Friday, October 31, 2008

Woman In Red

Thanks to Reuters earlier this week I have found out what I've been doing wrong. Apparently a study found men are more attracted to, and will spend more money on, women wearing red clothing. Fortunately the colour red didn't change how men rated the women in terms of likeability, intelligence or kindness so there may be some hope for me yet!


Jack Straw and Sharia

Further to my earlier post First Official Sharia Courts Joshua Rozenberg in The Telegraph quotes in full what Jack Straw said on the subject of sharia at the Islamic Finance and Trade Conference in London. Talking about the UK Government and then English law is confusing but that aside it may address people's fears on sharia.

"As a Government, it has always been our aim to extend opportunity and prosperity to all – to all parts of the country and to all different communities. This is not about preferential treatment. It is about fairness. This is not about political correctness. It is about respect.

"Whether it is employers with prayer rooms; faith schools; kosher and halal food in work places and public services like hospitals; laws to tackle hate crimes; or the provision of financial products that fit with religious beliefs – we have worked to provide a space in which the rights and diversity of people of all faiths are protected, whilst at the same time setting a clear framework of acceptable behaviour for all citizens.

"This is the thinking which underpins our approach to sharia law. Of course those who live in this country will always be governed by English law and will be subject to the jurisdiction of English courts.

"But there has been much speculation over sharia law in recent weeks, so it may be worth me setting out the true position.

"Many dreadful things have been done in the name of mainstream religions. Barbaric practices such as stoning have been – quite wrongly – justified by reference to Islam, for instance. The same was true in earlier periods, for instance when the state apparatus was used to run Inquisitions in countries like Spain.

"I am firm in disagreeing with those who say that sharia law should be made a separate system in the UK. And there has been much misinformation in recent weeks about this issue.

"There are some countries which do have within their systems of law separate courts to deal with issues of inheritance and family law for different faith groups, such as India and Egypt
"But we do not in the UK and there are overwhelming arguments about why we should not move down this path.

"The facts in the UK are these. If, in a family dispute, parties reach an agreement with the help of a sharia council and want to have that decision recognised under national law, they can submit a consent order to an English court in the terms of the agreement.

"But it is ultimately up to the court to decide whether the agreement complies with English law. In family cases, the court will consider a range of issues including the future welfare of the parties and their children. No court will endorse an agreement which conflicts with English law.

"Likewise, communities have the option to use religious councils to help them come to agreements about other personal disputes. But those agreements will always be subject to English law and cannot be enforced through the English courts, apart from in the very limited circumstances where the religious council acts as an arbitrator.

"The statutory base for such arbitration in these cases is the Arbitration Act 1996 – and nothing has changed in the 12 years since that legislation was passed.

"Crucially, any member of a religious community – or indeed, any other community – has the right to refer to an English court, particularly if they feel pressured or coerced to resolve an issue in a way in which they feel uncomfortable.

"Speculation abounds on this point, so let me say once again: There is nothing whatever in English law that prevents people abiding by sharia principles if they wish to, provided they do not come into conflict with English law. There is no question about that. But English law will always remain supreme, and religious councils subservient to it.

"It is worth me stressing that nothing has changed to the law or to the Government’s position. There has been press comment suggesting that the ability to apply to an English court for a consent order for a sharia ruling is somehow a new development. It is not. We have not changed the position on sharia law established by the previous government in 1996 and nor will we do so. The position remains as before: there is no room for parallel legal systems. Regardless of religious belief, we are all equal before the law."

So there we have it.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Going, Going, Gone

Continuing yesterday's American theme this video brings up many family court law issues . Is this how the UK family courts are going or in some cases have they already gone?


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Divorce Education

There are two interesting posts from Sam Hasler's Indiana Divorce & Family Law discussing the importance of education and preparing to divorce.

In Preparing To Divorce - A Gripe Sam looks at How to Divorce – A Better Understanding and takes issue with a statement about letting the lawyer make all the decisions not necessarily getting the desired outcome and clients should really understand what is happening in the court and process. Sam's point was it isn't a lawyer's job to make all the decisions. Education and preparation for divorce through reading books and making use of the internet enables clients themselves to make informed decisions. One purpose of family blawgs is to educate.

The second post Getting the Right Family Law Lawyer - Another Post continues the theme of lawyers educating their clients. The Austin Family Law Guide Blog, a relatively new blog from Texas, says great divorce lawyers educate their clients from the first meeting and focus on their client’s life after divorce. Sam adds the best lawyers educate their clients in all family cases.

All good stuff.


