That’ll go on my gravestone…

There is a joke in my family that my grandmother used to say she was 'not really a wine drinker'... It's on the plaque that commemorates her down the end of the pier. I too am not really a wine drinker...

On my headstone may be the immortal words 'she is unafraid of tackling complex and challenging cases...' (courtesy of this week's Legal 500). I seem to be lurching from one chunky case to another with very little flotsam in between the icebergs... This is of course good, but it does make it difficult to find time to blog...and it does leave me feeling a little out of touch sometimes with the sharper end of family court - where people are struggling on without lawyers at all. And for many of those people dealing with their own case is also complex and bewildering and petrifying - even if to a lawyer with fifteen years under her belt it would be bread and butter. As I was reminded earlier today - most ordinary people don't know what the word 'litigant' means until someone decodes it for them. When that is your baseline any court case is bloody complex.

Over the weekend I was sent a very sweet thank you via twitter from a dad who had just secured contact to his son after a very long slog without a lawyer (see left). He'd done it he said with the help of FCWAL. Now, whilst it's lovely to think that FCWAL helped give him confidence, that really isn't the point. That dad showed determination and bravery in persisting with his application, and the credit really does go to him (he does look chuffed doesn't he?). Not everyone can make good use of a book though, and my recent caseload reminds me that not every case can be managed without a lawyer. Sadly complexity is not always a guarantee of legal aid. I did my turn at the bristol pro bono clinic recently, and over the course of a day I met 7 clients all trying to work out how to make or respond to an application in the family court without a lawyer. Every single one of them involved domestic abuse or allegations of it - some were the victim others had findings made against them or accusations outstanding. My day involved multiple clients whose first language was not English, multiple cases involving international issues and actual or possible abduction, and a history of previous proceedings. One client had acute mental health problems. Although I left feeling as if I'd been some use to most of these clients, referring some on to ohter services or resources, a number of them were obviously going to be ineligible for legal aid either because they were an alleged perpetrator or because they were in work and therefore probably ineligible for legal aid even though they were claiming domestic abuse. Some of these were objectively complex cases, and even those which were less so were looming large and frankly terrifying the people I saw.

There are so many people out there doing their best swimming amongst icebergs, and many of them are not waving but drowning. I saw seven. For every seven who heard about our service and managed to sort out an appointment I would bet my bottom dollar there are seven more who haven't. And seven more whose local court don't have a service at all. They are merely the tip of the iceberg. My metaphor may be breaking down here somewhat... but if you will excuse the pun you get my drift...

I've generally felt over the years that I am most use to the greatest number of people through blogging. Although I can't provide legal advice this way, I can demystify and explain things. I've been doing a rotten job of that recently, and I hope that by December, or certainly in the new year, I will be able to do a bit more of it again. Send in your requests now...


Home Sweet Home

Pink Tape

The moment I turned my ankle in that hole in the drive I had flashbacks to the pink plaster cast... As I sat in Friday night A & E I planned how I would get from A to B with my dozen lever arch files, and which suit trouser I would sacrifice to the walking boot...

Fortunately, it wasn't broken this time, though it is the same jinxed ankle as before, and it does blinkin' hurt.

But more to the point, the reason I was stepping in that flipping hole in the drive in the first place was because we are finally taking tentative steps towards getting back into our home on a regular basis, as the building works draw to an excruciatingly slow close. Everything is covered in plaster dust and nothing is *quite* finished, but we've located and wiped down the kettle, the toaster, pulled out a few towels, plugged in the fridge and the washing machine and we're good to go. The camping stove on a tressel table should only be temporary....

The last time I sat and wrote a Pink Tape blog post in this house was the spring. Now I am sitting at our kitchen table (this is the first time we've had a kitchen big enough for a kitchen table!) looking out of a transformed view, watching and listening to a congregation of chiff chaffs that have taken up residence in our abandoned garden whilst we've been away. The garden is full of bindweed and builders rubbish, but there is blue sky and a light breeze in the greenery and lots of sunshine. I am feeling very blessed this morning.

That said, I am busy with trial prep so can't stop long to gaze absent-mindedly out of my lovely new window or spend long typing here.

I will quickly tell you that I'm organising an event on 22 November in London :

Panel discussion : Allegations of domestic abuse : are family courts working for children & families?

We've got a great line up but these events also depend upon a varied and engaged audience. Do spread the word and come if you can.

Gosh, it’s dusty round here…

I know I know. It's been quiet around here lately.

Been busy.

Here is one thing that I've been doing ... I've been attending private court hearings under the legal bloggers pilot (one so far - a plan for a second one today scotched by an overrunning case and a desire to see a bit of lovely pomp when Mr Justice Baker was sworn in and transmogrified into Lord Justice Baker). My first blog post arising from the pilot (see PD36J) can be found on the Transparency Project website here : Inaugural legal blogging day

See also the dedicated legalbloggers hub page if you want to find out more (please do).

This is a big deal for me personally, for The Transparency Project, and for transparency generally. It was back in June 2014 that I wrote a blog pos called 'Proto Manifesto', proposing this :

For me, it is a waste of breath wishing the press did something they are never going to do : the press comprises of commercial enterprises, who need to sell stories to survive. The range of material they report will always be selective. The manner in which they report stories will usually be interesting, entertaining or racy, but not always informative or educative. On one level it's difficult to criticise them for that. As the fox said to the frog "it's in my nature to be a fox".

So the press aren't the answer.

And the transparency reforms comprising (so far) of the more widespread reporting of judgments on Bailii is not the answer. Because the public don't read Bailii. And the press don't link to Bailii so that the public can read an alternative account of their storified account of a case by matching it to a Bailii report. Does a judgment on Bailii make a sound if nobody is listening?

But I think more and different reporting may be part of the answer.

But not by the press. And not by what we would describe as "law reporters", for the Law Reports.

We need an organisation providing not for profit reporting of family cases for the public.

Let's tell them what happens in the family court. In the interesting scandalous cases for sure - but also in the run of the mill, happens up and down the country every working weekday sort of cases too.

Let's tell them when the system works as well as when it doesn't.

Let's have commentary, but let's clearly distinguish between reporting and commentary and let's make whatever we report accurate and balanced.

And let's put it all in one place, freely available to the public, searchable, authoritative and updated regularly.

Would that be so radical?

That was in 2014. It led to the creation of The Transparency Project. The idea of non-journalists going into court and doing public interest reporting was a bit too rad for 2014, but four and a bit years later that little seed of an idea has come to fruition. I fully expect it will be difficult, and that maybe even the take up won't be consistent, that attitudes to it will vary, and that we will meet some resistance and criticism. It will need skill and hard work to get right. But if you don't try you don't work out how to do things well.

Please take a look at the legal blogers page on the TP website and see if you think you could participate in this pilot.