Zammo was right

That was me the other day, getting angsty at people asking me to do stuff for free…

The great pro bono debate: is it a good or a bad thing?

Since then I’ve answered another few emails including the word “desperate”, telling me how they can’t afford a lawyer and how terribly complex their case is – but can I help anyway? Often these emails are dressed up as public access enquiries, many of which conveniently forget to state that they can’t pay for your time, whilst also recounting that they have parted ways with their previous solicitor because they can’t afford them / have been bled dry etc etc. I think that this type of prospective client hopes that I will forget to send an invoice, in the same way that clients who are using crack cocaine hope that someone will accidentally mix up the hair samples and they’ll get lucky and the test report will show clear for crack… Ain’t gonna happen. It is very difficult to say no to people who need help, but it is the responsible thing to do where public access is not right for them and a nightmare for me (it is great for the right client in the right case if used in the right way – but expensive and unsatisfactory where it is not), where it needs far more attention than I can give it (bearing in mind that a “desperate” lay client often cannot articulate accurately what the case is about or the history and cannot present the papers in a format that makes it at all easy to properly understand the case), or where I cannot meet whatever looming deadline is approaching. For every pro bono case I take on there is more and more pressure on me because there is less room to earn the money I need to buy school shoes and new law books and pay my mortgage. And less time to devote to rewriting Family Courts without a Lawyer – A Handbook for Litigants in Person, or to writing this blog, or to working on The Transparency Project – all of which I think are a reasonable way of spreading out what I have to offer to enable me to be vaguely useful to a greater number of people. It is very hard to say no to a person with a name, in favour of prioritising something of general utility – and consequently I often find I have spread myself too thin.

My name is Lucy and I am addicted to saying “oh alright then”. I am one week clean.

I shouldn’t complain, as I’ve brought it on myself but the trouble is that people see my online presence, and assume that because I’ve done some pro bono, do some stuff for LiPs, run a website it’s worth a shot. It’s not. It’s a waste of your time and mine. This is not a rich person’s hobby. It’s my job. It’s a job I love very much and it’s a job I try to use to help people having a rough time, but I’m not a multi-millionaire just doing this to keep myself busy.

So, though I hate to be hard nosed about it, I am yet again on a “Just say no” drive, for the sake of my own sanity – and for the sake of my actual clients who need me to be managing my work life balance so that I can continue to do as good a job for them as they deserve. This week I have said no to someone asking me (for the third time) to do a lecture, someone wanting me to give them some free advice about some obscure point they said I’d left out of my book, to a solicitor asking me to take on a client for free that she wasn’t prepared to take on for free herself, and to my clerks asking me if I could come in on that day I said I was not available for work. Just now I said no to my own children (can I have ANOTHER easter egg mummy?). So l’m giving myself a pat on the back here.

Anyway, here’s Zammo to reinforce the message…

Normal service will resume shortly

This week has been a bit full on – a heady mix of trips to London for important stuff with interesting people, and children who keep leaking from one end or the other, both unexpectedly and in memorable ways and places. So if I may, I will simply hit and run, and signpost you on to those with time to say what I would have said if I had the time.

On the 5th April, The Transparency Project held a panel discussion at Gresham College, London. entitled ‘Reporting Family Courts – are we doing it justice?’. At that event we launched our Media Guide for journalists who are interested in reporting on such matters. It was, if I may say so myself, a blimmin’ good evening and I’m really pleased we had the cojones to put it on. The panel* and chair were fandabbydozy. And I don’t say that lightly.

So far the event has been written up by Penelope Gibbs of Transform Justice here :

How to increase trust in the family justice system

and by Michael Cross for the Law Society Gazette here :

Family courts: reporting a greater truth

[Update : also see here from ICLR : Event: Reporting the family courts?—?are we doing it justice?

And This week in fostering blog : Family Court report: could do better]

There were some other super journalisty types there, so I’m hoping that some of them will also write something in due course, but we’ll have to wait and see – what is interesting to me is not always it seems the stuff of good headlines…

Some of the tweets from the night have also been storified here.

There will be a recording of the event posted online in due course, at The Transparency Project.


* I was on the panel, but I’m not referring to me, I’m just pleased I didn’t accidentally swear, fall off my seat or put my foot in my mouth.

Lord Chancellor announces judicial sentencing incentivisation schemes

The Lord Chancellor, Liz Truss will today announce a radical new scheme designed to ensure that criminal sentencing is tougher and more effective. The move is rumoured to be the brainchild of Tory MP Philip Davies, who has previously called for measures to ensure that judicial leniency is stamped out. It will be implemented through an amendment to the Prisons & Courts Bill, which is currently under consideration in Parliament.

Mr Davies welcomed the proposals, saying

“It should be clear to many that where a judge consistently allows offenders to avoid prison and those offenders go on to make others suffer as a result of their continuing crime spree, there should be accountability for the judge…And there should really be consequences for that judge as well. In particular, where they don’t hand down custodial sentences which would be perfectly justifiable and possibly even expected, and particularly when the offender goes on to reoffend.”

Under the so-called Cell-based judicial Rehabilitation Administrative Penalty scheme, judges who deliver sentences which are later increased via the existing unduly lenient sentencing procedures, will be required to serve a sentence themselves equivalent to the difference between the original and the enhanced sentence – although for judges of good character this will be suspended in the first instance. Judges who fail repeatedly to adhere to the sentencing guidelines will also feel the impact upon retirement. Draft secondary legislation seen by this site states that “the daily cost of judicial accommodation and subsistence during periods of incentivisation will be deducted pound for pound from the capital value of the offender’s judicial pension fund“.

The scheme will be rolled out in parallel with the digitalisation of prisons and courts and a pilot of late night court sittings. A spokesperson from the Ministry of Justice said that

“the rollout of digital justice will mean that judges will be able to continue carrying out their judicial functions whilst detained, their cells operating as pop up courts. It is important that all categories of prisoners are gainfully employed whilst incarcerated, in order that disruption can be minimised and rehabilitation maximised and this will both enhance judicial efficiency and assist with the rehabilitation of other offenders through the modelling of good behaviour and respect for the rule of law.”

Asked whether or not this scheme had negative implications for the independence of the judiciary or the justice system more widely, a spokesperson said that judges would be able to access the support of McKenzie friends to assist in the preparation of their defences, and with getting the videolink to work.

Judges have privately condemned the scheme, which they complain would deprive them of their right to a private judicial privy. However, they may be buoyed by news that the digital justice reforms do not look likely to render them redundant just yet, as confirmed by lawbot entrepreneur and HMCTS consultant Joshua Browder :

 “The law involves a lot of compassion. For example, [when deciding] whether someone should be granted bail. I think it is difficult for a bot to replace that. The legal system requires humans; technology isn’t allowed to argue in court.”

Asked about possible plans to replace judges with judgebots, a Ministry of Justice spokesbot said

“The Ministry remain committed to the utilisation of human resources, and are piloting a range of measures designed to maximise the efficiency of humanoid analogue forms of decision making. For example, drawing from studies showing that judges who have too much sleep tend to sentence more leniently*, we are experimenting with late night court opening as a way of nudging our judicial resource towards more appropriate sentencing practices.” 

*see one such study here.

According to The Gazette, late night court opening is being piloted in

  • Newcastle and Blackfriars Crown court
  • Sheffield and Highbury Corner magistrates’ court
  • Brentford County Court and Manchester Civil Justice Centre

The Criminal Bar Association has raised concerns that the pilot scheme is likely to create a sentencing postcode lottery.




…Yes, it is April 1st. And most of this is untrue (not all of it though!).


Pics, Open Govt Licence from website.