Friday, July 31, 2009

Views and Experiences of Civil Sheriff Court Users

A small scale study commissioned by Consumer Focus Scotland and the Scottish Legal Aid Board shows court users can find themselves believing what’s to come is going to be far worse than it turns out to be. The research was limited by difficulties involved in identifying and accessing court users, with the researchers warning the eventual sample of litigants cannot be said to be typical of the population of unrepresented litigants currently pursuing cases through the courts.

The interviews undertaken by Ipsos MORI with litigants covered:

* Accessing civil justice
* Appearing in court
* Fairness of process
* Self-representation
* Information provision
* Court staff
* In-court advice services
* Cost of litigation
* Timescales

The study points to an urgent need for better information for the public, and wider access to support services in all courts. Whilst the scope of the research was limited it highlights where knowledge gaps exist and where there are
possibilities for further research. None of those interviewed had experienced ordinary cause procedure, and considering that these cases are likely to be more complicated, with no standard forms available to help unrepresented litigants, there is good reason for ensuring this group is included in future studies.

The findings of the study are being submitted to the Civil Courts review being led by Lord Gill, and to the Scottish Government. Consumer Focus Scotland is also submitting its written evidence to the Public Petitions committee of the Scottish Parliament on the introduction of McKenzie Friends to assist unrepresented litigants

Press Release Source Consumer Focus Scotland 30 July 2009


Mothers Want to Work Less

The Department for Children, Schools and Families have commissioned another study by the National Centre for Social Research providing detailed information about mothers' experiences of, and attitudes towards working.

64% of mothers are in employment with more than a quarter working full-time but according The Scotsman most women want to work less or quit their job to look after children. 65 % say they have to work because they need the money.

Somewhere else it was reported that the research found women with partners work more than single mothers. That doesn't surprise me if they are doing the majority of child care on their own.


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Getting Married in Style

With a nod to my friend, Simon.


Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Money Box 2

There was another set of interesting questions about divorce and separation on BBC Radio 4's Money Box today. This time the topics covered included pensions, 'aliment', parents' financial responsibility towards over 18s in education and jurisdiction. I couldn't help feeling sorry for one caller from Milton Keynes who had cohabited for 17 years, raised her partner's children and had no financial interest in any assets. In Scotland she would have been able to make a claim based on the disadvantage suffered from giving up employment to care for the children but of course in England cohabitants still have no rights.

The panel of experts were Liz Welsh, Chair, Scottish Family Law Association, Janet Tresman, Consultant, Piper Smith Watton and Simon Piggot, Partner, Levison, Meltzer, Piggot and the podcast is available here. There is also a list of useful internet links and helplines here.


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Couples Who Cohabit Before Engagement Are More Likely to Divorce

Research from Denver University appearing in the Journal of Family Psychology has found that couples who live together before they are married have a higher chance of getting divorced than those who wait until they are married to live together, or at least wait until they are engaged. In addition, couples who lived together before engagement and then married, reported a lower satisfaction in their marriages.

Participants in the study were aged 18 to 34 and had been married ten years or less.

Of those who cohabited before getting engaged, around 20 per cent had since suggested divorce, compared with 12 per cent who moved in after getting engaged and 10 per cent who did not cohabit before marriage.

About 40 per cent reported they did not live together before marriage; 43 per cent did before engagement; and about 16 per cent cohabited only after getting engaged.

Article Source The Scotsman 16 July 2009


Royal Assent for Sexual Offences Bill

The Sexual Offences (Scotland) Bill yesterday received Royal Assent. The Bill replaces a complex mix of common law and statute with a clear legal framework that supports wider work to improve the justice system's response to sex crime.

The new legislation will:

* Provide for the first time a statutory definition of consent, as "free agreement", enshrined in the law

* Replace the common-law offence of rape with a broader statutory offence (which includes male rape)

* Introduce new statutory crimes, including specific offences of sexual assault by penetration and of voyeurism, and others targeting coercive sexual conduct such as the sending of sexually offensive emails or texts, and sexual exposure

* Enable Scottish law enforcement agencies to pursue anyone from Scotland who commits a sex crime under Scots law against someone under-18 abroad (including child pornography and child prostitution offences) regardless of the law in that country

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said ".. this Bill is simply one part of a wider package of measures that Government is taking forward to improve public safety and help victims - steps such as taking forward the recommendations from the Crown Office review of the investigation and prosecution of rape and sexual assault, and our support for Rape Crisis Scotland's campaign work."

