Obligatory year-in-review post

In fact I don’t think these posts are completely obligatory – as demonstrated by the fact I’ve not done one before. But they are ten a penny. No, I’ve sort of compiled this Annual Review for my own purposes – so feel free to give it a miss. It may be self-indulgent rot.

I know posts on Pink Tape have been more thinly spread this year, but I wanted to do a little stock take. This is the tenth year of Pink Tape, it will hit a full decade in July. That’s a long time in the world of blogging – back in the day I frequently had to unpack the abbreviation and articulate the concept of web-logging in apologetic tones to people who were wearing their “new fangled flash in the pan” face. Now everyone who is anyone has a blog. Although many of them are pants (incidentally there are some really fantastic legal blogs that have emerged over the last couple of years, in particular The Secret Barrister and BarristerBlog which are just awesome and epic and very, very clever and devastatingly restrained in a way I could never be.

Anyway, Pink Tape is of a rather different ilk to those two, but it seems to entertain some and, whilst I am a little sad that there are fewer posts as time goes on and other pressures impinge, I am reminded that Pink Tape is something of which I am proud, and which is actually quite important to me. So I don’t want to stop pink taping. And one of the main reasons my output here has been less is because my output elsewhere has been greater – mainly on The Transparency Project. And that too is something which would never have come about but for Pink Tape. I am proud of and committed to them both.

So, here goes, Pink Tape’s 2016 in review :

January : In the context of the Poppi Worthington case, I wrote about the different standards of proof as between family and criminal jurisdictions (you’ll recall that Poppi’s father was acquitted of charges in relation to her death, whilst the family court found him culpable of a sexual assault upon her shortly prior to death). Debating the appropriate standard of proof for really serious stuff. This issue has recurred up in a number of different context (eg see Ellie Butler posts on The Transparency Project blog) and is a real rumbler that I think there is a real lack of societal consensus on. I picked up on the theme of the interplay between Family and Criminal Courts in September – it seems this is very poorly understood area, even by some MPs.

Also, in the January of my 42nd year, I took up running. And by some miracle I have kept it up. I began the year unable to run for more than a minute without turning beetroot red, peaked in September with a half marathon, and have gracefully declined to a resting position at year end, where I am still crap but quite a bit fitter than I started out. And a lot happier. The President however, had his own new year’s resolution : thinner bundles (and, like all good new year’s resolutions it was ignored after a week) : It’s January – we’re all trying to slim down.

In February Louise Tickle’s article about Annie of Surviving Safeguarding was published in The Guardian, the culmination of a whole lot of hard work and emotional investment by Louise, Annie and to some extent myself : All calm on the surface. Louise told a remarkable story, and she gave readers an insight into a system that is rarely shown in a balanced way. And I wrote one of now several things about domestic violence, Women’s Aid approach to it. That’ thread is still running, now over on The Transparency Project here, but you can read my February post here : Nineteen Child Homicides. I also wrote about this issue from a different angle in Talking AT & OVER not TO & WITH.

I winced when looking at the archive for March. I wrote that I was “steeling myself to re-write my book”. In possibly my most impressive ever work-avoidance endurance challenge, I have been “steeling myself” ever since. Actually, I’m nearly there, but it ought to have been done long before. It is not only Pink Tape that has been pushed further back in the queue this year.

It is interesting now to look back with the benefit of hindsight at a post I wrote in March about the rash of references to “collective responsibility” that appeared in judgments, along with threats of punitive costs orders. I said this :

But in our overheating, fritzing, jittering family justice system there are serious imbalances between responsibility and remuneration, between expectation and human capability, between workload and manpower. Costs orders are a symptom of the dysfunction and of judicial frustration, but they are not the cure. They are medicine of last resort which will not make the patient better, but will cause some other iatrogenic expression of dysfunction.

As we now know, by August even the President was acknowledging the wheels were coming off (or at least that that we were driving way too fast with no functioning brakes or seatbelts in the direction of a brick wall) – see below. And I think we’ve worked out over the course of the year that costs orders don’t seem to be any sort of solution at all. In the last couple of week’s we’ve had what Suesspicious Minds has rightly identified as the worst case of 2016, and it’s illuminating how the failures of the LA solicitor seem to be readily understood as a symptom of the fatigue inherent within the system :

The Local Authority solicitor, Ms McMullan failed to take a co-ordinating role in relation to the evidence and/or the structure of the case; I sensed that she reacted to the requirements of the timetable and the demands of her client and never proactively managed the case; she ended up as a fire-fighter and appeared to rely heavily on Mr. Shiels for all decision-making. I do not believe that her conduct fell below an ordinary professional standard (and she did not lose ‘objectivity’ as was alleged), she simply did not rise to the demands of running a complex case, did not challenge decisions, and did not develop a sense of what the case was and where it was going. Had she undertaken her role with more attention to the detail of the case, I am sure that the US provenance of the video would have received greater prominence in her thinking. Her “oversight” in failing to disclose the montage may have been the result of a demanding caseload.

