Weird Weekend

Sounds like a title for a bad horror movie. Which would be pretty apt, but for the pleasantly relaxed ending. I’m sitting in clean pjs, freshly showered and shampooed with sweet smelling hair, ready to fight the good fight tomorrow with appropriately tamed mane of strength. This is not a normal prep-frenzied, child-addled Sunday evening. It is unnervingly serene…

Last week was a whirlwind of wall-to-wall hearings. Thursday was a triple decker super club (toast-hearing-sandwich-conference-garnish of advocates meeting-sandwich-prep) in which my day was held together by nothing more substantial than a cocktail stick. The advocates meeting was cancelled, which is probably just as well – it may have been my wafer thin mint of undoing. Friday was the day I went to court with one hearing to go before the weekend and listened as my mouth had an involuntary spasm when the clerks asked if I’d like to cover a Friday afternoon EPO and my “not really” sounded so much like an “oh alright then” that they sent the papers over. I’d say it was a double decker Friday, but that would be the wrong chocolate bar. I had a twix for lunch at 11am and was being tannoyed for the second case as I finished the first at 2.05pm. But thank crunchie, Friday evening did arrive eventually and I made my way home leaving a sea of happy clients and disgruntled opponents in my chocolate-wrapper strewn wake.

Saturday was imperfect. It looked like rain, so plans to enforce going outside upon the screen addicted kiddiewinks morphed somehow into a cinema trip. Yes. I know this involves a really giant screen. I’m a rubbish mumma alright? At least we went to view something intellectually stimulating and morally grounded. Yes, good people with lives, we took them to see Boss Baby. At the multiplex. With its VERY LOUD, BLINDINGLY BRIGHT screen of pain. Realising too late what I had done, I slipped out after five minutes to remove my contact lenses so I could accidentally fall asleep, but I left it too late and became mesmerised by its awfulness. Damn you multiplex.

I had devised a cunning plan : stealth shopping. The trick is to arrive just a bit too late for one showing and have “time to kill” before the next. This would have worked perfectly except that I had to bribe one child with a bowl of Wagamama Ramen in order to achieve “consensus” on the choice of film (yes, I would fail the parenting assessment dismally) which ate up valuable accidental shopping time. And a meal for four in Wagamama’s is basically the cost of a pair of shoes. Anyway, the boy who eats only unadulterated bland foodstuffs ate a bowl of noodles with soy sauce, whilst the boy who eats anything that doesn’t run fast enough ate his meal, dad’s meal, tried and liked mussels and was taught by his uncouth father to slurp the broth from the bowl. He’d fail the parenting assessment too.

So I needed a suit and quickly. I have recently had an epiphany : my two “new” suits are somehow suddenly not new any more, and are a mess of ripped lining, missing buttons, shiny elbows and fraying edges. What’s more they, like all of my suits, have inexplicably been shrunk by the dry cleaners (har fatty har). So something had to be done, and fast. Where, within a 40 minute radius of the multiplex could this be achieved? The Department Store that always has suits that fit me had no suits at all. In the next shop I was bursting out of one size whilst the next size up looked like I was a child wearing my dad’s suit. Another was full of office wear for sticks (nothing above a size 10). The thin lipped, thin arsed staff gave me a wide berth, having spotted my wide berth. I scoured T M Lewin for Ladeez suits. “Oh no modom,” said the shiny man. “Suits for Ladeez are available online.” Because we all know that women are going to buy an expensive piece of tailoring without even trying it on, right? Fortunately, he was not Are You Being Served enough to be wearing a tape measure around his neck because I might have tied him a very windsor knot with it. Clearly wimminz are too troublesome a shape for T M Lewin, whose female market they have put into managed decline.

In short, suit shopping was a dismal failure. What’s more in the course of suit shopping I had to carry out the hazardous activity of looking at my face and body from other angles than front on. It wasn’t the site of the unmanaged decline of my derriere that did it. A fat arse is all the better for sitting on frankly. No, it was the sight of the jowly, sunken eyed, double chinned imposter that precipitated a silent mini-midlife-crisis. I look exhausted. I look ancient. I look like a woman for whom the highlight of the weekend is falling asleep in a multiplex.

I do not like being this age. I do not like that my outside doesn’t look how my inside feels. I worry that my inside might begin to feel how my outside looks. I am cross that this time last year I was achieving fitness milestones I had never achieved before and that I have let that slip because I haven’t prioritised getting out there and running regularly. And because I’ve carried on eating rubbish. And for not prioritising life beyond work.

