Monthly Archives: November 2013

Paving the way to equality for parents

nuclearOn my way to work this morning I was listening to the radio and heard that the government has committed to introducing a year of shared leave for new parents by April 2015. This means both fathers and mothers. Revolutionary? Well, certainly a step in the right direction (I would say).

Essentially this new arrangement will mean that the current existing 52 weeks of maternity leave, other than the first two weeks which are specifically for a new mother’s recovery, will be shared between parents. This will be replacing the current system, which was introduced in April 2011, whereby mothers and fathers are able to share some of the existing 52 weeks’ leave with the father being able to take up to 6 months of this, after their child is 20 weeks old. However, in the old system, any child leave can only be taken as one single block. The new arrangement would essentially mean that this “single block” problem is diminished. Mothers and fathers will be able to share the remaining 50 weeks between them as they like by taking the leave in turns, in different blocks if needed.

Equalities Minister Jo Swinson outlined a scenario where a mother would be happy to return to work for “four or five weeks” to assist during busy periods such as Christmas time (similar to how this is the busiest period for elves who have to work for Santa). However, if a mother was to do this, then she would lose all her maternity rights from this point onwards. The new arrangement would fix this.

Businesses will have to agree any proposed pattern of time off and will be able to retain the right to insist the time to be confined to a continuous block with no more than two subsequent changes.

Nick Clegg has stated that “Women deserve the right to pursue their goals and not feel they have to choose between having a successful career or having a baby,” And, don’t we all agree with that? I would say, that the way society is moulded has meant that women feel they have to choose between a career and a family. This clearly should not be the case and these new reforms should be welcomed. Obviously, one of the main drawbacks and restraints ofd the new arrangement is that many couples may not be able to afford to take the leave. Arguably, if the arrangement was paired with better pay then it may be more attractive. However, on the face of it, providing mothers and fathers with more flexibility in the workforce when they want to start a family is definitely the way forward.

This new arrangement would give fathers a better opportunity to be involved in their baby’s first few months. It cannot be denied that the traditional nuclear family where the mother is the homemaker and the father is the breadwinner is still the norm. The idea of shared parental leave should be welcomed. Because essentially, why not? Who wants to be conforming to the past with the traditional nuclear family ideal? This type of change is good and provides for more flexibility. And as Nick Clegg says, “there shouldn’t’ be a one size fits all approach”- each family is different and this scheme caters for a lot of different families.

And on that note, it’s a wrap at Stowe Family Law today. Hope you all have a lovely weekend and bring December in, in style!!

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It’s time for some CPD!

8123525335_78c5081e50_mToday at Stowe Family Law office in Harrogate we are hosting a CPD talk on Costs brought to us by Ian Cosgrove. And so I thought it an apt time to talk about the CPD scheme, because as would be lawyers it is vital that we know what is ahead of us.

As a solicitor, and a barrister, you will be required to gain a number of CPD points per year whilst practicing. CPD stands for Continued Professional Development, the scheme was set up in 1985. The scheme encourages solicitors to take responsibility for their own professional development by choosing from the wide range of activities that can be pursued in order to meet the yearly CPD requirement. The SRA, Solicitors Regulation Authority, states that ‘All solicitors and registered European lawyers (RELs) who

  • are in legal practice or employment in England and Wales, and
  • work 32 hours or more per week

are required to complete a minimum of 16 hours of CPD per year; at least 25 per cent must consist of participation in accredited training courses.’

This is enforced by SRA Training Regulations 2011 Part 3 – CPD Regulations. Regulation 2.2 states ‘All solicitors and RELs are required to undertake CPD. Non-compliance could lead to disciplinary procedures and/or delays in the issue of your practising certificate.’  Regulation 3.2 goes on to say that if you work part time the required hours will be reduced accordingly.

CPD courses can cover a range of subjects, such as Accounts and Finance, Administrative and Public Law, Advocacy, Agricultural Law, Alternative Dispute Resolution, Arbitration, Banking Law, Civil Litigation, Client Care, Costs, Courts and Tribunals, Education Law, Family Law, Highways, Investment, Legal aid, Police Station Accreditation, Welfare Benefits, and many more. The SRA have a helpful online tool that allows you to find an accredited CPD provider who is covering a specific topic: Whilst the Law Society provides a CPD directory:

Whilst the idea is that the CPD scheme results in lawyers with sufficient training, who keep abreast of current legal issues (something every lawyer should arguably be doing any way), and are thus better practitioners. However, not everyone agrees with this approach, arguing that the one-size fits all model of CPD is not an appropriate way of dealing with continued training. The argument is that every individuals personal development needs are unique and the law is in a continual state of flux so one-size doesn’t fit all. Stephen Mayson makes some good points in his article entitled ‘CPD: compliance, competence or development?’ which can be found here:

I, as a trainee am not currently required to take part in CPD talks, if only because my professional development is far from stagnant: I am participating in on the job, hands on training, whilst also completing my PSC courses. But I am allowed to attend and I relish in the opportunity to learn something new and increase my understanding of the law. It may be that one-size doesn’t fit all, but for now one-size is definitely better than nothing at all.

