About the Family Law Week blog

The Family Law Week Blog is a companion site to Family Law Week. It complements the news, cases and articles published on Family Law Week with additional comment and coverage of the wider aspects of family law.

The Blog is edited by Jacqui Gilliatt, of 4 Brick Court and Lucy Reed, of St Johns Chambers.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Who's the Daddy?

I almost missed this piece by Gary Slapper on 17th July >Weird Cases: who's The Daddy so thanks to my colleague rising family law star Louise MacLynn for pointing it out to me. The article put me in mind of an answer given to a friend by a working girl she was cross-examining.

Question: "How long did you know the child's father?"

Answer: "Long enough!"


Family lawyers are rather under-represented on twitter but if you are wondering whether to join and who to follow here are a few suggestions.

Me obviously - gjacqui. Lucy Reed - lucindee. Family Law Week itself - familylawweek. John Bolch - johnbolch & also familylaw. Solicitors - Woolley & Co - woolleyandco, Panonne - TheSolicitors, Fisher Jones Greenwood - FJGSolicitors, Stephensons - Stephensons, Latimer Hinks - LatimerHinks. Barrister Miss Erica Carleton - familybarrister. Divorce support services - ukdivorce, wikivorce, divorceadvice, divorceonlineuk. Other legal twitterers - UKParliament, inner-temple, lawandmore, thedivorceshow.

And though not family lawyers - Geeklawyer, Charonqc, babybarista, timkevan.

Let me know if you are a family lawyer on twitter.

Of course, it had to happen: government guidelines on the use of twitter . Not long before the LSC will have a few paragraphs in the Funding Code.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Interim Removal of Children from their Parents: Re L & Re L-A

The Court of Appeal's judgment in Re L-A has now been published on the main site. I do not take the view that this case has diluted the 'imminent risk of really serious harm' test in approaching interim remmoval (as Ryder J expressed it in Re L ). What their Lordships have said is that Re L did not alter the law in the first place

In my judgment it is clear beyond argument that HHJ Cleary construed paragraph 10 of the decision in Re L as a decision that altered the law and that raised the bar against the applicant local authority. By that evolution he was bound and only the Court of Appeal could unbind him. For the reasons already sketched, that, in my view, was a misdirection. Plainly the judge was wrong to think that the words of Ryder J that there should be an imminent risk of really serious harm prevented him from doing what he instinctively felt the welfare of the children required. That that was his instinct seems to me to be plain from paragraph 160 of his judgment.

Their Lordships did not substitute their own decision for that of the Judge and have remitted the issue of disposal (the LA agreeing that they should do so) saying

Although that is an unattractive course it is a necessity given that in the interim it seems that here have been no fresh causes for concern and that, given some extra support that has been introduced, some improvement has been noted in the mother’s standard of care. Another pragmatic reason is that the local authority recognises that any short term placement should keep these four children together and that they will need time in order to find such a resource.

To my mind, the effect of this judgment when viewed in its entirety is not to suggest that there is anything wrong with Ryder J's formulation of the approach to interim removal but that such cases require careful analysis & consideration of the evidence, particularly in the chronic neglect case, and the reasons cited for disposal indicate just why these cases are so tricky at an interim stage. See my earlier post . There is, perhaps, an argument for saying that the chronic neglect case involves a situation in which children are always at imminent risk of serious harm. But much depends on the nature of the feared harm. Removal might well be justified in the sort of cases where the neglect concerns can be shown to involve a continual series of 'accidents' requiring medical attention or continual rough handling or where a parents' lack of understanding of child care issues generally results in just below par parenting but with occasional potentially very serious issues (such as inability to administer medicine appropriately) or a continued association with a sexual offender. There will remain cases of a much more borderline nature where the court may feel that although the concerns are serious they can be sufficiently contained on an interim basis with an appropriate support package or that at the very least they can be sufficiently contained until a hearing can be organised which provides a proper opportunity for the parents' representatives to read all the papers (usually voluminous in a chronic neglect case) and make representations or even directly challenge limited parts of the evidence which tend to suggest that some critical point has been passed which tips the case over into removal.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Baby Barista and the Art of War

No doubt a number of pupils were secretly rather relieved when the identity of the author of the Time’s Baby Barista blog was finally revealed in the Times to be Tim Kevan so that the finger of suspicion was no longer pointing at them. I have long been a fan of the blog describing its style elsewhere as Henry Cecil on speed. Every new pupil of mine (Natasha, take note) is lent a copy of Brothers-in-Law by Henry Cecil which, although now a little dated, describes the life of a post-war pupil along with some of the more quaint traditions of the bar. The book was also made into a very fine film starring Ian Carmichael & Terry Thomas (and later a radio & tv programme starring Richard Briers) and was one of a series of legal novels written by Henry Cecil who became a Judge in 1949 & used to sit in Clerkenwell & Shoreditch, I believe. I am also rather fond of the follow up book – Daughters-in-Law for obvious reasons. You can buy the books from Amazon

For more pupil lit I would also thoroughly recommend the appropriately named The Pupil by Caro Fraser (Henry Cecil on Viagra?) the first in her delicious serious about Caper Court Chambers and the gorgeously seductive Leo. Caro’s take on lawyers is that we are all crippled inside as she puts it.