This is where we have come to. A system where this is allowed to happen because of overwork is a broken one – and although this is a really heinous case of injustice we aren’t really surprised any more. And this is why in August I got a mite cross (see below).

I wrote little in March and April because I went to the states on holiday for 3 weeks to see family. But when I got back I wrote about the bizarre judicial elections system in the US, which has resonated more for me as the year has worn on, what with Trump, and the British Press’s “Enemies of the people” antics : You say pot-A-to, I say pot-ah-to…

In May the issue of covert recording cropped up, as it has done in a number of judgments this year and last. (see also Transparency Project’s recording guidance and a post I wrote about the topic here). This particular one was the shocking case dealt with by Mr Justice Peter Jackson, where parents sewed bugs into their child’s school uniform to record comments made whilst at school. It didn’t go down well. See : Just for the record…

In this month I wrote about the increasing number of requests for help I had from people without funds or who really needed to instruct a solicitor not a public access barrister. I offered some guidance in this blog post : Please and thank you. It hasn’t quelled the rate of enquiry as far as I can see. I also wrote a blog answering the question : Is it ok to be represented by a barrister who sometimes acts for social services?

And I ran a 10k. Big milestone.

In June I wrote about the case of Ellie Butler, following the convictions of her parents for murder / charges in connection with her death. Ellie Butler murder – some of the things the press haven’t told you. And also participated in a collaborative blog post with others about Ellie’s case here. And I also bemoaned how hopelessly amateurish our approach to transparency, both in terms of my own attempts to write about the Butler case : What price transparency?, and generally  in The Guardian : Why are we still waiting for transparency in the family courts? (longer version on Pink Tape here).

And we also first heard in June about the re-hearing of a fact finding hearing in relation to a now adopted child, with a view to the parents attempting subsequently to challenge the adoption orders (Re X (A Child)). The parents had been acquitted in the criminal court. We learnt only recently that the parents wished to abandon their attempts to have the matter re-heard, only to find that The President now felt that the re-hearing should happen anyway for the sake of the child’s life story – with or without their co-operation. So, a remarkable case in many ways – but not – as we had expected back in June – a potential re-run of Webster.

Also, another 10k. Easy peasy now.

By July I was contemplating the difficulties of juggling The Transparency Project (which had just secured its’ first funding grant), my core professional commitments, family life (and half marathon training) with Pink Tape in : Drum roll, trumpet fanfare, dancing pokemon….

And then in August, having had no correspondence from him all year, the President began to issue his Views once again. There was talk of reforms of CAFCASS in the form of local budgeting, reform of the tandem model, settlement conferences and of the increasing workload of the family courts… So much change apparently on our horizon, first mentioned in a postcard from the President. Where were the public consultations?

In A Christian Concern, I got hot under the collar about the gap between media reports of a case in the “secret family court” and the very different reality as set out in the published, but unmentioned, judgments.

In September I ran the Bristol half marathon to raise funds for The Transparency Project. I am so VERY proud of myself for doing so. Even if I have somewhat decomposed into a flabby heap since (I nearly died doing the 4 mile Boxing Day run this week). The President was too busy to run, and instead penned View 15. And I had a toys out of pram moment in response : Really serious and imminent. Fortunately I was not alone, the Chair of the FLBA also had a few words to say (although so far as I can see he’s has a similar tumbleweed response to my own). Actually, September was a bit rant-tastic, as I finally blew my stack about The Archers scriptwriting and that infernally irritating Anna Tregorran “barrister” concoction. Yes, in September, we truly heard the angsty screams of the family lawyers (well, of this particularly one anyway). And Mr Justice Peter Jackson “broke the internet” with his human friendly judgment (albeit that the press got a little overexcited about the use of a smiley emoji).

Next up October – in which i had an argument with a mediator (I know, right?), wrote some more about domestic violence in a post about the APPG Report on DV and another about the “We Believe” phenomenon : We Believe – doing violence to due process. Also, i actually took half term off and went on holiday with the kids, which is frankly unheard of. I’ve worked hard this year to maintain a good work life balance. I’ve not always got it right, but with each year that passes its importance becomes clearer. I’m no good to anyone if I’m a gibbering wreck. And frankly, what’s the point of it all if you can’t enjoy life too? In October I was named Bristol Law Society’s Barrister of the year, which was rather nice. Clive Coleman looks somewhat bewildered…

November’s posts focused on communication and inter-personal relationships : Why is it so hard to talk? was about how we struggle to talk across silos about domestic violence, and A plea for thoughtfulness… was inspired by Annie of Surviving Safeguarding, and about how clients experience professionals and how we conduct ourselves. The recently published Transparency Project’s adoption targets study was also on my mind – as yet another topic we find almost impossible to actually engage across camps about, dismissing the “other side” by repeating our own mantras like incantations, always forgetting somehow to consider or provide the evidence.