Photo by YODspica via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Clare’s Law

8408114145_98722c7d1d_mMy day today has been somewhat steady. I decided to eat lunch at my desk at the Stowe Family Law office in Harrogate, during which I was scrolling through my twitter application on my phone and I noticed an interesting BBC News article entitled: Clare’s Law to cover all of England and Wales after pilot scheme. I had previously heard of the case of Clare Wood way back in 2009 whilst in my second year of my undergraduate degree. I vaguely remember watching the news report about the thirty six year old woman who was killed by her boyfriend, George Appleton, just 72 hours after the police released him. Since this fateful day Clare’s father has campaigned tirelessly to ensure that women receive more protection against domestic violence.

Domestic violence figures speak for themselves with on average two women a week being killed by their current or former partners, according to Womens Aid. Clare Wood was unaware of her partners history of violence against women and this, her father argues contributed to her death. The idea is that if women knew of their partners violent past prior to beginning a long term relationship with them many women would be saved.  The Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme aims to enable individuals to check the police record of their partners past violent behaviour. In October 2011 The Home Secretary, Theresa May spoke to The Sun stating that: “This scheme would be based on recognised and consistent processes that could enable new partners of previously violent suspects to know more about their partner’s history of abuse… They could then make informed choices about how and whether they take that relationship forward.”

The Scheme has already been piloted across Greater Manchester, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire and Gwent since September 2012. The Scheme is now to be extended across England and Wales, with the aim of it being in place by March 2014. Under the Scheme the police could take up to 5 weeks to disclose the requested information and the individuals requesting such information would be warned that repeating it to others could result in them committing an offence. According to the BBC report “the disclosure of people’s history of domestic violence can be triggered in two ways: 1. The Right-to-Ask: the law will allow people to apply to police forces in England and Wales for information on a partner’s history of domestic violence; and 2. The Right-to-Know: police can proactively disclose information in prescribed circumstances. A panel of police, probation services and other agencies will then check every request to ensure it is necessary before trained police officers and advisers would then provide support to victims.”

Whilst on the face of it this appears to be a great idea there are a number of individuals and organisations who oppose the move, most surprisingly Refuge, a charity which helps victims of domestic violence. Refuge claim that the Scheme could waste much needed police resources. Other critics claim that it could lead to malicious requests, could result in a waste of government money and an onus being placed upon women. We always hear the question ‘why didn’t she leave?’, with women now arguably having the knowledge of their partners past some organisations believe that ‘it’s going to be a way for agencies to absolve looking at themselves and blaming themselves and place that at the woman’s door.’ (Ingala Smith, Chief executive of domestic violence charity NIA, speaking to the Daily Telegraph).

Clare’s fathers only hope is ‘that at the very least there is going to be a substantial drop in the death figures.’

The following articles are of interest within this debate and are definitely worth a look:

Photo by BC Gov Photos via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Preparing for my LPC


This week one of the partners at the Leeds office and I, made our way to the Barristers chambers. Although, I was prepared to work hard in the meeting, and ensure that I took a detailed attendance note, I was not prepared for the harsh winds outside. Note to self, appropriate winter work shoes are needed as soon as possible.

I had been reviewing the case file at the beginning of the week, and was looking forward to hear the instructed barrister’s thoughts on the case. Conferences with counsel are held so that the barrister can meet with the client, seek further information about the case, and advise on the prospects of success. They would also recommend the steps that need to be taken to prepare for the hearing. Today was our client’s last conference before they will be attending the final hearing in a few weeks.

Thankfully, I have been given the opportunity to attend the hearing, so will get to see how the case concludes. I really am getting some invaluable experience at the firm. Attending meetings, conferences and hearings is enabling me to get a real feel for the life of a solicitor. I feel that it is also preparing me for the LPC, which I intend to start in the coming months. Doing a law degree can only prepare you for the legal profession in part, this is because the course does not teach one what law is like in practice. Those wanting to pursue a career in law must complete the LPC (Legal Practice Course) and following that, a training contract.  To find out more about trainee contracts, take a look at ‘Time to Review Stowe Family Law training contracts’.

