Faster Family Justice Group
On 18th February we attended the first meeting of 2014 for this group, which consists of representatives of all professionals involved in the Family Justice System, who exchange information about developments and problems in the system. The President attends personally and takes a keen interest in all that is discussed.
Feedback from the regions included concerns about the difficulties in sharing information with wider family members at pre-proceedings meetings, when parents do not consent. If you have any experience of this problem and how to deal with it so as to avoid delay please let us know through the Chairman of the Children’s sub-committee, Janet Bazley QC, who can be contacted on email@example.com
There was a discussion about the difficulties experienced by judges in cases involving Litigants in Person with mental health difficulties. If they cannot afford legal representation and are outside of scope for public funding the Official Solicitor declines to act. There is no funding available for the provision of reports regarding the mental health of the litigants in question and some judges have had to resort to conducting finding of fact hearings on the issue of capacity. Hearings are delayed and when resumed much lengthier than they should be and judges are placed in great difficulty in seeking to achieve the appropriate outcome. The precise number of grants of public funding under the ‘exceptionality clause’ (section 10 of LASPO) is not clear but on any view it is exceptionally low. It is beyond comprehension that cases such as these are not considered to be exceptional. A representative from the MoJ indicated that there is an ongoing discussion at the MoJ about the application of section 10 to cases where litigants do not have capacity. Let us hope that common sense prevails in such cases and others, such as where a respondent to allegations of physical and/or sexual abuse is unrepresented and the abused party faces cross-examination by the alleged abuser. I am aware that this scenario is not uncommon. May I repeat my request for examples of situations where the removal from scope of private law applications is leading to injustice, delay and greater cost to the taxpayer.
There was reference to delays caused by waiting for prior authority for the instruction of experts in (the increasing number of) cases where higher than the standard rates are sought. A representative from the LAA informed the meeting that 90% of applications are dealt with within 10 days. Does that accord with your experience?
There is a new Family Mediation Council (FMC) website to assist the public in accessing local mediation services through a postcode search. It is funded by the MoJ in an effort to improve referral numbers, which have dropped significantly post LASPO.
Court Bundle: draft revised Practice Direction:
May I remind you that the closing date for responses to the draft (disseminated by email in January) is Friday 28th February. All views and contributions are welcome but please send them by no later than 4 pm on Wednesday.
Queen’s Counsel 2014:
Among the new silks announced on Wednesday 19th February were 5 family practitioners:
Elizabeth McGrath of St. Philip’s Chambers (Birmingham),
Charles Hale of 4, Paper Buildings,
Kathryn Skellorn of St. John’s Chambers (Bristol),
Nicholas Goodwin of Harcourt Chambers and
William Tyler of 32, Bedford Row.
They will be appointed at the silk ceremony on 14th April.
Congratulations to them all.
One Bar: One Voice
You may be aware that an announcement from the MoJ is imminent regarding proposed cuts to fees for criminal work. If that announcement contains no concessions in respect of the many representations that have been made to government, criminal practitioners will be involved in “a day of active unity” on 7th March to mark their concern regarding the adverse effect on the provision of legal services in the criminal justice system. I intend to show our support for their concerns by joining the march to Westminster. Those of the other officers and members of the national committee who are able to attend will do so. It is a matter of personal choice for each barrister and any supportive action you may choose to take must, of course, be in compliance with the Code of Conduct. For those out of London you will need to contact your circuit office for details of how you may show your support.
I am pleased to report that, in response to my request for expressions of interest, 12 names were put forward for co-option. The Constitution provides that one of the co-option places must be available to an employed barrister. That post has been filled by Anne Boustred who is employed by Luton City Council. The committee agreed that the other 3 available posts should be filled by: Amanda Minto of Guildford Chambers, Corinne Iten of Pump Court Chambers and Greg Williams of 4, King’s Bench Walk. They have all been co-opted for a year with effect from 19.2.14. For those of them who show themselves to be particularly active and helpful members of the committee this period may be extended. This is also dependent on the number of members who put themselves forward for co-option next year. Being a useful co-opted member is an excellent way of demonstrating suitability for election as a member of the national committee.
Unfortunately this has not been a straightforward exercise. On the positive side we have a regional Chairman and other officers in Manchester, North Wales & Chester, West Midlands, Bristol, Glos and Somerset, South Wales East and West, Devon & Cornwall, Kent & Sussex, the North East (excluding Yorkshire) and in East Anglia. We await the outcome of an election for the post of Chairman in Yorkshire. On the negative side no one has been nominated for Chairman of the North West (excluding Manchester), East Midlands or Wessex. If you are in practise in any of those regions please take steps to remedy this situation.
Cumberland Lodge weekend 9th to 11th May 2014:
The programme is almost complete. Our Friday evening speaker will be Moor J. On Saturday there will be a panel discussion regarding Transparency: disclosure of documents to the media. The panel consists of Baker J., Sarah Morgan QC, Maud Davis (Co-chair of the ALC) and Jonathan Scherbel-Ball, media specialist from 1, Brick Court. As you know the President intends to publish draft guidance for consultation, probably after Easter. We hope that our discussion and contributions from the floor will provide useful input to that consultation.
Professor Nigel Lowe of Cardiff University will give his overview of the law relating to children. There will be a discussion with Joanna Miles, Fellow and Director of Studies at Trinity College, Cambridge about the implications of the Law Commission report on Matrimonial Property, Needs and Agreements, which will be published on Thursday 27th February. Tim Scott QC will explain the pitfalls of the Maintenance Regulation. On Sunday there will be a practical look at the new Code of Conduct with Rachel Langdale QC and the usual updates on Children, Private law and Public law, and Financial Remedies.
Newcastle conference 22nd November 2014:
The organising committee are well advanced with their programme which looks most interesting. It includes Dr. Cooper, pathologist, speaking about signs of child abuse; Professor Don Grubin, psychiatrist, speaking about the use of polygraph testing is assessing risk to children from sex offenders; John Hayes QC speaking on publicity and transparency, aswell as why (in his view) the Supreme Court got it wrong in Re J.
I look forward to meeting many of you on Friday at the annual dinner at Middle Temple.
Susan Jacklin QC