Monthly Archives: November 2013

Mulled wine and FDRs

RingsUSEAs I take off my big winter coat I am excited for the day ahead, and equally excited to have escaped the cold breeze outside. Today is another freezing and dark morning, signs that winter is well and truly arriving. I am sure that I am not built for this climate!

I can see the German Market making its annual appearance across the street from our office. I love having a look round each year…and how perfect that I am now working across from it. I suppose the taste of mulled wine and warm pretzels will help to make this winter weather bearable!

But I’m not always making my way to the office. Last week I was fortunate enough to accompany one of the partners to court for an FDR hearing. FDR is a commonly used acronym for the Financial Dispute Resolution hearing. Although I have done my fair share of work experience in the family law field, I had never attended an FDR and I found the process extremely interesting. In the previous week I had read through the case and its complexities and was thus eager to see how the day would pan out.

An FDR is a meeting held in a court and partly with a judge present. The parties involved in the dispute are under an obligation to try to reach an agreement, it is in simple terms a negotiation process. The purpose of FDR hearings is to somehow assist those involved to settle their disputes, in addition avoiding the huge expense of a court trial. If the parties can forge an agreement at the hearing they also avoid the stress which comes with a potential trial.

An FDR is commonly used in matrimonial cases but can also be used to settle financial matters regarding the children of unmarried couples. Before an FDR, the parties exchange disclosure of their finances in a Form E, something which I have come into contact with regularly at the firm. The Form E, in addition to valuations and expert evidence, is collected before the hearing in the hope that the parties will arrive with full knowledge of each other’s finances. The properties involved and information about any other relevant issues relevant to the dispute. This ensures that the solicitors, barristers and clients are in the best position to make arrangements for the future. The instructed barristers negotiate with one another at the hearing, but only agreeing upon an issue when given express consent from the client. A judge can also be seen at the listed time of the hearing, at this point the judge is available to give ‘an indication’ as to what they would order if in the position off deciding the case. This can be particularly useful in concentrating the parties minds on the strengths and weaknesses of their case, thus aiding the negotiations.

Fortunately my first experience of an FDR was a pleasant one, with the parties settling without the need for a judge. We had reached an agreement and it felt very satisfying. I was fascinated by the process and enjoyed seeing the instructed barrister at work. I took great pride knowing that I was working for such a prestigious firm and that we had been able to secure the best possible arrangements for our client.

As I sit at my desk to record the attendance notes of the hearing, the tasks for the day have begun to pile up. I am now in the warmth, hot chocolate in hand and ready to get to work. I look forward to telling you more about the family law profession and my days spent at Stowe Family Law.

To read more about FDR hearings see  http://www.marilynstowe.co.uk/2011/06/28/the-fdr-hearing-and-the-first-appointment-what-you-need-to-know/

 

 

Cohabitation Rights

House of Parliament 08.11.13USEToday I have been thinking about cohabitants as the Office of National Statistics recently released information which reveals the increasing rise of cohabiting couples in the UK.  The number of cohabiting couples increased from 2.2 million in 2003 to 2.9 million in 2013. Further, the number of dependent children living in opposite sex cohabiting couple families rose from 1.4 million to 1.9 million over the same period.

Many of us have the misconceived perception that cohabiting couples enjoy the same rights on the breakdown of their relationship as married couples. In fact, this is not the case and many cohabiting couples are unaware that the law provides little assistance to them on the breakdown of their relationship. Whereas when a marriage breaks down, a spouse can have claims concerning the likes of child maintenance, property and pension rights. But, what about cohabiting couples?

Well, since I am from Scotland I feel that I should start with the Scottish case of Gow v Grant [2012]. This produced a landmark judgement providing additional rights for cohabitants on the breakdown of their relationship. The case was based on the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, section 28, which allows a cohabitant to apply to the court for financial provision where the cohabitation ends otherwise than by death of one of the cohabitants.  Mrs Gow was able to claim financial relief from Mr Grant as she was able to prove that she had suffered economic disadvantage from the cohabitation. Lady Hale stated that the law in Scotland is commendable as it does not “impose upon unmarried couples the responsibilities of marriage but redresses the gains and losses flowing from their relationship….English and Welsh cohabitants and their children deserve no less.”  Well said Lady Hale.  And she is correct, English and Welsh cohabitants deserve their rights to be protected on breakdown of their relationship and that is exactly what is occurring in Parliament now. The Cohabitation Rights Bill 2013-2014 had its first reading in the House of Lords at the beginning of October. This Bill, which I am advocating, will provide cohabitants with additional rights and this is clearly needed when one looks at the increasing numbers of cohabitants in England and Wales.

The Bill, which can be viewed on the Parliament website: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/lbill/2013-2014/0049/14049.pdf gives an idea of the rights that cohabitants will receive.  This will mainly be a “financial settlement order” which can include a lump sum, transfer of property, property settlements, sale of property and a pension sharing order. Further, there is an “opt out” provision for those cohabitants who do not wish to be able to claim for a financial settlement order.  The Bill also intends to change the law on intestacy to include qualifying cohabitants. However, I know from my studies that a Bill at its first stage in Parliament will most likely be extremely varied by the time it, if it even does, reaches Royal Assent and so I will be keeping my eye on the progress of this bill and will be sure you update you all on it.