The LPC gives you the essential training needed to become a qualified solicitor. It will act as a bridge between my life in academia and the professional life at a law firm. The aim of the course is to provide the legal knowledge and skills to thrive in today’s market. Indeed, the school where I will be doing the course focuses on the all round legal skills and commercial awareness that employers seek. In attaining these qualities, I hope to cement my place at Stowe Family law!

I know that the course will not be an easy one. I have friends who are now qualified lawyers that have informed me that it is extremely intense. I am most definitely up for the challenge, however this may not stop me asking my ‘co-bloggers’, Zoe and Becca for some useful tips! On that note, I’d like to wish Becca good look in her upcoming exams (not that you will need it).

Have a good weekend all!

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What’s in a Form H

formsToday, I sat down with our paralegal Hayley to have my first look at a Form H. A Form H is a document that is filled in prior to a first appointment or an FDR in which the costs up to the appropriate stage are detailed. FPR 9.27 states that at ‘every hearing or appointment each party must produce to the court an estimate of the costs incurred by that party up to the date of that hearing or appointment.’ It also states that ‘Not less than 14 days before the date fixed for the final hearing of an application for a financial remedy, each party (“the filing party”) must (unless the court directs otherwise) file with the court and serve on each other party a statement giving full particulars of all costs in respect of the proceedings which the filing party has incurred or expects to incur, to enable the court to take account of the parties’ liabilities for costs when deciding what order (if any) to make for a financial remedy.’ The latter part of this FPR is in reference to a Form H1, which is a slightly more complex form that is prepared in readiness for the final hearing.

An example of a Form H can be found here: Like all forms within family law, and I imagine various other areas of law the first things to fill in are the names of the applicant and respondent, the name of the court, the case number, and the name of the client you are entering the form on behalf of. Next the Form H asks you for the date of the hearing, all of this is pretty simple to complete. The following section on the front page is a summary section in which you input the grand total. On some programmes this is a self-filling page, i.e. you fill in the rest of the form and it calculates the grand total for you, which is always a help. Underneath the summary are a number of boxes where the solicitor on the case must sign, write the date, state the name of the firm and the case reference number. On the following page comes the more difficult bit. The form itself is pretty straightforward; it is the calculations you are required to do to get to the figures for the form that can be the tricky bit.

Section A deals with costs incurred in the financial remedy proceedings prior to the issue of the Form A and Section B deals with costs incurred after the issue of the Form A until this point in the trial. The inputting of these figures means that you must trawl through every cost incurred on a case and calculate them accordingly, adding VAT as you go. Once you have inputted the single figures the grand total will update and you are ready for the solicitor in charge of the case to review it and sign it off.

I think I am making it sound a lot simpler than it actually is. But for now, until I tackle a more complex form H or a form H1 I am simply going to be pleased that I have the foundations upon which to build.

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It is not just about the gift of the gab

megaphoneToday is one of those days when you wish you could wear a onesie to work. It is freezing outside but on the plus side I was able to attend a client meeting today and have already started to liaise with that client.

The matter involves preparing my first Form E, which to all those non-aspiring family lawyers is probably not that exciting. But for me, I cannot wait to jump right in and start it. I will not go into detail about Form E’s as Zoe has written a fabulous blog post about her first time preparing a Form E, which can be found here:

However, what I will start to talk to you about is client contact. One of the main reasons why I wanted to start a career in family law was because of the amount of client contact I thought I would be able to have. From witnessing the solicitors I work with I can tell that there is certainly a large amount of client contact. Since I am only a paralegal I did not expect to have as much client contact as I have had so far. And this is why I am loving working for Stowe Family Law. I am embracing the opportunities I have to communicate with clients and when the prospect arises to attend client meetings I am ecstatic.

Clearly in a family law firm the importance of client contact is heightened. It is what occurs almost daily in such a firm- emails, phone calls and meetings with clients. It seems to never stop. And this is what is so great about a family law firm.

However, lawyers have to possess certain skills when communicating with clients.  It is not just about having the required legal knowledge to be able to advise clients but being able to possess particular interpersonal skills. It is essential to be able to use appropriate communication methods when conversing with clients. Solicitors’ should not use legal jargon when speaking to clients and must be able to explain matters clearly, concisely and comprehensively. As much as I love talking (I was one of those that always got told off at school for chatting too much); it is quite different when it comes to a meeting with a client. It is a certain skill to be able to conduct a competent interview and I know that I have lots to learn. Although what is certainly helping me is the fact that I am able to attend client meetings with the solicitors in the firm and so I am learning new tips every day.