Press Release Source The Scottish Government 15 July 2009


Court Closures: No Decision

Apparently the Scottish Government has said there are no plans to close any sheriff's courts and the leaked Scottish Court Service Strategic Board document proposing cuts of up to a third of Scottish courts in this post yesterday was the worse case scenario. Alan McCreadie, Secretary of the Law Society of Scotland’s Criminal Law Committee was quoted in The Journal today saying he Law Society would expect to be consulted on changes to the court system and access to local courts must be maintained.

Source The Journal 16 July 2009


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One Third of Scottish Courts Could Close

As if it doesn't take long enough to divorce a report prepared for the Scottish Court Service Strategic Board and leaked to The Herald contains radical proposals to close 19 of Scotland's 53 court buildings requiring 3400 sitting days to be accommodated in the remaining courts. This would be achieved partly through increasing the use of larger courts and partly through the introduction of "mobile facilities" covering the southwest and northeast of Scotland. The proposals would mean that waiting times between first calling and trial would increase in the range of 13 to 31 weeks and the non-replacement of some judges and sheriffs when they reach the mandatory retiring age. The measures are being considered following the Government's instruction to all its departments to illustrate a 5% reduction in their budgets.

A Scottish Government spokesman said he would not comment on the specifics of a leaded document. However, as a result of the £500 million cuts to Scotland's budget announced by the Chancellor as part of the UK Government's Budget, all public sector agencies were looking at what savings can be made and examining possible options, he said.

Article Source The Herald 15 July 2009


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SLCC Research

Further to my post in May yesterday the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission published research into the Law Society of Scotland's client negligence and compensation schemes, known as Master Policy and Guarantee Fund. The researchers say the study must be seen as preliminary given the short timescale and resources available. It had not been possible to find a representative sample of claimants with experience of the Master Policy as interviews were restricted to 11 claimants who approached the researchers. However, representatives of consumer bodies in addition to solicitors and representatives of the profession were interviewed.

Solicitors see the Master Policy as simply a professional negligence insurance designed to protect individual members of the profession. Claimants on the other hand think its primary purpose should be to protect the public against incompetent members of the legal profession and were very much of the opinion that it was difficult to establish liability of a solicitor for professional negligence. The report found the Law Society of Scotland of Scotland raises the expectations of potential claimants by emphasising the Master Policy’s public protection role but in practice the Master Policy is more inclined towards protection of the legal profession.

Data which would have allowed researchers to look at the record of the Master Policy in terms of claims and compensation paid was requested from the Law Society of Scotland but was only made available the day before the Report was due to be submitted. Furthermore the Law Society of Scotland and the broker, Marsh, put conditions on the use of the data in this study which were unacceptable to the researchers and to the Chief Executive of SLCC. The limited data researchers saw on the Guarantee Fund suggests that there is a considerable difference between the value of claims and the sums paid out by the Fund.

The report recommends that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission undertake a longer term research project which will allow researchers to examine the experiences of a representative sample of claimants and solicitors as well as analyse data on claims provided by the Master Policy’s broker under reasonable conditions of use.

Full Report Source Scottish Legal Complaints Commission 13 July 2009


Monday, July 13, 2009

Proposed Overhaul of Family Law

Today a major new report "Every Family Matters" was published by the Centre for Social Justice, the think-tank set up by the former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, which has had a major bearing on David Cameron’s social policy-making. The report claims the recommendations are a "far-reaching overhaul of the law [in England & Wales] aimed at putting marriage at the heart of family life." Key points include;

▪ Discussing no-fault divorce is a low priority in contrast to other family law reforms.

▪ Creation of a three month period of reflection and consideration at the outset of the divorce process, which would now be commenced only by a short written notice without any allegations.

▪ Parties should be able to petition jointly under existing law Decree absolute of divorce should be capable of being applied for after four weeks from the decree nisi, instead of the present time periods.


▪ For the different reasons, we do not consider that it is appropriate to make any proposals for cohabitation law reform at this time.

▪ We oppose the present Private Members’ Bill on the basis that it provides very similar rights to marriage.

Information Provision
▪ There should be information provision before the commencement of family law proceedings.

Alternative Dispute Resolution
▪ Binding family law arbitration should be introduced.

▪ There should be mandatory attempts at resolution of children disputes before the issue of proceedings.

Legal Aid
▪ Government should clearly place on record that access to justice, like education, health care and other front-line services, is an essential facet of any civilised society.

▪ The legal aid system must attract and retain specialist practitioners in all areas of family law.

▪ An amendment to the Children Act 1989 to include explicit principles of contact and residence, incorporating equal status of those with parental responsibility and the benefit to the children of both parents having a significant involvement in their lives, with the welfare of the child remaining the paramount consideration.