So this is how I felt by the time showtime came around. Before I was bombarded with giant images of a FAT BABY. IN A SUIT. It is now a required component of every animated childrens’ movie that there is a secret layer of ironic humour accessible only to the accompanying adults. Oh. How. I. Laughed…

And then came the hair thing. A discussion on twitter about whether it was court etiquette to tie back long hair. Yes, I replied. Only, I do so inconsistently these days, more often because it takes so much precious time to wash and dry it, so on some days its easier to tie it back – but sometimes because I’ve had a pang of guilt that I look like a scruff bag and it’s unprofessional. Others chimed in – free range hair an unprofessional distraction they said. But I realised a little part of me does it because I can. Because I’m no longer the young woman who used to tie back her hair and wear heels to conform with expectations – because although I know I don’t have sleek, stay-still well-behaved hair, but a mahusive increasingly frizzy, grey flecked Captain Caveman hair – it’s my hair and you take me as you find me. A bit frazzled.  But a woman whose hair says “there’s more important things to life (And choice in barrister) than hair”. So eat my shorts, dude.

But it does matter. Because I’ve been worrying about it all weekend. Am I letting myself down by looking a scruff bag? Is that what people think?

Whilst I pondered this deeply important matter I decided to make one further attempt to resolve the suit crisis. I went online and ordered some flipping suits. Not from stupid T M Lewin who have offended me by ONLY selling suits online, but from elsewhere. I will report back in due course, but don’t hold out much hope. Mind you, I won a fiver on a scratchcard last week, so who knows – I might have picked a winner. I also ordered a new suitcase, since I have reached the stage where punching and kicking my trolley is no longer a knack that makes the handle go up and down as it should, and where the wheels are in a state of imminent, grinding collapse. So, there is some small hope that my appearance will be somewhat more “professional” come next weekend. If not I shall have to attempt the suit shopping hell sans children…

In further surreal weirdness, both children today decide to write a book, and the adventurous eater decided to start an embroidery project (he can’t sew). I, meantime, to distract myself from the urge to unpick his very wonky stem stitch, picked up the book that I bought about 2 months ago and began to read…I love Caitlin Moran. I have realised that my hair rebellion is probably entirely based on my unconscious channelling of Caitlin Moran. I read half of Moranifesto in one sitting, but I put it down so I could make it last longer. If Caitlin can do getting older, I can do getting older. I’ll no doubt carry on being conflicted and inconsistent about my appearance, but as Caitlin says, the older you get the less fucks you give.

Tomorrow I shall have clean hair, but I will tie it back like a good girl anyway. Perhaps people will see the imposter I saw in the mirror in the shop near the multiplex. But I like to think they will listen to what comes out of my mouth.

Access to justice – during office hours only

Our local court recently re-circulated the contact details and instructions for the out of hours emergency court service – a mobile number that is kept on when the court is closed, so that really urgent hearings can be convened at evenings and weekends, when genuinely necessary.

In our field of work that is likely to be where there is an abduction or some high risk situation involving a child – stuff that really can’t wait.

But the number is “strictly for legal professionals only” and isn’t available to litigants in person.

Clearly it’s important that the system isn’t abused with people ringing in to try and secure urgent hearings that aren’t really urgent – but is it justifiable to withhold this route of access to the court from litigants in person now that they make up such a significant portion of court users?

I don’t know what the answer is really, because I can see it could be a total disaster to give this number out. And in the majority of urgent scenarios legal aid would probably be available, so there is likely a limited need for this service. But it’s an illustration of how we’ve yet to fully adapt to the new order of things.


P.S.11 May : The Royal Courts of Justice DO have an out of hours number for high court matters, that is available to the public. See here. It is possible that contact to this number in cases of suspected / imminent abduction will result in contact being made with a local court or with  an urgent hearing being convened in the High Court, possibly by telephone. It shouldn’t be forgotten that if you are worried about abduction you may well qualify for legal aid. Thanks to the lovely twitterer who reminded me of this (but whose tweets have now disappeared so far down my timeline I can’t find them)…

Judicial Cooperation with Serious Case Reviews

….There won’t be any (cooperation). Not least because Serious Case Reviews have been abolished with the enactment of the Children and Social Work Act 2017 on 27 April, which will (from a date yet to be fixed) abolish Local Safeguarding Childrens’ Boards and thus, Serious Case Reviews. The President’s Guidance : Judicial Cooperation with Serious Case Reviews is dated 2 May 2017. It IS current, but it won’t be for long (assuming always that the Act is actually brought into force – though there is no particular reason to think it won’t be once the General Election is over).