Monday, October 27, 2008

Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission

As I mentioned in my earlier post there are changes in child support coming into force. From today parents with care can choose to leave the CSA and make their own arrangements for child maintenance with the other parent of their child(ren). Information on the choices for arranging child maintenance are available from Child Maintenance Options, a new service set up to support parents in setting up the most effective maintenance arrangement for them.

Summary of the changes from today

* If parents stay with the CSA any child maintenance collected on their behalf is paid directly to the parent with care.

* When the parent with care is on benefit, it is their responsibility to inform Job Centre Plus of the amount of maintenance received whether or not you stay with the CSA.

* Parents with care are able to keep up to £20 a week of any child maintenance paid before it affects the amount of benefit they may receive.

* The Child Maintenance Bonus is coming to an end. Parents with care must satisfy the qualifying criteria and have stopped claiming benefit by 26 November to be entitled to any bonus that may have built up. They then have a further four weeks to claim the bonus.

The Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission take on legal responsibility for the CSA’s work on 1 November.


Child Support Concerns

The charity One Parent Families/Gingerbread claim that the changes to child support which come into force today, may result in one in four single parents 'dropping out' because they will now have to choose whether to continue using the CSA, make their own arrangements for child maintenance or do without child maintenance. See The Herald article.

Last week Marilyn Stowe, former chair of the CSA Appeals Tribunal Panel, appeared in BBC 1’s The One Show, to discuss the imminent introduction of the Child Maintenance and Enforcement Commission (CMEC). Marilyn thinks CMEC is just window dressing and what parents really need is accountability and the organisation to be local, answerable and fair. The video is available here.


Sunday, October 26, 2008

Humanist Marriages

According to The Sunday Scotsman article Boom in marriages not made in heaven the number of Humanist marriage ceremonies has overtaken Scottish Episcopal Church ceremonies for the first time. The Humanist Society Scotland expects the numbers to increase to 1,500 in 2009, bringing the numbers close to the number of Catholic Church of Scotland marriages. Church of Scotland weddings are on the decline and last year the numbers stood at 8,000.

I didn't realise Scotland is the only UK country, and one of only six in the world, where Humanist marriages are legal.


Friday, October 24, 2008

Enforcement Orders

Following on from videos Only Joking... and The Week in View 18th October 2008 John Bolch of Family Lore has made a useful video, Enforcement Orders, about new measures to deal with the non compliance of child contact due to be implemented within the next couple of months in England & Wales. Enforcement Orders will impose an 'unpaid work requirement' on a person who has failed to comply with a contact order and are similar to a community order which may involve graffiti removal, clearing litter, redecorating buildings and gardening.

I'm sure there will be a number of people north of the border watching with interest to see how effective such measures prove to be.


Supply & Demand

Further to this earlier post yesterday Sir Mark Potter, President of the High Court Family Division in England & Wales was quoted in another Times article as saying the family courts are under heavy pressure by Government plans to reform family courts to save costs. This is in relation to the increase in court fees during May and long term plans to recoup the full costs of running the courts through fees charged to users the increase of court fees. The second part of the article looked at the way access to justice is threatened by the decrease in the number of solicitors prepared to carry on with legal aid work because of the cut in fees . This would result in more people representing themselves and fewer family lawyers.

From what I've heard many people in England & Wales, and not just those on legal aid, feel they cannot afford the legal costs and are choosing to represent themselves or use online divorce companies. Rather than being competitive and bringing the costs down as was hoped would happen in some quarters, it appears to me there is less demand for solicitors and the supply is falling and fees will increase. This means there is in effect a two tier system from which no one benefits. Those without money can't afford justice, litigants in persons cause procedural difficulties and time delays in courts, solicitors loose jobs and those with money pay more.

In Scotland the rules and procedures are difficult to get to grips with so party litigants are less usual, although they are perhaps becoming more common. I do believe the law should be more accessible and easier to understand so people can be better informed and choose to represent themselves if they wish, but I also think Scotland should avoid a two tier system and representation and justice needs to be affordable to all.


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Anything Is Possible

There has been an interesting development in England & Wales aimed at encouraging the process of collaborative law. According to this item in the Solicitors Journal Mr Justice Coleridge speaking at a reception last week announced family lawyers who have successfully negotiated collaborative agreements with couples will be able to get them fast tracked through the courts, subject to the consent of the urgent application judge. The procedure can only be used where every aspect of the documentation was agreed, the hearing was not expected to last for more than ten minutes and documents were with the judge the night before the hearing. Thanks to The Times article today for the tip off.


