail? - Looking at the judgment summons case Rogan v Rogan.

Have a good weekend.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

How easy it is to change accountants?

It’s easier than you might think to switch to one accountant from another. Every year, scores of self-employed people and business owners move to a new accountant without a hitch. Read on to find out more about how seamless the accountant-switching process can be.

Why switch accountants?

People decide to switch accountants for all sorts of reasons. Maybe you feel you are not getting enough value for money from your accountant, they have made mistakes or they don’t communicate with you as effectively as they could? Perhaps they are too slow to respond to your queries or don’t keep you in the loop with regards to how things are progressing? Some people decide to change their accountant because they have provided poor-quality advice or haven’t provided the tax-saving opportunities they talked about when they first signed up with them.

Leaving inefficient accountancy services

One common reason for people switching accountants recently is that they have been too slow to offer useful and convenient cloud accounting solutions. Many companies leave their accountant because their businesses have grown, and their current services provider cannot meet their needs. Before you go ahead and tell your accountant you no longer require their services, you need to check your agreement to ensure you are permitted to leave. The best time to move between accountants is when there isn’t much active business between you and your existing accountant, as this will ensure the change is a smooth, swift one.

What happens when you switch?

When you have found a new accountant and are ready to start working with them, your new accountant will write a letter to your old one to get professional clearance for managing your accounts and arrange the transfer of all relevant documents. In the letter, the new accountant will ask for a letter of disengagement from your old one. You will also need to use HMRC’s online authorisation service or sign a new 64-8 form, so your new accountant is legally able to manage your tax affairs. Your new accountant will conduct an anti-money laundering check on you and provide you with a letter of engagement.

Why choose One Click Group?

One Click Group are able to help if you are unhappy with your current accountant and are ready to switch. We have more than 20 years’ experience in the contractor services industry and are wholly compliant with tax and employment legislation. We offer a vast range of payment solutions for experienced and new contractors and are able to provide dedicated account management services to all our clients. Free-cloud based software is available for all our clients, and we can even give you access to our award-winning One Click Rewards scheme.

Get in touch

Talk to us today if you’re interested in working with a client-driven accountancy and tax service that puts you at the forefront of everything it does. You can reach us today by sending a message through the form on our website or by calling on 0345 557 1287.

Monday, October 01, 2018

News Essentials: 1st October 2018


A brief summary of the essential family law news and cases from the last week:

NEWS
MIAMs in last quarter down a further seven per cent on a year ago
Mediation starts remain stable. Full story: Family Law Week.

Family Court Statistics Quarterly: April to June 2018
Volume of cases dealt with by family courts over time, with statistics also broken down for the main types of case involved. Full story: Ministry of Justice.

Divorce rate for heterosexual couples hits 45-year low, figures show
Opposite-gender couples divorcing at lowest rate since 1973 after figure drops by 6 per cent in a year. Full story: The Independent.

New figures show welcome rise in men reporting domestic abuse to the police: ManKind Initiative
Reporting of incidents has doubled in five years. Full story: Family Law Week.

CASES
De Gafforj (Appeal: Hadkinson Order) [2018] EWCA Civ 2070 (20 September 2018)
Application by W for order preventing H from pursuing an appeal, on the basis that he is in contempt of court by having failed to comply with orders for maintenance pending suit, costs and a legal services payment order. Application granted. Full report: Bailii.

Hampshire County Council v C.E. and N.E. (Urgent preliminary ruling procedure - Jurisdiction, recognition and enforcement of judgments in matters of parental responsibility - International child abduction - Judgment) [2018] EUECJ C-325/18PPU (19 September 2018)
Preliminary ruling on jurisdiction in case where parents removed children to Ireland in order to avoid them being taken into care. Full report: Bailii.

*      *      *
For more news, see here.

For more cases, see here.

To subscribe to the Family Lore Focus free weekly Newsletter (which includes links to all of the week's top family law news stories, cases, articles and blog posts), go here.