Hear the angsty screams of the family lawyers…

i sort of feel obligated to vent on behalf of the family law community about The Archers – after all, the criminal bar have had their turn and have pointed out that it is now ours (see Matthew Scott in the Telegraph here and another piece here in the Guardian). Not that it stopped us pitching in whilst their field of work was chopped up and stuck back together to form some Frankenstein version of criminal process. But now we’re back in the Family Court and it’s not got any better…I’ve been masochistically listening to the podcasts this week, trying to find the time and the will to draw together this post.

So. Here goes. We’ll all feel better once I’ve got this out of our system….

The criminal trial finished last week. Handily, this has dovetailed with a completely free week in the family court where (also handily – or entirely inappropriately depending on whether you have two brain cells to rub together) the same judge is also knocking about with nowt in his list and has thought he might have a bash at the family matter and is sitting in the handily empty court room that is available this week. Another happy coincidence is the availability of the social worker to come and give evidence, who evidently didn’t have a dangerous caseload or an EPO or a risk averse manager breathing down her neck and so could pop to court at short notice to give the evidence that will clinche victory for the righteous Helen. Or maybe the judge in the family court thought it was a good idea to block out a whole week of family court time and block up counsel’s diary in the certain knowledge that the criminal trial would finish exactly on time and it would all seague seamlessly from one forum to the next with not so much as a broken video link to hold things up. Maybe…

Anyway, happily (everyone is VERY happy in The Archers at the moment, apart from Rob who is very not happy), as the same judge is dealing with it the need to obtain transcripts of the evidence for the benefit of the family court is completely done away with. Because it’s really absolutely fine for the criminal judge to just rely on his memory of the evidence heard in a different court for an entirely different purpose, where the father was not even represented (he was a witness) and where the witnesses and the questions were directed to entirely different things. And probably things like statements of evidence and schedules of allegations are an unecessary distraction since #webelieve Helen already.

Also fortunate is the fact that the social worker was able to give direct evidence of the father’s abusive behaviour sufficiently cogent for the judge to find the allegations proved on the basis of her evidence. Yay! I’m really very impressed with this social worker. Not only has she been entirely invisible up until now, but she has also apparently been hiding behind the arras the whole time, and witnessed these things happening. Which is handy, and avoids the court actually hearing direct evidence from the parties about these things, which would be very tiresome for the audience who already #webelieve Helen, who is righteous and should regain custardy of the children.

To be fair, we did hear a bit of evidence from Helen earlier in the week, just to give the script writers an opportunity to show Rob Titchener’s barrister having to pursue an excruciatingly crap line of cross examination that attempted to imply it was neglect for a mother to leave her child with his grandparents whilst she pops for a haircut…I mean, this is the stuff of which middle class thresholds are made isn’t it? Not his best point. Or possibly it was…

Fortunately everyone seemed to forget to ask any questions about anything actually important or helpful, like ooh, you know rape and hitting – because that would have been boring. And *yawn* we’ve heard that before. And like, a not guilty verdict on an attempted murder charge is like basically the same as innocent and is like totes the same as a finding of rape, okay? And this is the family court so we can just ignore the outrageous leading questions that gave rise to the allegation…or the timing of the allegation…Can someone remind me why we’re having this hearing at all? Oh yes, narrative arc. Sorry, forgot myself.

The other really amazing thing, and I guess this is probably down to the amazing modern technology that is so very very real in each of our courts – is that counsel for Mr Titchener, even though he wasn’t at court during the criminal trial, has all the papers already (by magic e-bundle or something – who needs disclosure processes?) and is able to be up to speed and ready to crack on first thing on Monday morning, and ready to drop massive clangers before the first wee break (mixing up the burden and standard of proof? Has anyone checked he made it to call?). But seriously, it’s very impressive of him to be able to conduct a defence of his client without knowing either exactly what the witnesses said last week or which particular bits the judge’s mind. Come to think of it maybe he doesn’t have the papers from the criminal trial – in which case he is even more of an impressive and fearless advocate. Hopefully with adequate BMIF cover in place. But I guess it probably wouldn’t be proportionate to adjourn for petty things like a fair trial so he might as well crack on…After all, WE all know his client is a basket.