The Big Question

In July The Times carried a series of articles about the perceived secretiveness of family courts summarised by John Bolch of Family Lore in this post. On Monday The Times published here details of an interview with the President of the Family Division in England and Wales, Sir Mark Potter, who has given his backing to opening up the family court system in certain cases.

Marilyn Stowe made comments on her blog with which I'm in total agreement "that in public family law cases, where the State is taking action in relation to a child, the entire process should be transparent. Removing a child from its parents is the most draconian civil action that can be taken. It is open to allegations of wrong doing if it is not transparent..." She continues "As for closing private law family courts to the media, I agree they should not be a public spectacle. I don’t think the financial cases of individuals getting divorced - however high profile - should be printed in the media. It’s quite simply none of our business and leaves them vulnerable to any host of risks."

Yesterday The Independent asked "The Big Question: What would be the result of opening family courts up to the public gaze?" which is the most balanced media article about the issue I've seen yet. There is a government consultation on changing court access rules in family cases expected to be published by the end of the year. Some people believe the rules have established secret courts where justice is not being seen to be done, although child protection experts are concerned that the welfare of children might be at risk if reforms are introduced to improve the public scrutiny of the courts. The Independent asks should family court proceedings be opened up and lists the pros and cons.

*Social workers would be more careful when deciding to take children into care
*The public would have greater confidence in the system because they could witness justice being done
*Higher visibility would make judges more accountable to the public for their decisions

*It would turn the divorce courts into cirucuses. Witness the recent Mills/McCartney litigation
*Children would be damaged by revelations made about their personal lives
*A relaxation of privacy rules would discourage parents and experts from giving objective evidence

In Scotland, Canada and New Zealand, the press are allowed to attend court hearings involving children. This does not mean that journalists are free to report on all child cases in these countries. Those supporting reform argue children in these countries have not been damaged by family courts being open to the media.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Info for Scottish Dads

The Dad site has posted this new entry about the law and divorce and separation in Scotland written by Dr Martin Crapper, former Vice-Chair of Families Need Fathers.


Monday, October 20, 2008

DV & Pets

A study "They Gave Me a Reason to Live: The Protective Effects of Companion Animals on the Suicidality of Abused Women" by Dr Ann Fitzgerald of Windsor University in Ontario found pets can both help women and lead them to endanger themselves. According to this article in The Scotsman pets were the reason some women stopped taking their own lives, while others admitted they delayed leaving home because of not wanting to leave their pets behind with an abusive partner. The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has dealt with cases where animals have been abused for revenge.

Only one of the 46 refuges in Scotland will take pets and Dr Fitzgerald reckons as many barriers as possible need to be removed to encourage women to feel comfortable about leaving their abusive relationships


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Guidance: McKenzie Friends Amendment

Following the recent decision of Munby J in the case Re N (A child) (McKenzie Friend: Rights of Audience)[2008]EWHC 2042(Fam), I covered in this post the President of the Family Division in England & Wales has amended the section in the President’s Guidance: McKenzie Friends of 14th April 2008 headed “Rights of Audience.”

To recap, in England & Wales a litigant in person may be accompanied by a McKenzie Friend to a court hearing for the purpose of assisting them in matters such as taking notes, organising the documents, and quietly making suggestions. A McKenzie Friend has no right to address the court.

The amended section now reads;

• Sections 27 and 28 of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 (the Act) respectively govern rights of audience and the right to conduct litigation. They provide the court with a discretionary power to grant unqualified persons, including MFs, such rights in relation to particular proceedings.

• While the court should be slow to grant any application under s.27 or s.28 of the Act from a MF, it should be prepared to do so for good reason bearing in mind the general objective set out in section 17(1) and the general principle set out in section 17(3) of the Act and all the circumstances of the case. Such circumstances are likely to vary greatly: see paragraphs 40-42 of the judgment of Munby J. in Re N (A child) (McKenzie Friend: Rights of Audience)[2008]EWHC 2042(Fam).

• If the litigant in person wishes the MF to be granted a right of audience or the right to conduct the litigation, an application must be made at the start of the hearing.

The President’s Guidance: McKenzie Friends of 14th October 2008 is here.

Thanks to Current Awareness for the information and link.


Pursuer’s Panel

The Pursuer’s Panel advises members of the public, or solicitors advising members of the public about negligence claims against solicitors. Yesterday The Journal named six solicitors who will serve a further 5 year term on the panel.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

Making Savings

If money is tight stretching to fund two homes instead of one independent financial expert Alvin Hall has some advice on taking stock and making savings in a video 'Helping Britain to Save.' This coincides with the release of a report that has found change in financial behaviour and an end of the 'buy now, pay later.'

