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...


6 thoughts on “That’ll go on my gravestone…

  1. I was wondering if you could give some thought and maybe a bit more, to the problem of the children who are having to endure regular ongoing court ordered contact. Those who are suffering emotional and pyschological abuse (and possibly even hidden ongoing sexual abuse) during contact but are having to go through this because the caregiver parent is terrified that if they flag this up, then the estranged parent will start screaming parental alienation and that as they themselves cannot disprove this accusation, they may well end up losing that child as a result. And they actually end up having to coax the child to continue going on contact, and desperately try to ammeliorate the damage that the child suffers on each contact visit as best they can, as the alternative can be so much worse for the child. Buit of course this behaviour would be seen as being harmful to teh child anyway, so the caregiver parent is damned if they do and damned if they don’t – as is the poor child! This is a much more widespread problem than I think is recognised or acknowledged.
    (On a lighter note, if you’ll excuse the pun, don’t neglect the bells 😉 I’m part of a handbell performance myself next Tuesday – Silent Night is a killer when you have to swing two handbells and are ringing the most notes all the way through :/ )

    • Good subject. Will put that on my longlist…. 🙂
      Still managing a spot of bell ringing. Though I never become any more accomplished…

  2. Litigants are really struggling. I know a case in court proceeding for over 11 years as one parent has no legal representation. Would it have been less years if that parent had been represented.

  3. Its interesting that when I began being a Mckenzie Friend in 2002, a huge number of cases were a Litigant on one side and a Legal Aid Lawyer on the other, and not a word was ever said about how unfair that was, or that those Litigants were not getting justice.

    I dealt with complicated cases in the High Court (6 day Fact Finding and double international child abduction) and COA, and still not a word about how unfair or unjust it was.

    It only seems to have become an issue when Legal Aid was cut back and Lawyers were affected as well.

    Maybe I am just cynical.

    • I think that until legal aid was cut a larger proportion of LiPs were elective LiPs – people who didn’t think they needed lawyers or weren’t willing to pay or weren’t willing to listen to advice (not all though). I think it has become much clearer that vulnerable people are in difficulty since 2013. But for what its worth I started writing FCWAL in 2009, and conceived the idea in 2009. Then, the general view of lawyers was no more sophisticated than that LiPs were a pain in the behind.

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