And finally we reach December – where i drew paralells between the discontent behind the Brexit and Trump votes and the rumblings about the family court. We ignore clamours of disquiet at our peril (of which see my forthcoming post about Sir Mark Hedley’s “The Modern Judge”, where he ponders whether the judiciary have the consent of society to exercise the draconian powers they hold). That somewhat rambly post was called Dance of the Synapses… And as mentioned above we received judgment in the truly awful GD v BD, which I covered on The Transparency Project here, and which is but one in a very very long line of HRA cases which have been published this year – and this year they are not all about misuse of section 20. Also in December I wrote what someone has described as a “love letter” to my husband, but which he evidently does not think qualifies as such – he thinks is still too sweary and has far too much toilet humour in it : Hey, working single parents – how the hell do you manage this sh*t?. For those who care, he’s making a remarkably quick recovery, thanks. I keep making him carrot soup. He is desperate for me to go back to work…It’s a good incentive. Anyway, I hope you will forgive me for not blogging an awful lot in December, it’s been a little bit frenetic (And latterly, a little bit squiffy thanks to my dad’s excellent sloe gin).

So I suppose where I’ve got to is this : Sometimes Pink Tape has to give way to other things. And that’s okay. It is after all those other things that make Pink Tape what it is (for better or for worse) : my professional practice, my family life, those interests which initially drove much of Pink Tape’s output but which now find a voice through The Transparency Project… As I get more senior and as more of my cases become more complex and protracted, it is even more difficult to juggle all of this. This year I managed to post something to go in the email that drops into your inbox on most Monday’s, and I reckon I can keep it up in 2017, even though it is shaping up to be another busy year in a number of areas. I really believe that time is elastic – you can fit in a lot more than you think, you just have to be careful not to stretch it too far.

Bring on 2017.

Hey, working single parents – how the hell do you manage this sh*t?

This month has been a lesson in what hard work *really* is. It is true that behind every successful barrister with kids there is another parent, a partner, an au pair or a granny to share the load – it just isn’t possible without *some* help, given in return for money if not out of love. And I often SAY to my single mum colleagues “How the hell do you do it?”. Well, I’ve had a taster of their world for a couple of weeks now, cos my other half has been out of action selfishly buggering up his back and then having his leg chopped off and stitched back on again (these two things are the only things that get him to sit still, apart from a surfeit of cider). He has a nice bionic knee now, but he isn’t quite back to being my right hand man just yet. And me? I’m run ragged, and that’s even though I’ve called in every favour I can think of from my parents and every other person who didn’t scarper quickly enough, to cover school runs and such like (the 9am directions hearing in Swindon that lasted till 6pm presented something of an unexpected challenge to my carefully laid plan for that particular day).

So yours truly (whose favourite thing is to joke about how even a role-reversed husband still seems to think there is a toilet cleaning fairy), has had a bit of a wake up call. Yes, I am and have always been the ONLY person in this darn house who EVER cleans the bog (notwithstanding the fact that the other 3 are the male and thus congenitally unable to do it neatly, even though they are the ones god blessed with directional equipment). And yes, I am and have always been the ONLY person who empties the wastepaper baskets all around the house, which are invariably full by Saturday morning with rotten banana peels glued onto the side of the bins with half sucked sweets. And yes, I am and have always been the only person who knows how to dust (6 y/o is a big “dusting fan” but this involves spraying a whole can of pledge in large dollops and very little polishing or dust removal). And yes, there are places under and behind certain items of furniture where only I ever dare venture (and on each such expedition one is guaranteed to find at 3 disembodied lego heads, a marble, 2 pieces of petrified popcorn, a five pence piece, a hairclip and a pizza crust. Where DO all the hair-clips come from? It’s not even like there are any girls in our house…).

Me on a Saturday...(Pic courtesy of Lucky Jimmy on flickr - thanks)

Me on a Saturday…(Pic courtesy of Lucky Jimmy on flickr – thanks)

We agreed many years ago that this was the way we would run our house – I’d bring home the bacon, he’d be the house husband. It has worked pretty well, though my bras are always grey and I once discovered we hadn’t had a functioning mop for several months (he denies this, it’s true – but I have told him it’s staying in on the basis of artistic licence).

