Last week I had a couple of hours to kill. So I went and took a gander at the Supreme Court – and I thought it was fantastic.
Supreme Court Emblem
Entering the court was like entering the lobby of a posh hotel – I was greeted by welcoming security staff with a “Good Morning Madam”, and was through security quicker than I get through the arch at my local county court where bags are gone through with a fine toothed comb (in fairness they aren’t equipped with an x-ray machine and there is a lot more of a 9am crush in County!). There was a wealth of public information leaflets, good signposting and helpful Information Point staff. I enquired what courts were sitting and was given a summary sheet telling me about the case in court 2 (Times Newspapers Ltd (Appellant) v Gary Flood (Respondent) – a case about defamation and the qualified privilege defence). I was able to hear an hour or so of the submissions of Richard Rampton QC for the Appellant.
There were a number of members of the public present – some (judging from their dress) were lawyers, but many were tourists. There was no sense of the public being grudgingly allowed to attend or of them being an inconvenience. I was able to slip in part way through the afternoon session, and whilst I was there a number of people slipped silently in, and out, assisted by a friendly security guard on the door. They seemed instinctively to know how to behave, which was just as well because the courtrooms are pretty intimate and so noisy ins and outs, fidgeting or chit chat would be disruptive and distracting.
This was a complex case with submissions that were not easy to pick up and follow mid flow (no doubt in common with most cases in this court), but clearly a lot of thought has gone into making Supreme Court proceedings as accessible as possible from the welcoming first impression and printed materials to the lighting and decor. The public sat and listened, rapt. Continue Reading…
This morning (24th October) the FLBA together with the Bar Council and an alliance of other organisations publishes a Manifesto for Family Justice.
The alliance, which comprises the Association of Lawyers for Children, the Bar Council, CAADA, the Children’s Commissioner, the Family Law Bar Association, Gingerbread, Liberty, the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, Resolution and Women’s Aid, has called upon the Government to:
· Protect vulnerable women and children
· Listen to the experienced practitioners who work in family justice and who understand that mediation, whilst beneficial in many cases, will not resolve many others, and
· Consider with care whether the decision to remove legal aid from private family law cases will save the Government money or, in fact, cost more and lead to poor outcomes.
The Manifesto has been sent to all Members of Parliament as the House of Commons prepares to consider further the changes to legal aid proposed in the LASPO Bill.
The Manifesto for Family Justice can be found here, and it is also covered in the Guardian this morning.
The following resolutions were unanimously approved at the national meeting of the Family Law Bar Association on 17th September 2011. They have been sent to the Government :
- The FLBA calls on the Government to include in the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (“the Bill”) a specific provision requiring the Lord Chancellor, in the exercise of his powers to ensure practical and effective access to justice.
- The FLBA proposes that the Bill be amended to require the Lord Chancellor, when making relevant regulations, to have regard (as at present) to the need to secure the provision of services by a sufficient number of competent persons and bodies.
- The FLBA invites the Government to extend the provision of legal aid in exceptional cases to all cases where there is an actual or threatened injustice (Clause 9), and to consult interested parties on the relevant guidance as to the exercise of the Director’s discretion in this regard.
- The FLBA invites the Government to amend the Bill to ensure that public funds are made available (subject to eligibility) for legal advice and representation for all parties in all cases where:
- The child has been joined as a party (whether under Rule 16 or otherwise);
- The court is considering making findings of harm/abuse (whether to adult or child).
- The court is considering making a section 37 direction (investigation of child’s circumstances by a Local Authority) or a section 38 order (interim removal into care, even in private law proceedings).
- The FLBA invites the Government to extend the definition of domestic abuse (Schedule 1) to include “any incident of threatening behaviour, violence or abuse (whether physical, mental, financial or emotional)”.
- The FLBA invites the Government to accept as evidence of domestic abuse for the purposes of entitlement to public funds not only that he/she has obtained an injunction inFLA 1996 proceedings, or there is a finding of fact of abuse in previous proceedings, but alternatively that
– “the individual has been admitted to a refuge for persons suffering from domestic abuse; OR
– the individual has obtained medical or other professional services relating to the consequences of domestic abuse; OR
– the individual has made a complaint to the police of an offence of domestic abuse which is being investigated;
– a competent mediator is satisfied that mediation is not suitable on consideration of previous instance(s) of domestic abuse or other power imbalance”.
- The FLBA requires the Ministry of Justice to state openly and urgently what plans it has made for ensuring that those who need acute crisis advice will receive such advice.
- The FLBA invites the Government to announce what steps it proposes to take to support the Judiciary, and Her Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service, in managing the predicted higher number of litigants in person appearing in the family courts in private law cases.