Delay Repay

In the golden age of rail travel when I were a lad I didn’t need to worry about delay repay. A train delay was a rarity that could be borne with equanimity, even if one couldn’t easily spell it.

Now, it is a point of principle that on every delayed journey (which, let’s face it is every journey taken) I sit and complete the delay repay claim for the previous delayed journey. If the train wifi is up to it. Which it usually isn’t.

There is a serious point here. Two actually. A toofer bonus.

Firstly, a reminder to those who are more junior than me that this is available (I’m sure you already know it), and you should claim for your travel delays where you can. Although I am still currently twitching about a scarring experience involving a fight to the death between Cross Country and Aviva West Coast as to who would compensate me for the rare but wasted first class ticket I bought on the day of the big storm (I know, I practically caused the national rail disruption by stupidly buying a first class ticket) – resolved yesterday when Cross Country realised that it was cheaper to cough up than to keep trying to fob me off or pass me back to Aviva – it is generally an efficient and straightforward process. And you have to cut your overheads where you can.

Secondly, a mischievous thought…. wouldn’t it be great if we could do a delay repay claim every time we go to court and end up hanging around or get adjourned off for ‘no judge’? I suppose perhaps that might have been more justifiable in the days of the block list, which are no longer de rigeur, but perhaps the delay repay idea could be deployed to compensate us for trials prepped for but which never seem to arrive at platform? Always tantalisingly 6 minutes away, so one needs to be prepped and ready to embark, but suddenly shows as cancelled just as you think its definitely coming around the bend. No doubt a big plus point in favour of the adoption of this wheeze would be that delay repay is administered via portal. And as we all know, portals are the answer to pretty much everything. Even if they work about as reliably as the rail network on a stormy day in November…

Actually, being slightly more serious – the government has apparently realised it might need to pay travel expenses to QLRs. See recently published Government response to the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s Report on The Family Court and domestic abuse, published last week. At last. But take care. The response refers only to QLRs travelling outside of their local area to meet demand (none of those terms are defined) and says that ‘To help address this issue and in recognition of the added cost of this travel, the Government will legislate to introduce a travel expense policy for QLRs which will enable recovery of travel expenses in certain circumstances. Further information about this policy will be provided in due course.’ I doubt this will really reliably defray travel costs for QLRs without hassle and risk of justifying why this QLR was needed to travel to this court and why they couldn’t have walked to get there. the QLR scheme could also do with taking a leaf out of the delay repay model on other fronts – over on the transparency project blog one commentator points out that the LAA are refusing claims for XX Prep to QLRs where for reasons outside their control they have attended a xx hearing but no xx has taken place. Boo hiss to that.

Meanwhile, HMCTS seem finally to have taken my hints that their data management in respect of the QLR lists is shockingly bad, and the constant flow of emails begging me to travel to Bournemouth for no money (where I never signed up) seems to have slowed. But possibly only because its a weekend (not that the fact its a weekend has stopped them before). With bus like predictability, I had 6 land all at once in my inbox on Friday, but my usual Saturday smattering of requests for me to travel is strangely absent.

The sad thing about delay repay is that it is utterly ineffective. Its purpose and effect is (presumably) supposed to be incentivising train companies to run efficient and timely services so as to avoid the eyewatering levels of compensation that they are obliged to shell out if they don’t get it right. That is of course because it is a crude mechanism and the reasons for delays are multifactorial and complicated. But I do wonder, if we were properly compensated for all the wasted (and unpaid) hours we spend on cases that don’t go ahead for reasons outside our control, whether perhaps the system would magically run better. Or if not, at least we would be slightly less worn down by the endless hours we spend sitting miserably, waiting to get to our destination when we should be at home with our families.

Love the one you’re with

Showing my age there, using *that* song title as a name for my post…

But then, I am getting pretty ancient. As evidenced by the fact that this month we hit our 23rd wedding anniversary. I say hit, it was more the sort of dull thud that a pigeon makes when it knocks itself out careening into your patio doors. Once again, we’ve postponed the celebration, romantic weekend away bit of the anniversary. Other things seem more important right now and people need our attention. But we did manage to exchange cards a week after the actual anniversary, and to share a bottle of fizz before collapsing on the sofa in a snooze pile.

We family lawyers spend most of our time immersed in other people’s relationship breakdowns, how it happened and how it has affected the family. I’ve been surrounded by broken relationships for almost as long as I’ve been married (I started my legal training the week after I got married, skipping the first week’s lectures to tie the knot).

