Great article in the Guardian from Louise Tickle yesterday morning about litigants in person in family cases – Family Court Legal Aid Cuts – Parents without Lawyers. It includes some quotes from yours truly (fortunately less sweary than the quote of mine that got picked up and circulated earlier this week).
It’s a bit of a strange feeling actually. Some of you will have read that Louise Tickle (the journalist who wrote this article) was recently a client of mine (see Tickle v Council of the Borough of North Tyneside & Ors  EWHC 2991 (Fam) (19 October 2015) so it is counterintuitive to be writing about her work (even though I am not writing about anything confidential or privileged I hasten to add). In fact, meeting Louise in the course of her research for the litigants in person article just published is how she ended up becoming my client in the first place.
What the publication of this article made me think about (apart from the difficulties for litigants in person in which I am well versed) is the amount of effort, worry and time that such articles take to research, put together and to actually get out there. It was many, many months ago that I gave the quotes now incorporated into that article to Louise Tickle – and I remember seeing her hanging around at my local court on many days over what seemed like a month or more, trying to find appropriate cases to write about, trying to find parents who would consent to being interviewed, and subsequently trying to wrestle with the taxing question of what can and cannot be reported. This stuff, I have realised, is not easy to do – and this article (along with my experience of Louise’s application in the North Tyneside case) is a reminder for me of how much goes on behind the scenes before it can be seen and read by the public. This is important, because understanding how these things operate and how much investment of time and how much risk is involved, are part of the reason why (I suspect) we do not get more and better family court reporting. It is easy to make complaints about bad journalism (heaven knows I’ve done my fair share of whinging about that), but it is also important to appreciate how skilled and difficult it is if it is done well.
Another observation that has struck me is this : There are a surprising number of similarities between the jobs we do. I think about the process of seeing a case through from start to finish, of planning it, adjusting it depending on how the evidence emerges, of crafting, drafting, re-drafting so that each word is right, so that everything is underpinned by evidence, so that nothing can be justly challenged or criticised for lack of rigour. So that we can draw out a story that will engage the reader, and that will make a difference. And an almost continual ethical wrestle with what steps should be taken, what should be disclosed and what left out, what concessions could be made, should be made – and when to say (exceptionally) “I cannot write this story”. For both of us, so much preparation distilled down into one carefully crafted document. One shot to get it right and give voice to the people on whom the story centres.