▪ A change in the law regarding relocation such that an amendment to the Children Act would apply in such cases, to take better account of the changed patterns of parenting, the considerable impact on the child of relocation away from home and other home environment features and wider family members, yet taking account of the increased movement of families.

▪ Grandparents should be placed in a distinctive legal position.

Ancillary Relief
▪ Marital assets are all assets acquired by the parties solely or jointly during the marriage and any pre-marital cohabitation whether through passive growth or active acquisition.

▪ In conducting its fairness exercise on distribution of marital assets and non-marital assets, the court shall follow as binding any marital agreement of the parties.

▪ The marital assets, including illiquid assets, shall be divided equally between the spouses unless there is a good reason not to do so.

▪ The family courts shall have power to make child maintenance orders where both parties are not in receipt of or claiming welfare benefits and the court is making other orders between them concerning income or capital and in any event where are arrears of more than 6 months.

▪ Spousal maintenance shall continue to end automatically on remarriage but should be reduced to a nominal maintenance order after periods of six months’ cohabitation.

Full Report Source Centre for Social Justice 14 July 2009


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Greenock Solicitors Suspended

Earlier the Scottish Solicitors' Discipline Tribunal reprimanded Duncan Hugh Drummond and David Richard Blair Lyons, partners of Messrs Lyons Laing & Co, Solicitors, Greenock and fined them the sum of £10,000 each. The Tribunal found both solicitors guilty of professional misconduct in respect of breaches of the Law Society's accounts rules, their failure to "timeously stamp and record" See this article in the Law Society's Journal.

According to the Greenock Telegraph (thanks to Absolvitor for the lead) after further inspection a judicial factor was appointed and now the firm’s two partners have been suspended. Clients of Lyons Laing with concerns are told they should contact the judicial factor’s staff on 0141 353 1422 or the Law Society of Scotland on 0131 266 7411.


Monday, July 6, 2009

Risk Adverse Parents Fail Their Children

The head teacher of an independent school in Scotland is quoted in The Scotsman today as saying parents have become risk adverse. "Childhood has never been risk-free. But if we succumb to our fears, our children may end up ill-equipped to live successfully in adulthood." Rod Grant, of Clifton Hall independent school says.

I think this particularly applies to children of separated families when parents engage in battles damaging the child's view of relationships with the opposite sex. How many times do we hear of anxieties about the standard of care the children receive from the other parent when it was never questioned before the family breakdown? Sometimes it might be alcoholism or the misuse of drugs, other times there are concerns that a parent is inexperienced or it is unsuitable to introduce a new partner. There may be an element of truth in these allegations but in all but the most exceptional cases the potential for damaging children from parental conflict is far greater.


Postcode Lottery Leaves Carers in Poverty

Thousands of grandparents who become family carers are the victims of a postcode lottery in the allowances they receive.

A special report by The Herald reveals that in some local authorities "kinship carers" are receiving little or no money to help them, while those in other council areas receive £200 a week.

These carers are usually grandparents or other relatives who step in to look after children whose parents are unable to cope because of addiction or other health problems. They remove children from the care system, saving the taxpayer millions.

Full article Source The Herald July 2009


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Divorce and Dementia

Middle-aged people who are widowed or divorced are three times more likely to develop dementia in later life than those who are married or cohabiting, according to a new study.

It found that people aged around 50 who live alone have twice the risk of going on to be diagnosed with dementia by the time they are between the ages of 65 and 79.

The risk for those who are widowed or divorced is particularly high and the researchers said that "supportive intervention for individuals who have lost a partner might be a promising strategy in preventive health care".

Alzheimer Scotland said the findings, from a study carried out by researchers in Finland and Sweden, highlighted the importance of staying "socially connected" to help reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Full article Source The Herald 2 July 2009


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

And Now For Something Completely Different

Today Scotland is celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the official opening of the Scottish Parliament and to mark the occasion I have compiled a list of significant historical events that took place on 1st July.

1646 – Gottfried Leibniz, German mathematician (d. 1716)
1899 – Charles Laughton, English actor (d. 1962)
1903 – Amy Johnson, English pilot (d. 1941)
1961 – Diana, Princess of Wales (d. 1997)

2004 – Marlon Brando, American actor (b. 1924)
2006 – Fred Trueman, English cricketer (b. 1931)

1690 – Glorious Revolution: Battle of the Boyne
1863 – American Civil War: The Battle of Gettysburg begins
1916 – World War I: First day on the Somme
1942 – World War II: First Battle of El Alamein
1963 – Kim Philby confirmed as "the third man"
1967 – The European Community is formally created
1997 - Hong Kong handed over to Chinese control...

2009 - Glasgow City Council lift the 30 year ban on the film Life of Brian

Sources Wikipedia and The Herald


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