It's my prerogative on this blog to whinge as much as I feel like. And I feel like it today. You don't mind if I get it off my chest do you?
Yesterday I was told that the payment for a case I have worked on for over a year, in respect of which I have incurred probably £600+ of travel and hotel expenses, and which makes up 50% of my aged debt, has been delayed again as the LSC continues to reject the High Costs Case Plan. I am owed tens of thousands of pounds by the LSC for hard hard work over many many months. I am fed up, as will be my bank manager when I exceed my overdraft again, and my dad when I have to go cap in hand. Again. I'm 37 for christ's sake. I have my own family. This should not be necessary. I am not the only one. Other members of the family bar have excessive overdrafts, cannot pay mortgages, chambers rent...Some are single parents. Some I know have borrowed large sums from family because of cashflow crises.
This week the 10% cut in the amount we do earn was confirmed as coming into effect from Feb 2012. That's 10% harder I have to work. Last week I juggled 3 cases in one day. Yesterday I juggled 2. It involved ignoring the kids at bedtime, reading till midnight and then carrying a suitcase the size of a small car around Exeter. This pace of work cannot be kept up all the time. Today I am going to my Grandfather's funeral so I will not earn. Next week a five day trial has been adjourned so I will not earn much. If I have to go to the doctors, to a school play, on holiday I do not earn. When I have a baby I do not earn. So I have to do extra work to make ends meet. I've taken about 3 days for holiday this year (2 long weekends of wet camping since you ask). Last night, after a long drive and when I wanted to sit and contemplate my Grandfather's funeral I completed 3 attendance notes, and typed and e-filed an order. Ultimately I was too tired to think about it so I blocked it out until today.
I'm trying not to get too maudlin this morning, so to distract myself I just looked on Linkedin at suggestions for new contacts. It was full of names of people who I know from bar school or who are former opponents. I was shocked at how many were no longer described as "legal professional" but who are now working in industry, management, or have started up their own business. They are leaving in numbers. I wish I could come up with some innovative business idea. I'd be up the Dragon's Den like a shot.
And just at that moment up pops a message from the clerks about the latest ridiculous trick the LSC are using to delay payment: if the judge does not write "DISTRICT JUDGE X" or "HIS HONOUR JUDGE Y" beneath his / her signature the form is invalid and we don't get paid. Presumably the justification for this is that there is widespread forgery at the bar of judicial signatures AND theft and misuse of the court seal. I am so fed up of this ridiculous game playing. Just pay us.
If I were in a particularly tinfoil hat mood (perhaps I am) I would be tempted to ponder whether there was some deliberate attempt to starve the family bar of funds so we will all go away and give up. Of course that is ridiculous, but it is sometimes how it feels.
The amendments to the LASPO Bill have been rejected at Committee stage. The ridiculously narrow definition of DV remains. Yesterday I dealt with a case of alleged NAI where neither party would qualify for legal aid under the new scheme. We assessed the 400 odd pages of police and medical disclosure, made directions for expert paediatric evidence, witness summons, witness statements, dealt with drafting a complex schedule of allegations. What on god's earth is the judge to do without legal representatives to help him pick through all this (it took us an hour with 2 counsel)? What, more to the point, are the parties to do? How can there be a fair outcome, robust findings, confidence in the system? How can we properly protect children this way? I am so ANGRY with it all.
Splashed all over the internet and certain newspapers is much wailing and gnashing of teeth about the Haigh / Watson case, John Hemmings antics and generally how rubbish, corrupt, evil the Family Justice System and all associated with it are. I'm angry that there is no good quality reporting of family cases from the newspapers (and that there is no editorial control on the dodgy reporting). But more than that, why isn't this legal aid tragedy front page? Because it will be a tragedy. Children will be harmed. Families and relationships damaged. Family law expertise will wither.
The government are blathering on about social breakdown, dysfunctional families and absent parents in the light of the riots. Now more than ever it ought to be blindingly obvious that cutting families loose to lock horns in the family courts is a false economy and will be a long term calamity.
Sometimes I just bloody despair.
My granddad was an ordinary bloke. He drove a sherman tank in the war, was a postman for 40 years. Had 2 kids. He wasn't big on talking, but he was passionate. Mostly passionately disagreeing with the rest of us in a mildly curmudgeonly way. He was sharp, but not well educated and he believed what he read in the papers. Although my dad had to battle with him to stay on at school until he was 16, he was subsequently proud that someone in his family had gone to university and become a barrister. Thankfully he never had the need for one, but he would never have been able to afford a lawyer or to cope with court without help. I hope he would be proud that his granddaughter has grown up passionate like him, even though we experienced and understood the world in very different ways.