My grandmother’s hands

Every time I look down I see my grandmother's hands.

Every time I look down (click clack on the keyboard) I see my grandmother's hands...

Knuckles that kneaded pastry for pies, palms that rolled dumplings for stew. Fingers that stitched and mended. Hands that taught me to embroider and knit and that picked up my dropped stitches. That made me sundresses and party frocks (and always stuck the pins in me when measuring me up against the paper pattern). Nails that split stems for threading daisy chains.

Hands that shelled peas and beans in warm sunshine. That made sunhats and tiny swans from knotted hankies.  Hands that wielded scissors clumsily for childhood haircuts. That sometimes tied my hair in rags at night and teased out limp ringlets in the morning.

Hands that flicked through Barbara Cartland and Womens Weekly and tapped a Silk Cut held in a long black cigarette holder into a standing brass ashtray.

Nails that were always painted and perfect and pink.

Oil of Ulay hands with skin that was always soft and elastic and droopy, folding around joints swollen with arthritis, wrinkled velvet like a puppies nose. And silver rings.

Silver rings that went clack clack in summer heat as oil was rolled around palms and then along brown limbs.

A curved little finger made specially for tea drinking and for scooping just the right amount of mince meat off the spoon and into the pie case.

Later... hands that held mine tightly when she was frightened of falling, or dying. Hands that said silent crushing thank yous when I brushed her hair or tidied her up.

I type a lot. Grandma never typed. My fingers hurt these days and my joints are getting gnarly. And every time I look down I see my hands becoming my grandmother's hands. Drier skin and brittle unvarnished nails - but undeniably her tea drinking finger, her droopy skin and knobbly joints. And her silver rings. And a few of her tricks handed down through her hands, through my hands and on to the next...

Book Review : Transparency in the Family Courts: Publicity and Privacy in Practice

This is a review by Rodney Noon of a book co-written by myself, Julie Doughty and Paul Magrath. It originally appeared in Nagalro's Seen & Heard (Vol 29, Issue 1, 2019) and is reproduced with kind permission. 


When selecting books for review, it has been my policy to filter the lists by asking, 'Is this a book which might justify a place on a practitioner's bookshelves?' Since receiving the review copy of this comprehensive exposition by my predecessor at the helm of Seen and Heard, the Chair of the Transparency Project and counsel at the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for England and Wales, I have twice reached for it and twice found the answer. It is difficult to offer a practitioner's text higher praise.

The issue of transparency within the Family Court and Court of Protection is very current and subject to rapid developments. Since this book was published, we have seen the advent of facilities for legal bloggers to attend hearings int he family court. It would have been wonderful if everything could have been gathered up into a single, comprehensive piece of legislation and a dedicated part in the Family Procedure Rules, so that when an issue suddenly ambushed a practitioner from the dark corner of a file, they would know where all the rules were to be found. Sadly, that is not what has happened.

The rules are found scattered across a range of (Sometimes obscure) pieces of legislation, diverse parts of the rules and a range of judgments. It is a tribute to the thoroughness with which the authors have approached their task that they have managed to gather all the scattered pieces together and to form them into something resembling a comprehensible whole. It is no fault of the authors that there are places where the bits just do not fit. Pieces of different statutes point in different directions and two judges have taken different approaches to the same issue. It is to the authors' credit that they do not shy away from these problems; instead they explain the contradictions, describing the world as it is, not as we might like it to be.

This is not an academic text book. It is written for practitioners to tell them clearly where to find the right rules and what they actually say. I was particularly impressed by the helpful section about monitoring social media and how to get things removed.

Whether lawyer or social worker, we all need to understand the changes which are happening within the environment in which we practice. We would all be better practitioners for carefully reading this book.

Rodney Noon is a Solicitor-Advocate, Bradford, W Yorks.


By the way, you can purchase the book with a 15% discount by using the code BPTFC15 (see link).


A view from the coalface

Daniel Mennerich on Flickr - creative commons - thanks

I've been getting blank faces whenever I've asked colleagues what they think of the latest 'President's View' (the first from this reincarnation of the President, Lord Justice Macfarlane). Turns out that was because nobody has had time to read Family Law journal and it hadn't made it's way into the wider world. Eventually I emailed the President's office to see if the publication of the View only behind a paywall was intentional. 24 hours later its all over the place, so I guess it wasn't (if you want to read it in full it is here).