So far so realistic…

What about the judgment though? Well, fortunately the judge does not repeat the error of counsel for Mr Titchener, about the burden and standard of proof. For judge Loomis is now in the family court and need not trouble himself with such points of detail…He bases his findings of fact squarely on the evidence of the social worker, who we all thought hadn’t met the mother until AFTER everything happened but presumably had a time machine, he moves straight from findings to welfare with not so much as the blink of an eye, and basically decides the case on the basis that “Rob is an unspeakable sh*t”. I mean, in such circumstances who needs actual reasons for disregarding the evidence of one party in favour of that of another (albeit one with magical time travelling fly on the wall powers)…I’m *pretty* sure the Court of Appeal would agree.

I’m sure that off-mic, in between all the hysterical snuffling and wailing (everyone is VERY happy in the Archers, apart from Rob who is very very unhappy, but also everyone is still a bit tired and emotional in the Archers too), the superlative Anna Tregorran reminded the judge he had forgotten to deal with Rob’s step-parent PR and that he expanded on his reasons for immediately terminating the relationship of a small boy with the person who has been caring for him for many months…

After the very realistic trial, the entirely brilliant Anna Tregorran tells her client that “You’ve won – you’re properly free”. I must have missed something because I’m pretty sure that the judge just ordered a psychological assessment in order to inform future decisions about contact with the baby, and that therefore the family are consigned to at least another four months of proceedings and ooh, about another 17 years of co-parenting. Plenty of opportunity to continue being an utter sh*t.

Also, I imagine that Helen and Rob will be superbly pleased to find out that that psychologist is going to cost them another five grand or so…On top of their already whopping legal fees. I hope that organic jam or whatever it is that they make is a real money spinner.

And by the way Anna, we NEVER tell our clients they win. Nobody wins. Anybody would think you weren’t a REAL family barrister! I bet she isn’t even in the Legal 500…

15 thoughts on “Hear the angsty screams of the family lawyers…

  1. ALL the social workers have been screaming at the radio too. I know the programme couldn’t have repeated last week but this is so unrealistic and realistic would have had its own drama. In safeguarding world we are not nearly as confident as the SW about about a mother who stabs her husband in front of her son and her parents who minimise this action.

  2. I agree when you tell your clients “nobody wins”.By your own admission in previous comments most of your clients LOSE their children to State care or for adoption by strangers. Pity is that the” family courts are so prejudiced ”
    (L.J Thorpe)

    • Many of my clients lose their children to state care or adoption. Sadly that is usually because their parenting has been proven to fall well below the standard that their children need. Sometimes cases are issued without any justification, but sometimes the orders end up being made because the local authority were right. And could you stop taking Thorpe out of context?

  3. Not sure I understand you? The family court hearing was already booked from previous hearing. CAFCASS had interviewed and got statements from all interested parties

    • Well, two points arise :
      Firstly IF the hearing was pre-booked (a possibility the post considers) then the family court in borchester is prepared to take a good deal more risk with its listing than any court I’ve ever been to. The family court trial started the next working day after the conclusion of the criminal case, which could have gone on for longer if the jury messed around (or for any number of other reasons) and the hearing would have had to be adjourned. As it was, there was no mechanism through which Rob’s barrister could know what had happened in the criminal case or properly digest that material. In reality it would never have been listed so close, but would have been timetabled after the trial and allowing time for the transcripts of evidence and other material to be disclosed in to the family case, giving all parties and their lawyers a chance to read it and consider its significance.
      Secondly, CAFCASS (or social workers – I think this one was from the LA not cafcass) don’t take statements of evidence. They interview people in order to form a view about welfare and risk. But they do that on the basis of facts found by the judge. They don’t tell the judge whether an allegation is true or not. The witnesses tell the judge what they saw, heard and remember. The social worker is not a witness to the events in question. You don’t prove something by a social worker telling the judge “Helen says he’s a shit and I believe her”.