I must say that attending client’s meetings should certainly help me with my LPC interviewing exam in the next few weeks. If I am able to perform like any of the solicitors’ here- I should pass with flying colours.

Image by LarimdaME

Telephone Hearings

7670182720_26bf8cb333_mMy day began with emails and telephone calls chasing up various clients, counsel and opposing solicitors. Following this I began to tackle the pile of work I came in to find on my desk. Top of the pile was to arrange a 5 way telephone hearing. I had no idea where to start; luckily one of the secretaries at Stowe Family Law LLP was on hand to help and forwarded me the number to call to set up the telephone hearing.

Telephone hearings in civil hearings were introduced in 1999 as part of the Civil Justice Reforms following Lord Woolf’s Review of the civil justice system in England and Wales. The procedures for such hearings can be found under Practice Direction (PD) 23 of the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR). PD 6.2 states that all suitable hearings will be conducted by telephone. Hearings that may be held by telephone include allocation hearings, listing hearings, case management hearings, interim applications with a time estimate of no more than one hour and any other application, with the consent of all the parties and the agreement of the court. Hearings that are inappropriate for telephone hearings include those where all of the parties are unrepresented or where there are four or more parties that wish to make representations at the hearing.

The service provider used to facilitate a telephone hearing has to be an approved service provider as indicated in PD 6.10 (1). I, therefore, telephone our approved services provider, log in to our account and set up the telephone hearing; I give the names of each person to be contacted and the respective telephone numbers. It is best practice to have the Judge last on the list, so that the service provider contacts the Judge once everyone else is on the line.

On the day the service provider will call each participant in turn and thus set up a conference style call. The call will be recorded and stored by the service provider. A request should then be made for the transcript.

Once set up I email the confirmation of the hearing over to the solicitor in charge of the case and begin to tackle the rest of the mounting work I have. As the day winds down one of my colleagues walks in to my office beaming from ear to ear and informs me that she has just become an aunty for the second time. Emmy Elizabeth was born this afternoon and apparently her brother William is very proud.

For more information on telephone hearings please visit:

Photo by zigazou76 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Financial Dispute Resolution and a Brief to Counsel.

3392023998_c0830ce282_nWell, it is 5pm and it is already pitch black outside. I have successfully cleared most of my desk this morning and for once it is looking relatively empty, I doubt it will remain this way for very long. I have spent most of the day preparing a brief to counsel for a Financial Dispute Resolution hearing.

A Financial Dispute Resolution (FDR) is a court hearing during which the parties are assisted in reaching a settlement, obviously a case doesn’t always settle at this stage, but the aim is to encourage settlement. A FDR takes place in a courtroom, although it is not a courtroom as you would imagine, it is normally a smaller room in which the parties and their representation sit at two tables and the Judge heads the tables. The parties are required to sit and listen to the arguments put forward on their behalf and those put forward on the behalf of the other party. The Judge may have read position statements from each party before the hearing and it is possible that the parties have already engaged in some form of negotiation prior to going before the Judge.  Once the Judge has heard all arguments he/she will indicate how the case is likely to play out and the stance that a Judge may take at the Final Hearing. Once the Judge has given his indication the parties will retire from the courtroom and engage in further negotiation.

Should the parties successfully negotiate a position and settle, a consent order will be drawn and they will go before the Judge in order to get it approved. A successful outcome means that each party is now free to continue with their lives. However, as I said cases do not always settle at this point, although the parties may come closer to bridging the gap between their current positions. It may be that negotiation will then continue and settlement may be reached prior to the Final Hearing. An unsuccessful outcome does however have the issue of surmounting legal costs as the case progresses to Final Hearing, something for another blog post.

The brief to counsel for such a hearing is extremely important. The Judge will only hear what Counsel have to say and therefore if counsel is uninformed or missing information then they could easily not put a vital point to the Judge. So I finally take the over 400 page document down to the legal secretary for her to attach a covering letter and DX, and it is now time to go home. As I say it is already dark outside so I think it is time for a brisk walk home and a cosy night in.

Marilyn Stowe wrote an interesting blog post on FDR’s, which can be found at:

Photo by nojhan via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Recommendations published by the Private Law Working Group to change Private Child Law?