If I had any doubts about how the Baby Barista column might stand up as a book (especially as I have read it already) they are entirely dispelled by Baby Barista & the Art of War (which you can also buy from Amazon . The whole is most definitely greater than the sum of its parts and it’s lovely to have it all in one place so you don’t have that feeling you have missed an episode. It’s just as witty on re-reading. And just as much fun trying to match the characters to real life barristers (& please don’t tell me who I remind you of & I will return the courtesy!). But, of course, none of it could be true could it?

One particular passage made me wince. TheBoss to his pupil:
“..we start off in this job with so much potential. The world is our oyster and we can do anything we choose. We then spend years taking ourselves further and further away from the mainstream until we are so specialised that if we were to jump ship there would not even be a life-raft nearby. We are good only for being barristers. Otherwise it’s straight back down to the bottom of the pile aged forty-four”.
Substitute ‘family lawyer’ for ‘barrister’ and it sums up many of the conversations I have been having with family practitioners in recent months.

And SlipperySlope:
“The law’s not about ivory towers or wigs and gowns. It’s about one thing and that’s costs. Not justice. Not rights. Not defending the innocent or prosecuting the guilty. It’s cold, hard, stinking cash. Your time, literally, is money. You sign away your life, but for a price of which even Faust himself would be proud.”

Fortunately, these are atypically bleak moments in an otherwise hugely enjoyable debunking of the world of the Bar. But is Baby Barista really as Machiavellian as he is made out to be? Most of his victims are odious and richly deserve what they get. He has far too soft a spot for OldRuin whose life he saves, returning a brief to do so & upsetting his HeadClerk (is he mad?). He loves his mother despite her embarrassing appearance at the chambers’ tea party bearing cake. Part of his drive to succeed in the tenancy stakes is the desire to keep her from hookey street. And then there is the fragrant Claire for whom he is clearly destined so long as she doesn’t find out the full extent of his shenanigans. If there is a moral to this amoral story perhaps it is that inside every barrister is a nice person trying to get out?

John Bolch’s review

CharonQC's review

GeekLawyer's review

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Law Central: Times law blog

The Times has a law news blog Law Central .

Times Law100

The Times picks its top 100 influential lawyers today and includes Baroness Hale, Nick Mostyn, Judge Isobel Plumstead, Sir Mark Potter & of course Fiona Shackleton.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Judge TV - On BBC Tonight

A BBC programme entitled 'Death of Respect', in which Coleridge J has a part, is being shown tonight at 11.20pm on BBC 2.

The programme, which is about the state of family life in this country, could be well worth watching. It is very unusual for a High Court judge to take part in such a programme. Originally it was intended to go out at prime time; but it is now being shown in the graveyard slot. I for one will be watching to find out what interest it may hold or what controversy it may provoke.
Click here to watch episode 1 on BBC iPlayer

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


Legal Services Commission proposals to cut legal support for vulnerable children and families have been savaged in a damning report from the all-party Justice Select Committee.

The report, published today, concludes that 'proposals for reform were based on incomplete data, [and] a superficial understanding of the supply of legal services in this area'.

The LSC's approach to reform is condemned as 'flawed, weak and inflexible'. It is criticised for a 'conclusions first, evidence after' approach to policy-making, having commissioned Ernst & Young to gather data to inform its thinking after proposing swingeing cuts to the system.

Commenting today, Chairman of the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA), Lucy Theis QC said:
'Surely now the LSC will wake up to reality: its plans for family legal aid are unwelcome, unworkable and unwanted.

'On reading this report, Justice Ministers will realise that the LSC has failed a basic test of competence when it comes to delivering reform.

'The Commissions determination to bulldoze through ill-considered changes without proper evidence or any analysis of the impact upon budget or diversity risks irreparable damage to the protection of vulnerable children and families.

Desmond Browne QC, Chairman of the Bar Council added:
'This is a simply devastating condemnation of the LSC's hapless efforts at reform. It shows that it is not practitioners who have pushed up the cost of legal aid. The LSC’s proposals were based on flawed data and were introduced without any prior assessment of the economic impact or the consequences for women and BME practitioners.

‘As the Committee says, without qualification, this is discriminatory. It is wholly inconsistent with the Government’s desire to see a more diverse pool of advocates from which in time a more diverse judiciary can be appointed.

He added:
'The Committee has endorsed every single one of the concerns of the FLBA and the Bar Council.

‘The Committee has confirmed our warning that there is a serious risk of an exodus of experienced practitioners from publicly-funded family law practice.
'The time has now come for Ministers to act on our concerns. As the Committee says: “there needs to be fundamental change of attitude on the part of the LSC”.'

Monday, 6 July 2009

Dorothea Gartland of 4PB named Outstanding Newcomer in Child Law

Dorothea Gartland, of 4 Paper Buildings, was named as the Association of Lawyers for Children's Outstanding Newcomer in Child Law. The award is made each year after the Hershman / Levy Memorial Lecture, which this year was sponsored by Family Law Week. The other nominees for the award were Jas Tamber and Emma Hollywood.

The lecture itself was presented by the President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter before an audience of over 100 judges, legal professionals and others working within family justice. The speech, Family Justice at the Crossroads, tackled the many resource problems facing family justice and also outlined his plans for temporary local arrangements to ease the burden on CAFCASS. More on this and the full text of the speech can be found on the main Family Law Week website.