But it’s only been the last couple of weeks where I’ve had to combine all my usual loo cleaning, bin emptying, dusting domestic-goddess-on-a-saturday chores with daily packed lunch preparation, washing, dinner preparation, washing up, washing, bin emptying, washing, recycling, folding laundry, putting away laundry (no, we don’t do ironing. It’s banned), washing, hoovering, letting the chickens out, cleaning the cat litter, asking the children to get dressed four hundred times, supervising teeth cleaning, shoelace tying, hair brushing, breakfast eating, school run, last minute costume making, last minute homework doing, school run (minus a coat, or a shoe or a lunchbox), putting the chickens to bed, washing, dealing with sick children, ferrying children from school to competing clubs and activities at 30 minute intervals, shopping, doctors appointments, prescription collection. I think on one day last week I must have pulled in and out of our drive about 30 times between school runs and this activity and that and shopping trips and errands. So if you’ve seen me looking (even more) slightly rumpled and unbrushed than usual, this is why.

Yeah. It’s only now that I get why he can’t be arsed to clean the lav. He doesn’t clean the inside of the oven, but he does clean the cooker top. He doesn’t mop the floor but he does wipe the counters. He doesn’t separate the loads but he does do loads and loads and loads of washing. He doesn’t feed us cordon bleu and he orders too many pizzas, but he does get us fed. And you know what? He always brings me a cuppa in bed (very wise, I’m not nice first thing), makes me breakfast and sends me out the door with a vat of caffeine in my travel mug. Which is clearly a good trade off for a sparkling toilet pan. Juggling all this daily STUFF with work was frankly, a blinkin nightmare – even though I cut back on my normal workload knowing it was coming. It just would not be compatible with my current workload even if I had military-style systems in place. Even if I drop them at Breakfast Club five minutes before I’m supposed to I can only just get to court in the nick of time – and that’s if I’m local. It’s like flipping plate spinning and it has made me dizzy.

Anyway, I can highly recommend a bit of role swapping to give you perspective. He ain’t perfect, but nor am I and we both pull our weight in ways that it is easy for the other to lose sight of.

But we are lucky enough to be a couple. It makes me think that life must be pretty relentless for single parents, particularly those who have to work, and even more so those in self-employed or unpredictable jobs like mine – and even if you have hired help or childcare provision. I am in awe of you mums and dads who do that.

And non-resident parents – cut your ex some slack. It’s a lot harder doing it day in day out than it looks from the outside.

Before I sat down to write this blog post I broke out the mop (it was looking neglected). And so, as I type the kitchen and bathroom have had their annual mop, the bins are empty and the washing mountain is folded and clean. It will probably never reach the drawers but I don’t care – term is over and I’ve almost done my last hearing before the Christmas break when no cleaning is allowed. It’s the law. I am already liberated from hoovering until 2017 by the fact that I lost the diamond out of my engagement ring this week and there is therefore a precautionary (but in reality pointless) hoover ban at ours. Although I’m sad to have lost it, after 16 years I’ve realised that the diamond doesn’t matter, it’s the teamwork that does. After Xmas I will take my engagement ring and wedding ring and have them melted into a new ring. And I will take it off when I do the chores from now on.

PS This sweariness / uncouth rating of this post has been toned down. Him indoors says “what will you say in your interview for High Court Judge when they ask about your swearing?”. To which I say a big festive and slightly cynical “Ho ho ho!”. For imagining that my foul mouth is the single biggest impediment to my aspirations to conquer the world I love him a little bit more. He also says this post obsesses too much on the toilet, but then he’s not British and thus will never truly understand our love of all things toilet…

Family Law Conference

The Manchester Centre for Law in Society and the Sylvia Pankhurst Gender Research Centre are holding a Family Law Conference on 4 March 2017 (10am – 4pm). Speakers :

  • Rebecca Probert, Warwick University
    ‘The women who did: feminism, free love & freedom’
  • Marilyn Stowe, Stowe Family Law LLP
    ‘One couple one lawyer – a solution to the abolition of legal aid on divorce?’
  • Lucy Reed, Chair of the Transparency Project, St John’s Chambers
    ‘Transparency? A practitioner’s view from her window’
  • Lucy Crompton, MMU
    ‘McFarlane 10 years on: a critique of the death of compensation’
  • Edwina Higgins & Kathryn Newton, MMU
    ‘The parental involvement presumption: “unnecessary risk for too little gain?”’

The conference aims to attract a mix of academics, practitioners and students, and provide a relaxed atmosphere for a topical discussion around the papers. There will be extra time for discussion of the parental involvement presumption and especially its potential impact on the child’s voice. The conference is suitable for CPD for practitioners. Location: Manchester Met Business School, Oxford Road, Manchester, M15 6BH

Admission Cost: £60 or £25 for students and concessions

More Information: for more information please contact Lucy Crompton at Manchester Law School at l.crompton@mmu.ac.uk