  4. Yes, I too thought it was unbelievably simple and straightforward ….. And anyone who has been through divorce and the family court know that it is a long, tedious, time consuming and extremely expensive as far as legal costs are concerned.

    I was left thinking that how much better it was done this way, when common sense rules and some of the red tape is cut out.

    After all, although in real life it could have gone on for years, costing hundreds of thousands without coming to a sensible conclusion, the right result was arrived actually arrived at.

    It may be the case that it is not normally done like this …… Perhaps it should be.

    • L House, I very much doubt you would be saying that if you were Rob Titchener. Imagine if he were not guilty of all the things Helen has accused him of? In many many cases things superficially seem to point in the direction of someone being an awful awful person but when you actually dig down it is not as it seems. In real life you don’t have the fly in the wall advantage that the listeners of the Archers have. He says one thing. She says the opposite. Nobody witnessed it (and a 4 year old is not going to be a very useful witness on coercive control or rape).

  5. : Lord Justice Thorpe said” There is nothing more serious than a removal hearing, because the parents are so prejudiced in proceedings thereafter.”

    Thorpe admits the parents are prejudiced by the courts if the proceedings take place after removal of their (which of course happens more ofte than not !)

    Sad admission of disgracefully biased court procedures in our much praised uk judicial system.

    • No no no. that is not what it means at all. he means that it is harder for a parent to succeed if their children have already been removed. In that sense the removal has a prejudicial effect. Nowhere does he say that the courts are prejudiced. It is really not the same thing Ian, as you well know. It is entirely legitimate and necessary in some cases for children to be temporarily removed – because the evidence suggests that they cannot be kept safe whilst the case is properly determined.

  6. The whole story is a ridiculous joke dreamt up by the tax payer funded women only DV brigade, to gain more funds for jobs for the girls.

    Pure ‘female only counts’ DV propaganda for the naive, gullible and haters of men.

    The story has been full of holes from day one. I mean who on earth with an iota of common sense believes that Helen (who needs only a sperm bank for a child) would be in this position? How typical is this story – zero chance of being typical.

    Gullible and naive middle classes indeed and oh the ones who have a problem with men and will believe any old tat….

    • Well queue I have some sympathy for you on some aspects of what you say. The storyline has definitely been used as a platform by those with certain agendas. But I do think, based on experience, that this sort of scenario, if not the specific details, is quite realistic. It is very easy to say “why doesn’t she leave”, but in fact very difficult to do so, even for a woman of means and with support (in those cases shame plays a big part in not getting out at the start in my experience – and later on they’re too broken to leave / blame themselves). It isn’t typical, but it isn’t fantasy either.

  7. L.J.Thorpe says . “The parents are prejudiced”but it can only be the court that makes them prejudiced and if he mean’t anything else he would have said so.
    Even if we accept your interpretation it means that parents have little chance of recovering children because the courts regard that action as sufficiently damaging to parents to make it very difficult to recover their kids irrespective of otherevidence

    • There is little point in continuing this conversation. You are an intelligent man Ian but also like a broken record. Parents who change do sometimes recover their children. Parents whose children are properly removed (because of the state of evidence at the time) do sometimes demonstrate that the reality is rather different from the appearance at an emergency hearing.

  8. Broken record ,broken families,broken parents and children .Lazy lawyers who usually do not agree interim care orders but do not oppose them either !
    Bye bye baby;bye bye children once you are taken it will be very difficult to get you back again……………….

    • For the final time, lawyers act on instructions and if they do not consent and do not oppose they do so because they are instructed to adopt that position. I’m really quite bored of this so I’m just not going to publish any further comments in which you make the same point you have been making for years. They don’t get any more meritorious by mere repetition.

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