There is a link to the video in The Scotsman article here.


Largest Settlement

The Independent speculates about the Madonna/Ritchie divorce but what caught my attention is the article claims they were separating in "what family law experts believe could be a divorce settlement of £100m – the largest in British history." Is this really the largest settlement? I thought Paloma Picasso's settlement with Rafael Lopez-Cambil was reputed to be £250m and according to this Independent report of the case White v White in 2000 I'm correct and Paloma headed the table of leading divorces published in Chamber's Guide to the Legal Profession.


The Leggy & Legless

In my youth I was sponsored to compete in equestrian events and had a particular interest in dressage. I was fortunate enough to be trained with an instructor from the Cadre Noir de Saumur and extremely fortunate to have had a few lessons from Alois Podhajsky before he died in 1973. Podhajsky was the director of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna during World War II and continued there until he retired in 1965. Although the Spanish Riding School did not ban women riders it has taken until now for the first female riders to pass the entrance test. Riders are required to have short torsos and long legs so having short legs there is no way I would have qualified but it's great to see women having equal opportunities at last. See this Reuters' report.

On the topic of horses there is a delightful story "A four-legless friend rescued" in today's Scotsman about a pony eating fermenting apples and falling drunk into a swimming pool during the wee hours of the morning.


Another Survey.

In my attempt not to read anything about the break up of Madonna and Guy Ritchie's marriage I overlooked this rather interesting comment in The Guardian. This focuses on the welfare of children when there parents separate and highlights the results of a survey of 1,000 children under the age of 15 from both separated families and those still intact published yesterday by the Centre for Separated Families. 25% of children from separated families don't consider themselves to be happy compared with 10% from intact families still. Also, children whose parents are separated are more likely not to want children themselves and have fewer friends.

It is suggested outcomes for children could be improved by adopting early interventions to enable parents to resolve difficulties without involving the courts. The parents would then be encouraged to understand that two parents are better than one and unless there was very good reason to make an exception, the courts would expect a child to see the non-resident parent regularly. If the parent with care blocked contact prison would be the sanction. An early interventions project, based on the idea of therapeutic justice on the other side of the Atlantic , could have made a difference but it was replaced by a pilot of the family resolutions project which didn't work.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Absent Penalties

Frances Gibb, Legal Editor of The Times, reports today on a Ministry of Justice document 'obtained' by the newspaper which outlines £900m potential cuts in court services. The proposals include a reduction in 'double representation' in public law child care (the hearings considering whether a child should be removed from its home) and plans to 'descope' some legal aid activities.

On the same page there is a link to another article by Frances Gibb published yesterday that I missed. This relates to the launch of the Access to Justice Foundation that seeks to change legislation that prevents a litigant who wins their case and is represented on a pro bono (free) basis from seeking costs from the loosing side.

I'm not sure what the implications are for Scotland, but it occurs to me that if there are further cuts in legal aid more people will not be able to afford a solicitor and forced to represent themselves and, like those who are represented on a pro bono basis, the other side can get off lightly with financial/litigation misconduct because there are no cost penalties.


Forgiveness & Conciliation

It was with sadness I learnt about the death yesterday of Guillaume Depardieu, son of the French film actor Gerard Depardieu from Reuters. Guillaume had been in poor health for several years following a motorcycle crash which resulted in having his left leg amputated after contracting an infection and he died of pneumonia on Monday. Aged 37, he was something of a rebel in his younger days having battled drug addiction and admitted to sleeping with men for money.

Guillaume first served a prison sentence at the age of 17 and his parents divorced in 1996, the same year he won a Cesar film award for his role in "Les Apprentis." In a book Guillaume said his father of neglected him and put off his divorce for years for fear of how much it would cost him. "I only found out that I was going to have a half-sister on the day of her birth" Guillaume wrote. "That tells you everything. Everything. I was always presented with faits accomplish [?]. That was typical of how he behaved towards me."

Obviously I don't know the ins and outs of his parents divorce but divorce doesn't have to end like this. Attitude is everything and it strikes me there are positive life lessons children could learn through their parents' divorce if given the opportunity, such as forgiveness and conciliation.

Reference: √Člisabeth Depardieu, Wikipedia


Monday, October 13, 2008

Dissent Over Sharia Courts

Following my earlier post, First Official Sharia Courts, Sadiq Khan Gordon Brown's new minister for race relations has attacked Sharia courts according to The Times. Last month it became known the government had sanctioned the first official Sharia courts, classified as arbitration tribunals. Five Sharia courts were already set up in England and two planned for Edinburgh and Glasgow. Sadiq Khan, a Muslim himself, says tribunals based on Islamic codes could entrench discrimination against women. Khan thinks there is a level of sophistication in Jewish law not apparent in Sharia courts, but surely these courts can only ever be voluntary and there should be no judicial role.

