The Children App

Some time ago I was playing with my iPhone, wondering what apps I could justifiably claim as tax deductable, when I chanced across the Child Law App published by Stroika and subtitled 'The Pocket Lawyer Guide to Child Law'  (at the time of my download this pocket lawyer guide was listed on cantaffordalawyer.com as one of their 'Pocket Lawyer' series, created on their behalves by pixidapps.co.uk, but it has now mysteriously disappeared from both websites). Since it came at the negligible price of 59p I thought I would install it on my phone for the purposes of reviewing it at some later date. Finally, I have got round to posting about this.

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Contrary to the pre-download blurb, my opinion is that the Child Law App is difficult to navigate and not at all intuitive (which I have to say is an impressive achievement for an iPhone app). It seems to be essentially based on a relatively dense paper format, using chapter headings and sub headings as navigation and indexing and adding a pretty basic  search function. It has dimensions which would be more appropriate for a book than the shape of an iPhone screen meaning that by the time the text is large enough to read it is running off the side of the screen, even when in landscape mode.

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The pre-download info suggests this app contains 'invaluable information for every parent' and that it will be 'of great assistance to anyone working with children, family lawyers and law students'.  But having looked at it I don't really know who this app would genuinely benefit. Not legal professionals who one would hope had learnt all the basic information in it before resorting to desperately scrolling through an iPhone app in the court toilets for salvation. Not litigants in person, who would find it inaccessible and not easy to apply to their own circumstances. This type of information has it's place, but it's not the sort of practical information you'd want at your fingertips in mobile format for quick reference. But then that's the trick with apps - you pays your 59p you takes your chances.

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I noticed that at the head of each page there is the heading 'The Children Act 1989 Guidance and Regulations - Volume 1 - Court Orders' which did not correspond to the title of the app, and I wondered to myself if this was simply a scanned version of a printed publication available elsewhere? I did not see it at the time I downloaded, but the pre-download information now says that this application 'draws directly upon the guidance published by the DCSF - The Children Act 1989, Guidance and Regulations - Volume 1 - Court Orders'. However a quick search on Amazon had already revealed as much when a quick go on this app left me with the distinct impression that this was no more than a pdf version of the some hard copy publication viewable on a very teeny weeny scale. What is noteworthy from Amazon is that the chapter headings in the table of contents are identical to those in the app, with the exception of chapters 4 and 5 which appear in reverse order. However the numbering used in the app is identical to the numbering in the original publication, albeit that the numbers appear out of sequence (i.e. the fourth chapter in the app is called 'Chapter 5 - Secure' which corresponds with Chapter 5 in the DCSF publication). Which rather suggests that this app does more than 'draw directly' upon the guidance. However, I'm not going to waste another £15 on buying the DCSF publication and comparing it word for word just to make a point (even if it is tax deductable) - even at 59p I don't really think this one is value for money. I certainly can't see anything in this app that one couldn't get from the original DCSF book (probably in your local library) or free off the internet.

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It isn't even an accurate statement of the current law (probably because it draws directly on a publication that is 2 years old), stating incorrectly that the route of appeal from the family proceedings court (magistrates court) is to the High Court, when an appeal now lies to the County Court (as of April 2009, 2 months before this app was even published). Routes of appeal might have been the one thing that inexperienced advocates or litigants in person might have wanted to quickly look up whilst at court, and it isn't even accurate. Which for what purports to be a legal guide is a pretty fundamental flaw.

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Although this app is still for sale (search the apps store for 'child law') it is no longer showing as a product on cantaffordalawyer.com or on pixidapps.co.uk. I wonder if this is because they have run into copyright problems or for some other reason. Whatever the reason I wouldn't waste your 59p on this. Beware of this app - or of any lawyer you see relying on an iPhone app for legal research!

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Best iPhone apps at AppStoreHQ

Divorce in Haste Repent at Leisure

Divorce Online offer the 'UK's best selling managed divorce service' for the slender sum of £182. And, their website tells me, this is not the only 'UK's best' they offer: 'We use the UK's fastest divorce court* - We visit the court every working day.' Scroll to the very small print at the bottom to find the asterisk to find that this assertion is 'Based on a survey of 15 divorce courts in September 2008.' I'm pretty sure that there are more than 15 divorce courts in the UK, so I'm a little puzzled about how such a survey could demonstrate the proposition at hand, but anyway...

