The many uses of Pink Tape…

This afternoon, in an interstitial moment of madness brought on by having become unaccustomed to having an actual weekend involving anything apart from paperwork, I have been engaging in impromptu and not altogether successful attempts to make Christmas decorations out of pink tape. I do not think I will be giving up the day job to promote my new line of products... For those wondering however, I can confirm that no, you can't make a pom pom out of pink tape... and although I have lashed bamboo into something approximating a star shape for a fetching naive style festive feature piece, I don't think you would want me on your desert island raft making team.

I'm approaching the end of a run of time consuming cases that have lingered pending and part heard over much of this year... they have come up and down in sequence like hills that you pass on the way down the M5 with scarcely a glimpse of sky in between. Now the draft judgments are dropping silently into my inbox one by one, and I feel that I am approaching the levels...I'm stopping for coffee and refuelling before the next mountain range. The sign reads : Moto Christmas 19 days

Apart from the coming together of several imminent endings in a number of cases that have become as familiar as old friends, this week has been unheimlich in other ways... just as one trial went short The Times published a leader about a woman survivor of the Rotherham grooming gangs and the invitation by the council to the father to have contact (Sammy Woodhouse). I saw Norfolk's piece on the train to Swansea, and by the time I arrived I'd written much of the blog post I published later that day. Much time and energy since then has been devoted to trying to unpick what the facts of the story really were, what campaigners were actually calling for by way of reform and explaining to numerous tv and radio producers what the law actually says. I've had Sky TV in my kitchen (all my wisdom was left on the cutting room floor and one disembodied line about adoption was left in making me sound slightly out there), and I've been green screened into the Victoria Derbyshire Show. (44 mins in) This afternoon, before the decoration making frenzy I was on Talk Radio with John Nicholson. I *think* I talked some sense but will never know because I don't think you can replay it. This issue has totally taken over life this week - I've written three lengthy blog posts about the story and the issues it raises - because although the original story was flawed, the debate it has given oxygen to IS so important to many people (see here and here in addition to the one linked above). I may not agree that the answer to these women's concerns is a reform to the law - I think it is more likely to be about better awareness of court rules and options and better understanding of the impacts of abuse and control when applying the law - but what has driven me to contribute so many hours this week to this debate is the sense that the debate can't be useful to anyone if people are calling for reform of laws they don't understand in the first place. I'm comfortable with the idea that people want reform of the law - and that that may be justified (I can't see it at the moment, but maybe I will once debate becomes more specific and more rooted in the actual law and practice) - but legislation borne of headlines and emotions rather than calm, meticulous consideration of different scenarios, will very likely cause problems at least as great as those the campaigners understandably wish to solve. If there is to be reform let it be focused and clear and thought through. It's upsetting to be called a rape apologist, a stooge for social services or cold and unfeeling for trying to inject a bit of calm into a debate being driven by (understandable) emotions - but such is the lot of a lawyer I suppose. Objectivity and analytical ability is our stock in trade and it is often undervalued. These things will be needed if any campaign group wants to move beyond outrage and into actually getting something done. Those who think lawyers lack passion are mistaken. Our passion is the fuel in the engine, even though you do not see it always on the outside.

Tomorrow I head to Leeds to take part in the Family Justice Council debate on covert recording. That should be interesting (I won't say fun). I am hoping that someone in the audience will live tweet it as I don't think the FJC 'do' live tweeting...

I am also hoping whilst I'm there to do a spot of legal blogging. Much though depends on how early I can drag myself from my pit and get my backside to the train station...

I might write a blog post on my 3 ½ hour train journey...on the other hand I might just snooze.....is that ok?

‘Nothing to hide – what’s wrong with covert recordings?’

The Family Justice Council run a debate every December and it is usually excellent. Notwithstanding the fact that this year the line up will involve yours truly it should still be an interesting event to attend - the other panellists are the excellent Hannah Markham QC, Her Honour Judge Lazarus and Debbie Singleton - and the topic is the ever controversial covert recording.

The question for debate is :

‘Nothing to hide – what’s wrong with covert recordings?’

I'm told that Hannah and I have been allocated to team 'pro', but as ever with these things the debate topic sets up a false dichotomy. Things are always more complicated than the forced choice of yay or nay allows...

FJC events are by ticket only and the tickets are limited - you must apply by 21 November to have a chance of getting in.

Details here :

Family Justice Council – 12th Annual Debate: Covert recordings in family law

 

 

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...