We have a running joke in our house “Right, that’s going in the divorce petition”. Or we did, until no fault divorce came along and stopped our fun. (I know, lawyers have a rum sense of humour.) But in truth, continually seeing other people come to the horrible realisation that leaving their partner hasn’t miraculously made their life a bed of roses (understatement) is a good incentive for working through the problems in your own relationship. I know what the alternate reality looks like. Or at least I know what it looks like when it goes badly enough wrong for people to need a lawyer like me. As I say, it’s quite a good motivator. The grass is not always greener, and at least the frying pan is non-stick.

Actually, as Joni once sang, the frying pan has been a bit too wide lately. Because for ten days last month I was the sole responsible adult at home, as my other half had to fly abroad to be with family. In fact, it isn’t that unusual for us to be apart, as I am often away with work (and have largely. been away since he got back). But when I’m away all I have to worry about is work – I know that he’s there sorting everything out. And that when I get home late he will have plated up some soul food, because he knows I will only have eaten crap on the train. This trip to the states was the first time that he has been away without me for more than a couple of days, and when I’ve been left home alone with the dog and kids for such a sustained period. In fact, it is the longest we have ever spent apart since we met in 1998.

I grumble often about all the things my husband doesn’t do whilst I’m at work. I often have to internally tell myself off for thinking like some sort of throwback husband: ‘What on earth does s/he do all day while I’m bread-winning?’. But this stint was a useful reminder that a lot of the things I take for granted are not in fact the work of the fairies. Because I checked everywhere: there are no fairies. Just me. To shop, tidy, clean, feed, walk, ferry, visit, console, liase, cajole, sort, dispose of and occasionally touch in with the day job.

I’ll be honest, as the day of his outbound flight arrived I was slightly bricking it. Many working parents are juggling this stuff day in day out, but in our household things work (just) because there are two of us and we divide things up. Being responsible for all of it and having no wingman is daunting. In fact I did alright – we were all still alive and speaking  when he got back – but I was knackered. And it was only just over a week.

Anyway, the point is this: I have a revived appreciation of my lovely husband. Behind every newly minted KC is a very tired Mr KC.

Actually, that isn’t the point. The real point is that I missed him like hell. We have our different roles in the house, our different strengths and weaknesses (he never cleans the loo, I overload the dishwasher), and each of us does things that annoy the hell out of the other (he says ‘Yes Maaam’ in a loud obnoxious voice because he knows it makes me mad, and I interrupt him alllll the time). But I missed him teasing, annoying and looking after me. Plus by day 8 I’d run out of easy recipes, and the food waste caddy was stinky and full.

Never let it be said divorce lawyers aren’t romantic.

No Frills Justice – Part 2

This is part 2 of a post about my observations at Central London Family Court in September 2023.

In part 1 I described the first hearing I observed, Here I tell you about the second case I observed and make some general comments about my experience as a legal blogger.

So, back to the third floor of the CFC. At the end of part 1 I left you at the door of court as everyone in the first case had all dispersed…


Shortly after, the other 2pm case in the list is called on. The clerk has enthusiastically shooed me into court with one hand whilst shooing the parties away with the other, so I exchange a polite greeting with the judge and sit for a minute or so in awkward silence in court before the parties and their lawyers come in. This case is showing on the list as an interim care order removal hearing, but it takes me a few minutes to work out who is who and why the matter is at court.


I piece together that the case is about a child, Brianna*, approaching secondary school age who has been living with her grandmother under a special guardianship order for most of her childhood. Her mother is missing in action, thought to be street homeless, but her father is present at court with his mum, the special guardian grandmother. He has recently had a positive drug test for crack and other drugs, but is said to be seeking support. He lives with his mum and daughter and appears to have been quite involved. The last year has been a difficult year for the family because the grandmother and head of the household has developed a condition which affects her memory and ability to live independently. She now has a substantial care package to support the wider family in looking after her. She has come to court today with her daughter, Brianna’s aunt. The aunt has been given permission to sit in court beside her mum, and at times is invited to speak on her mother’s behalf, and to express her own views as a part of the family. Because the hearing has been arranged at short notice the grandmother doesn’t have a lawyer, though arrangements are put in train for that to be sorted before the next hearing. The aunt tells the judge that Brianna comes to stay with her on weekends, and she sees her daily, but her job means she is unable to look after her full time. Asked if her mother is able to speak on her own behalf, she says ‘maybe. She has moments’. The grandmother manages a few words: ‘Don’t like it but yeah Its best thing for [Brianna]. She was upset but not my fault I got this condition.’


The situation is desperately sad. The family have done their best to pull together as the situation has unfolded, but by the time they reach court it appears they all accept that it isn’t sustainable, and Brianna will need to move. On the horizon it seems, is a time when the grandmother will be unable to manage in her own home and will need to move, presumably to supported living.