On the subject of Judaism and women, I remember going on a school visit to the Synagogue   in Edinburgh with my son's primary school when one little girl put the Rabbi on the spot by asking why women sat at the back. The Rabbi stroked his beard and thought for moment, then replied the men sat at the centre because they needed to be near God and under His watchful eye!


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Pet's Well Being

According to ITN in this report the UK veterinary charity People's Dispensary for Sick Animals is advising separating couples to make their pets a central part of agreeing separation. Apparently they (the pets!) may show signs of distress such as obsessive and compulsive disorders when their owners' relationship breaks up.


FLaG Launch

Unfortunately I couldn't attend the Murray Stable’s launch of its Family Law Group (’FLaG’) on 22 September but Jonathan Mitchell QC reviews the debate Scots Law has no effective means of dealing with mothers who will not allow contact‘ The event which sold out within a day, attracted almost every significant practitioner in family law in Edinburgh together with family lawyers from all over Scotland. Unsurprisingly the majority vote was in favour of the motion.


Thursday, October 9, 2008

Thursday Thirteen

1. If you had to identify, in one word, the reason why the human race has not achieved, and never will achieve, its full potential, that word would be "meetings.”

2. There is a very fine line between “hobby” and “mental illness.”

3. People who want to share their religious views with you almost never want you to share yours with them.

4. You should not confuse your career with your life.

5. Nobody cares if you can’t dance well. Just get up and dance.

6. Never lick a steak knife.

7. One of the most destructive forces in the universe is gossip.

8. You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time.

9. You should never say anything to a woman that even remotely suggests that you think she’s pregnant unless you can see an actual baby emerging from her at that moment.

10. There comes a time when you should stop expecting other people to make a big deal about your birthday. That time is age 11.

11. The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status or ethnic background, is that, deep inside, we all believe that we are above average drivers.

12. A person, who is nice to you, but rude to a waiter, is not a nice person.



Sunday, October 5, 2008

Parental Angst

Two items in the Sunday papers caught my eye. In the first, "About A Boy", in The Observer writer William Leith reflects on the loneliness and anxiety of being a weekend parent. It is a very moving account that many fathers (and some mothers) will identify with and William obviously finds being apart from his son for three days very difficult. However, I think there needs to be some perspective. Many parents through the nature of their jobs spend days, weeks and even months away from their children but maintain a meaningful relationship with their children. So even with in tact families the quality of contact seems more important rather than quantity.

The second article, "Smother love is just another abuse" in The Sunday Times looks at the issue of smothering and over-fussy parenting. Over indulging or over parenting isn't healthy for children. Smothering is likely when one parent's relationship is intense and very intense relationships are not healthy for children's development. On divorce parents should try to relax and not fear loosing their children. Being away from children can make the relationships less intense but stronger and iIt's good for children to be passed around a bit and spend time with the other parent. To raise well balanced children good enough parenting is required, not perfect parenting.


Saturday, October 4, 2008

The Good Old Days


Friday, October 3, 2008

The 12 Month Rule

Since March 2003 the courts normally have no jurisdiction to impose child maintenance except in certain circumstances such as one parent living abroad, maintenance for over 18s in education or training and when there are step children. Divorcing couples may enter into an agreement either in the form of a registered minute in Scotland or consent order in England & Wales. After one year either party may ask the Child Support Agency to carry out an assessment (the 12 month rule.) At this point the CSA should notify the courts and the minute of agreement or consent order should cease to have effect. However, the CSA staff frequently say they can not handle an application when the parent with care doesn't consent.

This is completely wrong. The problem originates from a staff handbook which was available on the CSA website but has now been removed. In an article in The Journal John Fotheringham, solicitor and former Chair of Child Support and Social Security Appeal Tribunals, recommends demanding to speak to someone more senior and better trained if a member of staff at CSA says the application can not proceed for this reason.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Solicitors Complaints

Today is the launch of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission. The Commission is independent of the legal profession and will investigate complaints of inadequate professional service made against solicitors where the transaction in question is instructed on or after today. The Law Society of Scotland continues to be responsible for investigating complaints where the service was instructed before today. It will also continue to handle complaints about the professional conduct of solicitors.

In the first instance complaints are to be addressed to the legal practitioner. See an Overview of the Complaints Process


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