I've re-read it now, and see there is more in it than the middle chunk entitled 'Well-being: dealing with the current pressure', which had me tossing the journal across the desk in despair the first time around. But that middle chunk is still bothering me. I'll precis it for those who CBA to read it or who have worked out for themselves that they will have to cut out non-essentials like keeping up to speed in order to keep heads above water :

  • the President is concerned for the wellbeing of all of us
  • he cant do anything about workloads
  • it isn't business as usual - it's ok to cut some corners (which ones? does that apply to us?) and exceed time limits (when?) otherwise we risk burn out (please could someone tell this to the judges?)
  • the President is 'encouraging local dialogue' between us and our respective DFJs so that parameters may be agreed as to what is sensible and acceptable working practices - he gives examples of what might be discussed and agreed :
    • the earliest and latest time of day when the court can reasonably be expected to sit
    • the latest time in the evening / earliest time in the morning when it is acceptable to send an email to another lawyer in a case or to the court
    • reducing a position statement to one side of A4 bullet points on the basis that fuller oral submissions may be made at court
    • relaxation of the requirements to lodge preliminary docs by 11.00am the day before a hearing.
  • However, the President says it is a given we will continue to 'go the extra mile' when needed (but it's ALWAYS NEEDED!)
  • The President is giving us psychological 'permission' to talk about these things together and with local judges.

I'm pausing to push my despair back down to its safe hiding place as I type. I like the President very much but this is impossible. We have duties to clients - I can't do a half arsed position statement and hope that the judge who is at breaking point and doesn't have time in his list will let me waffle on to make it right the next day. I can't  not respond to an email late at night if the hearing is tomorrow and there is a risk I might get bawled out for not being ready when I rock up at court. I can't know what local practice has resulted from 'local dialogue' in a neighbouring court, and how not lodging a preliminary document by 11.00am will go down (in some courts I've appeared in, filing a document at 11.01 unequivocally results in a refusal even to acknowledge the existence of the document, even if one was briefed at 10.59 and the document is genuinely important).

We don't need psychological permission to go and have a nice cosy chat with our DFJ in the way that children need permission from one parent to go to the other. We need leaders to say we don't have to do this, we must not do this.

Not only will 'local dialogue' result in a complete postcode lottery depending on how cuddly the DFJ in a particular area is (and I can tell you some are decidedly more cuddly than others), it will result in confusion where advocates are briefed across DFJ borders (this already happens but it will get worse). For example, some judges consider it the norm (so I understand) to sit up to and even after 6pm and advocates are simply expected to have childcare in place. And some judges demand full written openings and detailed agreed advocate's chronologies for every care final hearing (a rarity where we are). And more importantly, in some DFJ areas (not mine, for what its worth) it would be utterly impossible for a productive dialogue to take place because the environment is such that professionals are in a state of perpetual anxiety waiting for the next b*locking. There have already been some localised flare ups in a couple of areas in response to unhelpful missives and local guidance about the prompt e-filing of orders and compliance courts which do not make for a great starting point for dialogue. It is really hard even with a cuddly DFJ to broach these issues. It is impossible in courts where the judiciary are overly fond of enforcement, shouting and threats of wasted costs.

This is all interconnected with the rising awareness of judicial bullying. Firstly let me reiterate that most judges are not bullies. And occasionally a judge who bullies does so just because that is how they are. I happen to think though that most of the judicial bullying that takes place is unintentional and where a judge's 'robust case management' tips into inappropriate and bullying behaviour, in part because of the pressures the judges themselves are under, and their loss of perspective as to what the pressures are for the bar and solicitors (and social workers). The pressures are far more intense than when most judges were in practice and I don't think they are comparing like for like when thinking back to what we have to contend with and trying to set realistic tasks and deadlines. The fact of the matter is, whatever the President says about how it cannot be right that we go the extra mile as a matter of routine, advocates in some areas ARE expected to go the extra mile ALL THE TIME. And roundly criticised when they can't keep it up.

Andrew Macfarlane is eminently approachable, and this is obviously a genuine attempt to help, but not all judges are approachable. And, as I was reminded by someone who had listened to the Word of Mouth radio programme I took part in recently, the law is astonishingly hierarchical. Challenging a judge in an individual case because it is your job to be a fearless advocate, or irritating the judge in the individual case because your client's instructions are frankly batty, is one thing - but asking a judge known to be fierce and rigid about time limits and procedure to 'cut corners' so you can get a bit more sleep is quite another, even if prefaced with 'the big P has told me to ask you'. In fact, starting such a dialogue with any judge is really difficult for the advocates that appear before him or her. I am anxious about publishing this blog post even though I have been very careful to talk in general terms and not identify any particular judge or area. I speak based on my own direct knowledge of appearing in courts all over the jurisdiction and from what many have shared with me (in part because I have written about judicial bullying before). Writing this blog in general terms is one limited way I can support colleagues at the bar and in other professions who frankly have it worse than I do. You know who you are.

So there we are. Please don't leave it to those of us at the coalface to sort out amongst ourselves by asking the impossible of those higher up the chain who hold far greater power than we. Please don't leave it to DFJs to sort out this impossible task - its like feeding the five thousand. Please don't allow a situation to develop where professionals in one area feel unable to speak up and burnout or leave as a result. By all means listen to us, but do not place upon us the responsibility to tell our superiors what to do. Sometimes the adults have to take charge.


Feature pic : Daniel Mennerich on Flickr - creative commons - thanks