The silver lining for Brianna is that she has some older siblings who live in the South West and who are cared for by a family friend. Brianna knows them and spends time with them in holidays and they can look after her. But it means a school move, and Brianna is anxious about that. The local authority want to share parental responsibility, which makes sense because it sounds as if there is some doubt that the grandmother can exercise her parental responsibility at all times.


The judge deals first with making sure that Brianna’s mother knows what is happening. He makes an order for the Department for Work and Pensions to provide any address they hold for the mother, although everyone is doubtful this will be a very effective way of finding the mother if she really is street homeless.


Next, he asks the local authority lawyer to summarise the position, as he knows the family won’t have had time to read the case summary. The barrister explains a bit about the background as described earlier, and is at pains to say that the grandmother has done a very good job until she fell ill, and that it recognises that the need for an order is through no fault of the grandmother. He explains that social services had been prepared to carry on with a plan of family and professional support until arrangements were able to be made for Brianna’s siblings and their carer to move to the London area in a few months time, but because of the working commitments of the father and his sister there were times when Brianna was alone with her grandmother, which were now felt not to be safe. They were seeking an order to be able to move Brianna to live with her siblings straight away, but on the basis that they would come back to the London area when able.


The judge was invited to grant the father parental responsibility given how involved he had been with Brianna, and to join him formally as a party. The judge made both orders.


The local authority acknowledged that, due to her difficulties, most discussions had been held with the adults in the family as a group rather than with the grandmother in her own right. The barrister suggested that her capacity to instruct a lawyer and to participate in the court case should be assessed before she is expected to put anything in writing formally.


The father’s lawyer indicated that whilst she formally acted on behalf of the father, she was instructed to put forward a view on behalf of the family as a whole too. Through her, the family acknowledged the concerns and that the needs of Brianna could not be fully met in the current situation. It was acknowledged that the grandmother’s likely move would place the father’s own accommodation at risk. He accepted the drug test results, though made clear that he did not use around the child. Understandably, he did not consent to the move, but he didn’t oppose it either. He was worried about the unresolved issues of schooling.


Although the outcome seemed pretty inevitable given what I’d heard of the issues and the family’s position, the judge was careful to make sure that the interim arrangements for education, contact and other matters were as clear as could be, and wanted to explore some confusion over the likely school and timing of a further move. He also made sure to satisfy himself that although there would be some disruption and uncertainty Brianna was not moving to complete strangers, but to family and people she viewed as family, and whose home she was familiar with.


The judge delivered a short judgment setting out the facts and the law. He made arrangements for a next hearing, with the new carer to be involved, and set the wheels in motion for assessment of her. To my surprise the LA said they only needed six weeks to do that.


The judge added a post script to the grandmother, acknowledging that she had been unable to fully participate and directing that at the next hearing the judge would specifically consider how she could be supported to be part of the proceedings.


Again, sorting out arrangements for me to report was pretty straightforward – the father was a little surprised at the suggestion I might report, because he had been involved in proceedings before where this did not happen. In this case the judge expressed some anxiety about a risk of identification of the family if I named the local authority, and I was happy to agree not to name them. Again, I don’t think the identity of the local authority matters to this pen picture of an ordinary account of an ordinary afternoon in Central London Family Court.


Legal blogging experience


On this occasion I attended without any real notice, but I did let the usher know just before lunch that I was planning to attend 2 hearings, and provided my paperwork to him in readiness (he was so keen to take the papers I was thrusting at him that he was almost gone before I had a chance to explain I was a legal blogger – I think he thought I was a solicitor handing in a case summary). We exchanged email addresses and within a few minutes I was told that the judge had ok’d my attendance. I introduced myself to the lawyers for both local authorities once signed in, in the expectation that they would cascade that information down to the other advocates who could take instructions (it can be intrusive to go knocking on the door of lawyers involved in discussions with family members, as well as hard to find all the right people!) but in fact this didn’t happen and so I decided to let some of the other lawyers know I was present when they were signing in. One said to me ‘what’s a legal blogger? Are you a lawyer?’, so I gave her the relevant rule to look at. There was no hostility or real objection to my attendance or reporting, and the judge handled my attendance smoothly and with minimal fuss. I’m confident my attendance didn’t detract from the parties’ ability to engage or the judge’s ability to deal with the cases.


I was able to obtain a copy of the relevant parts of the order confirming my permission to report without difficulty, although I did subsequently note that one order suggests the judge had granted permission for me to attend, which is not strictly correct. I was entitled to attend and nobody objected.


*The child’s name has been changed