I had a particularly taxing day at court recently. My opponent solicitor and I did not – ahem – gel. My attempts to engage in negotiation met with much dramatic huffing and flinging about of the word ‘nonsense’, escalating to swearing and door slamming of a most juvenile kind. You know constructive dialogue is at an end when your professional conduct is impugned simply for disagreeing with the other side’s position. And when I’ve volunteered to draft an order that by rights should have been drafted by the other side, criticising my handwriting is likely to result in a biro-in-eyeball incident (I counted to ten, the urge passed). He didn’t do his client any favours – although she probably thinks he put on a grand performance – he was so busy with the amateur dramatics and bullyboy tactics that he completely failed to appreciate the significance of the information I was trying to give him.
But most lawyers do at least maintain a certain sense of decorum, and we can agree to disagree on our client’s respective positions, and operate courteously even in the face of the most divergent of instructions. I cite as one example the case of Arkell v Pressdram. Brilliant.
Short piece on ‘Today’ on Tues morning about costs in civil cases. I switched on as a clip of Lord Justice Judge opining about the state of civil justice was part way through. Evan Davis moved onto an interview with Bridget Prentice. Oh goody, I thought as I drove to court, something relevant to my line of work and NOT about banks. What struck me though was the complete failure of the piece to distinguish between court fees and legal costs. Unusually for Evan, who is pretty much always on the ball and whose faux naive questions make me chuckle, it sounded as if Evan himself had no appreciation of the distinction between legal costs and court fees (which are piffling in comparison to legal costs, at least unless you are a local authority issuing care proceedings). This was made worse by the fact that Bridget Prentice, in response to a question about ‘legal costs’, asserted that a low income claimant would know prior to issue that they would be able to be protected against paying these. It was apparent to a lawyer that she was talking about remission of court issue fees on a means tested basis but non-lawyers could have been forgiven for thinking that there was no risk of a costs order being made against a low income claimant, which of course is very much NOT accurate. Not helpful.
Did anyone else listen to this? Was it as confusing as I thought it was, or was I simply too distracted by the traffic on the M5 to listen properly to what was being said?
An interesting article by District Judge Crichton (Inner London FPC, champion of the Drug & Alcohol Court Pilot) about enhancing the participation of children in Family Proceedings. He suggests that children of an appropriate age should be routinely asked by CAFCASS about the possibility of meeting the judge and that judges should not be reluctant to meet them in chambers or in the courtroom, in the presence of the CAFCASS Officer, child’s solicitor or court associate / legal advisor. He suggests good practice is that an agreed note of what was said can then be shared with the parties.
In my experience a child attending court is comparatively unusual let alone meeting with the judge in their case. That is not to say that it should not be considered more often – many children clearly feel disempowered and frustrated or confused that they have no say decisions that affect them. It is a delicate balance between empowering children without burdening them with the responsibility for making a decision or expressing a preference between parents which can be excruciating for children.
The article can be found in the Hilary Term issue (#39) of The Barrister magazine.