OK, it’s a cheap point. LSCBs (Local Safeguarding Children Boards) and SCRs will be replaced with the Child Safeguarding Practice Review Panel and with Local child safeguarding practice reviews and Child Death Review Panels. I’ve yet to get my head around the detail of what the difference is (apart from the name), but the gist seems to be that the CSPRP is a National Panel which will look at “serious child safeguarding cases in England which raise issues that are complex or of national importance”, and the LCSPRs seem pretty much equivalent to LSCBs insofar as they are a multi agency group tasked with working together to review “serious child safeguarding cases which raise issues of importance in relation to the area”, with the CDRPs looking specifically at cases of child death (SCRs were tasked collectively with cases of serious harm or death).

Nonetheless, it seems fair to assume that the guidance, which will shortly relate to a defunct process, will apply equally to the new set up. I make that assumption because the points within the guidance are all points of basic, established principle and contain no surprises : in a nutshell : judicial independence innit. You can have all the judgments, all the documents the judge had and all the transcripts for your SCR – but judges will not be answering questions, undertaking interviews and senior judges will most certainly NOT be carrying out IMRs (Independent Management Reviews) on the work of their junior colleagues. That’s what appeals are for.

This is pretty much what I said was the position when a group of us were discussing criticism of Hogg J for refusing to engage in the SCR arising from the death of Ellie Butler (See here). This document comes as no surprise, and is likely to have been prompted by the author of that SCR writing to The President specifically to raise this issue with him (as it was said at the time she had done).

One thing I do think odd though, is the implication that it would be effectively unthinkable for one judge to comment on the decisions of another :

  1. It is a fundamental principle that judges do not comment on the decisions of other judges outside the appellate process. This is why it would be inappropriate for an IMR of a judicial decision to be conducted; it would, effectively, be one judge (or group of judges) commenting upon the decisions of another judge outside the proper appellate process…This principle evolved in order to protect the rule of law – it reinforces the idea that the only way to challenge a judicial decision is to do so in court, not to seek to undermine it outside the court process.
  2. This position on SCRs has been followed by Sir Mark’s successors, Sir Nicholas Wall P and, in turn, by me.

This seems entirely sensible until one remembers that there has been at least one occasion where precisely this has happened : the Report to the President of the Family Division on the publication ‘Twenty-nine child homicides’ was prepared by Sir Nicholas Wall, then a High Court Judge, and he said this :

…Having discussed the matter with officials from the Department of Constitutional Affairs (DCA), Dame Elizabeth [Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, then the President of the Family Division] and I agreed, that in view both of the importance of the subject and the Select Committee’s proper concern about it, I should examine all the available court files in all the cases identified by WAFE in which there had been court involvement. I would then report – either to her or, as was more likely, to her successor…[he conducted a file review of various cases]

…a number of queries inevitably arose, and I wrote to the judges involved in the five cases, asking questions and inviting their comments…I have received complete co-operation from all the judges involved, who have been, without exception, both frank and helpful…My assessment of their conduct appears at the conclusion of the Part of the report dealing with the individual cases…I sent a copy of the draft to each of the judges involved for comment prior to finalisation. I have received responses from all five. None made any criticisms of the report or of my comments on the individual cases, and in general each was supportive of my recommendations to you.

As far as I know this is the only time that such a report has been prepared (it is worth noting that the report was prepared in response to the Womens’ Aid 29 Homicides report, and that more recently in response to the more recent Womens’ Aid 19 Child Homicides report and subsequent campaigning by Womens’ Aid the President tasked Cobb J with a review PD12J). It is possible that there are other examples that I am unaware of.
I confess that I am struggling with the difference in principle between the Homicides report, which is to all intents and purposes an IMR, and the assertion that the judiciary don’t scrutinise or critique one another’s work except in the course of an appellate system. Granted, the Wall report was exceptional, but cases like Ellie Butler’s are also pretty exceptional – so it begs the question why an exception couldn’t be / shouldn’t have been made there. In posing this question I’m not suggesting the answer, I’m simply highlighting the apparent inconsistency in approach and trying to work it through in my own mind.
For me, it would have been more helpful for the Guidance to have acknowledged this isolated example, and to have explained the distinction for us dummies. But I guess (ironically) that might have had to involve the criticism of the position adopted by another judge, so perhaps answer I’m seeking is to be found in the silence itself.
It is something I will give more thought to – does anyone else have an answer?