SFLS-300x197I have had a somewhat stressful and hectic day today at Stowe Family Law LLP, with being out of the office yesterday and today being the last day before the weekend everything piled up. I doubt it will be my last stressful day in the job either.  With the end drawing near now I have a little time to reflect on an article I read this morning in reference to the recommendation of a new Child Arrangements Programme. My phone buzzed this morning as my friend sent the article over to me, we had been discussing a topic close to this subject a couple of days ago and she thought it may be of interest to me. The article itself can be found at

The recommendation was made by the Private Law Working Group which was set up in August 2013 by the President of the Family Division. The main objective of the group is to ‘assist families to reach safe agreements where possible out of the court setting. If parents/families are unable to reach agreement, and a court application is made, the Child Arrangement Programme encourages swift resolution of the dispute through the court.’

The Private Law Working Group have also suggested some changes, which they believe are necessary, to the current practice and procedure of Private Family Law in relation to children. These changes being:

(a)    The launch of The Family Court (specifically Allocation and Gatekeeping arrangements) in April 2014;

(b)   The likely requirement for applicants to attend for Mediation Information and Assessment Meetings (‘MIAMs’) (currently Clause 10 of the Children and Families Bill 2013), and the increased emphasis of dispute resolution outside the court process;

(c)    The impact of the scope changes in public funding for litigants in private law cases, following the implementation of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO) 2012 in April 2013;

(d)   The likely change in terminology for private law orders (currently Clause 12 of the Children & Families Bill 2013).

Further the group aims to promote mediation; identify key resources for litigants to access the services they require e.g for mediation; to reiterate the important for litigants to attend mediation; work on and build the aspects that are currently working well; and generally meet the needs of those within the system.

The Private Law Working Group also came prepared a number of documents to accompany the Child Arrangement Programme which can be found at the end of the Family Law Weekly Article.

The recommendations appear to be a step in the direction of further improvement within the area of child law with the focus continually on the child. It will be interesting to see the recommendations in action. In the meantime the The President has welcomed all comments from anyone with an involvement or interest in the family justice system on these proposals.

Mediation appears to be a priority within the further recommendations and this is something Stowe Family Law LLP offer and something I am very interested in. Stowe Family Law Settlements is a specialist family mediation practice which offers high quality mediation services and can be found at

For me however the end of the day is upon me and I am rushing off to pick my friend up from the train station before going to watch the Rugby in Leeds, something I have never done before.


Ignoring the court can land you in prison!

5398546351_035100ff3e_mAs I took my short lunch break today, I decided to eat lunch at my desk in order to get a jump on the work I have to do, I heard the news that a father of two has been committed for contempt of court for failure to comply with a court order to serve his Form E. The case is that of Ball v Shepstone [2013] EWCC 7 (Fam) and the judgement can be found here:

The father, Neil Shepstone, failed to appear at the committal hearing as the judge sentenced him to 14 days imprisonment for failure to comply with the court order. The order was made on the 3rd of October 2013 and had been extended until the 14th of October 2013 to allow Mr Shepstone to submitted his Form E, however he still failed to do so.

This is not the first time that an individual has been sentenced to a prison term for failure to comply with a court order in a family law case, that case of Button v Salama [2013] All ER (D) 61 (Oct) being another recent example. Here the father breached a number of court orders that required him to ‘provide details of, inter alia, the current care arrangements of the child in Egypt, including the name of the person with full primary care and contact telephone details, the address at which she was located, and the current school which she attended. The father was also required to procure the return of the child to the UK.’ Having breached both of these orders the father was sentenced to concurrent terms of six months’ imprisonment for each breach. These sentences were to be served consecutively to the sentences imposed in July 2013 when the father breached previous orders. Further information on this case may be found here:

The fact that the courts appear to be acting in a way that ensures those that break orders within family law cases are adequately reprimanded for doing so, seems to be an attempt to send out a message that ignoring court orders in family law will not be accepted. This message can only be supported by practitioners within the area. The failure to comply with court orders only leads to the expenditure of costs, frustration, time wasting and can often impact on the child at the heart of the case. It is possible to argue that the courts previous inaction could have somewhat encouraged those that wished to break orders to go ahead and do so. The apparent new stance on such action emerging within recent cases seems to stamp out the allusion that the court will not act against those who wilfully break the orders it hands down.

John Bolch, a family law commentator wrote an interesting article about the case of Ball V Shepstone and its effect on financial proceedings on Marilyn Stowe’s blog. This can be found at

Photo by The.Comedian via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.