Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Online legal advisors are giving parents biased and potentially damaging advice, new research finds

Vulnerable people representing themselves in court are being given biased and misinformed advice by online legal advisors, new research has found.

A study carried out by Dr Tatiana Tkacukova, Senior Lecturer in English Language at Birmingham City University and Professor Hilary Sommerlad, Leeds Law School, assessed the quality of advice handed out by advisors on online forums and social media platforms.

It found that online advisors often delivered biased advice and suggestions reflecting personal anti-court and anti-social services viewpoints.

The research took in the advice handed out on 170 Facebook threads by 30 different McKenzie Friends – litigation friends who help advise those representing themselves in court (known as Litigants in Person or LIPs) on a voluntary or paid basis.

It showed instances of McKenzie Friends advising parents to ignore the advice of lawyers, suggesting courts were institutionally unfair and in some instances advising people to act against the advice of their lawyers while promoting the services of McKenzie Friends.

Words used to describe Family Courts and social services include ‘gender-biased’ and ‘disgrace,’ while social services are also accused of not delivering, asking ‘stupid’ questions and being incompetent.

The study found only one positive description of a judge in all of the posts analysed, and on three occasions parents were advised to write their own statement instead of following specialist legal advice.

It also showed the range of challenges facing parents who represent themselves in court with many reporting mental health issues, domestic violence and confusion over the legal system.

The research suggests that a framework should be in place to ensure transparency of McKenzie Friends and the advice they provide to help protect vulnerable people in court cases.

Dr Tatiana Tkacukova, Senior Lecturer in English Literature at Birmingham City University, said: “The increase in people representing themselves in court means that many parents are struggling to navigate the system while seeking to understand the way courts, social services and the legal system works.

“McKenzie Friends provide a much needed service to offer advice and support to those for whom the legal system and the language of law is completely alien.

“While there are many positive experiences, the unregulated environment online means that our research found several instances of worrying, biased and misleading advice.

“The negative portrayals of the courts and social services, alongside the advice to ignore specialised legal advice show a worrying trend towards personal viewpoints and agendas clouding impartial and objective support.

“To help protect the many vulnerable people in these cases, we need to see a move towards a more regulated environment with increased transparency to make sure that people know the information they are accessing and the legal qualifications of those advising them.”

Cuts to legal aid have seen a major rise in the number of those acting on their own behalf in court, with over 80 per cent of private family court cases seeing a least one party representing themselves.

The posts were analysed using specialist ‘corpus linguistics’ software which looks specifically at the use of words, language and tone in posts.

It found that of the 30 advisors online only two were ex-lawyers, with three being former Litigants in Person, 11 active fee-charging McKenzie Friends and 14 being McKenzie Friends moderators.

The research highlights the difficulties in understanding McKenzie Friends’ legal qualifications or personal agendas.

Monday, December 09, 2019

News Essentials: 9th December 2019


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

NEWS
Transparency order templates
The Courts and Tribunals Judiciary has published the following templates for the benefit of the judges and practitioners who will be making the template orders. Full story: Family Law Week.

CASES
R v Secretary of State for the Home Department (Disclosure of Asylum Records) [2019] EWHC 3147 (Fam) (18 November 2019)
Dispute concerning the correct legal principles to be applied and the correct procedure to be adopted where one party to private law proceedings seeks disclosure and inspection of documentation from the successful asylum claim of the other party, for use in the family proceedings. Full report: Bailii.

Neil v Neil [2019] EWHC 3330 (Fam) (22 November 2019)
Application by husband to set aside financial remedies order on the grounds of fraud. Full report: Bailii.

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For more cases, see here.

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Friday, December 06, 2019

Monday, December 02, 2019

Internet Newsletter for Lawyers November/December 2019

The latest issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers is now published.
In this issue:
  • Websites – Eduardo Ustaran of Hogan Lovells explains how to get cookie consent right, compliant and applying best practice
  • Online courts – Nick Holmes reviews Richard Susskind's Online Courts and the Future of Justice
  • Websites – Susan Hallam of Hallam Internet explains the optimum way to publish images on your website
  • Deepfakes – Kelsey Farish of DAC Beachcroft explains what deepfakes are and how the landscape has developed
  • Data misuse – Alex Heshmaty of Legal Words on how the misuse of data legitimately acquired is being tackled
  • Artificial intelligence – Katharine Stephens of Bird & Bird answers the question who owns an AI-generated invention?
  • Access to justice – Nick Holmes looks at the various providers of access to justice through technology
Image is the European Commission’s cookie consent dialogue on Europa; see https://ec.europa.eu/info/cookies_en.

News Essentials: 2nd December 2019


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

NEWS
Criticism deterring medical specialists from being expert witnesses
Criticism from lawyers, judges and the press may be deterring health professionals from being expert witnesses in family cases, a working group looking into a chronic shortage has said. Full story: Law Society Gazette.

Divorce rate falls for heterosexual couples in England and Wales
Applications backlog partly blamed for drop to lowest level in 50 years, while same-sex couple figure rises. Full story: The Guardian.

LiP support unit shuts branches
The president of the Family Division has called on lawyers to help fund a support scheme for litigants in person. Full story: Law Society Gazette.

Almost 2.5 million in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in last year
ONS publishes statistics on domestic abuse in England and Wales for year ending March 2019. Full story: Family Law Week.

CASES
Orphans From Syria, Re [2019] EWHC 3202 (Fam) (22 November 2019)
Wardship proceedings concerning British children who were in Syria and who are orphans. Full report: Bailii.

Akhmedova v Akhmedov [2019] EWHC 3140 (Fam) (22 November 2019)
Application by wife in respect of certain documents which had been, or may have been, illegitimately obtained. Full report: Bailii.

A Local Authority v M & F & Ors [2019] EWHC 1447 (Fam) (07 June 2019)
Care proceedings. Rehearing of fact-finding investigating the cause of death of a ten-year-old girl. Full report: Bailii.

F v M (Appeal: Finding of Fact) [2019] EWHC 3177 (Fam) (21 November 2019)
Appeal by father against finding of fact in child arrangements proceedings. Appeal dismissed. 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.