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I happen to know from my spies (I gossip in court corridors) that 'the fastest divorce court' referred to herein is in fact Swindon County Court, which is not as much as a 2 minute walk from the offices of the providers of the 'UK's fastest selling managed divorce service'. Handy that. Unfortunately, it  is not that Swindon County Court's reputation for speediness precedes it - speed not being characteristically associated with neither HM's fine Court Service in general nor Swindon County Court in particualr. No, this is because it is whispered in the legal lobbies of Swindon that there has been a 40% increase in divorce petitions issued in Swindon, attributable to the UK's fastest growing provider of the UK's fastest divorce who have been issueing the UK's fastest growing number of petitions in any one court. And it seems to be causing a teensy bit of a logjam in the combined court office (I may understate this a tad - chaos certainly appeared to reign when I was last there, but this is a mere snapshot and no doubt is at least in part due to the more resource and structural difficulties that is endemic in HMCS). But really - Oops. As if the poor HMCS staff have any spare capacity.

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So I'd guess that Swindon is no longer 'the fastest divorce in the west'. If it ever was. And in fact I wonder if things might get rather worse before they get better since the Family Proceedings Rules provide that any Children Act application issued whilst a petition is pending (or for a period thereafter) must be issued in the court seized of that petition (although this rule is I acknowledge that this particular rule is often ignored). So for all those happy beneficiaries of the fastest divorce who live in Newcastle or Ipswich (or wherever else is miles from Swindon) and who discover some way down the line that the process of separation is not quite as straightforward as handing over 180 smackers and a-wham-bang-thankyou-ma'am it's all done - whilst the divorce may be a snip and a snap, there may be  some irritating delay caused further down the line when their application to resolve the dispute about the kids has to be issued in Swindon and then delayed for transfer to the court where the child actually lives. If they're lucky they'll avoid having to attend any hearings miles away from home (you can't attend a hearing via the internet). And whilst I wish them well, I reckon Divorce Online may soon be able to add 'Swindon County Court's most un-favourite outfit' to their list of fastest and best.

Facebook Families

I am beginning to think that an understanding of Facebook and social media will have to form a part of a family practitioner's annual CPD requirements. Here are a few of the ways that I have seen facebook, myspace and other similar websites crop up in a court or family context:

  • public arguments between couples over facebook (yes really - in fact between an old school friend and his (probably now ex-) partner, ending with each commenting on the other's status that they should 'grow up' and 'get a life'.  Quite.
  • evidence of a mother being involved in a relationship with a sex offender serving a prison sentence, which was relied on to demonstrate an ongoing risk of harm to the child concerned
  • as a mechanism for harassment and threats against an ex partner
  • as evidence of teenage children's wishes regarding contact where the parents were highly conflicted and the resident parent said they were adamantly opposed to contact
  • as a mechanism for indirect contact
  • as evidence of lifestyle and hence financial non-disclosure
  • as a way of continuing a dispute about contact with a child by posting negative remarks about the resident mother on the child's myspace page and circulating emails / comments about the case to the myspace friends - a dispute then arising as to the mother's refusal to allow the father access to the child's myspace page by changing the privacy settings
  • in connection with discussions about how a parent publishing comparatively 'harmless' information about a child involved in proceedings might involve a breach of the rules regarding disclosure of information regarding proceedings concerning children.

Yes, social media pops up in cases of all sorts: finance, children (public and private) and injunction proceedings. You cannot get away from it, even in the midst of a paper obsessed profession like law.

We're some way off I think from blogging or tweeting in court, but it pays to have a little bit of a clue about web 2.0 - issues like those above are bound to crop up with increasing frequency and questions of access to and disclosure of data from third parties like Facebook (or similar) in order to prove assorted allegations are likely to arise sooner or later. Has anybody yet dealt with such a case I wonder?