 

Behind the Scenes and Baby Bumps.

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Today I walk in to the Stowe Family Law LLP office and I am met with a desk full of files. I have five files to read in readiness for a case I have in court tomorrow and a further six files to go through in order to pull out all the relevant documentation I need to compile a bundle for my brief to counsel. I certainly have had a busy day and with a day in court tomorrow, I will be non-stop. I am off this Friday and so Becca and Charlotte will be keeping you entertained with their experiences of life at the UK’s largest family law firm on Thursday and Friday.

Over the next few weeks I have a few days in court lined up which equates to great experience. However, for today’s blog I have decided to focus on the very important people that make up the foundations of any law firm: the legal secretaries and administration staff who work behind the scenes. You may think this is an odd blog post but with one of my colleagues, Lucy, a legal secretary, and someone I am happy to call a friend leaving on maternity leave on Friday I thought it an apt time to shine a light on the excellent job these people do. Every law firm is made up of a number of individuals who work behind the scenes alongside the solicitors and partners to keep a firm running. Without legal secretaries and the thralls of other staff, the solicitors would not be able to do their jobs.

Beyond the usual filing, typing, dictation and phone answering duties of a normal secretary, a legal secretary possesses specialist skills unique to the legal profession. Legal Secretaries prepare correspondence, type up legal documents and briefs from dictation, they maintain complex filing systems in which documents and information needs to be ready at a moment’s notice, they understand legal jargon, they liaise with client’s and other professionals, they create and maintain spread sheets, they update information, they track and organise solicitors diaries, they must be extremely deadline orientated and be able to keep on top of the massive file load of the solicitors they work with. The list could extend beyond this page and well in to a number of further pages. I know a number of legal secretaries that often stay way passed closing in order to ensure everything that needs to be done that day is completed. Being a legal secretary appears to me far from easy.

In addition to legal secretaries, other people who work behind the scenes include archiving and administrations staff, without whom a law firm would struggle to ensure their filing was up to date and in order; the accounts team who ensure the client is kept up to date with their fees and much more; PR; our receptionist, Gill, who greets every client as they arrive and works hard to ensure room bookings don’t clash, calls are forwarded to the appropriate people, client’s documentation is in order and so much more.

I am sad to see Lucy go and I know the solicitor she works with would say the same. But she is off to have a beautiful little baby and I am sure she will make a brilliant mum. She will be greatly missed and I can only hope that one day, when I hopefully successfully complete my training contract, I too have a legal secretary who is as dedicated to their job and understanding as Lucy and the countless other legal secretaries and administration staff that make up Stowe Family Law LLP.

Prosecutions for Teachers and Other Professionals who Fail to Report Child Abuse?

3836336214_671ce9bd87_mInterestingly, and in keeping with my post on 16th October 2013, Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, this week told Panorama that he believes that teachers and other professionals should be under a mandatory duty to report any suspicion they have that a child is at risk of or suffering from child abuse.

Mr Starmer stated that ‘any professionals who fail to perform their duty should face prosecution for an offence that would carry a possible jail sentence’.  The government responded to Mr Starmer by stating that mandatory reporting was not the answer to non-reporting of such suspicion’s.

In Northern Ireland it is an offence to fail to disclose the committing of an arrestable offence by any person or persons to the police under the Criminal Law Act 1967. Mr Starmer stated that ‘If you’re in a position of authority or responsibility in relation to children, and you have cause to believe that a child has been abused, or is about to be abused, you really ought to do something about it.’ He added that ‘There are just too many examples of cases where those who have suspected abuse have not really done anything about it and the perpetrator has either got away with it or, worse still, been able to perpetuate the offending.’ His idea being that the threat of a short jail sentence or fine would sufficiently encourage individuals to report such offending.

The government, however, currently have no plans to change the law. The Department of Education stressed the need for professionals to report any suspected incidents, stating that professionals ‘should refer immediately to social care when they are concerned about a child.’ They went on to say that ‘this happens every year in many thousands of cases and numbers of referrals have increased over recent years. Other countries have tried mandatory reporting and there is no evidence to show that it is a better system for protecting children.’

The question is whether making disclosure mandatory will really achieve what Mr Starmer hopes it will. Could it not result in the court system simply being clogged up with teachers and other professionals trying to defend themselves against the scrutiny of the prosecution? Would it not be better to invest time and money in to training teachers and other professionals sufficiently, to see the signs of abuse and neglect? Dame Clare Tickell, chief executive of the Action for Children, certainly thinks so, she told BBC 4’s Today programme that ‘teachers and people across the system are not sufficiently trained to see those early signs of abuse [It is important that teachers and other professionals know how to spot these signs and not that they] feel that they may be prosecuted if they don’t’.

It is obviously a hot topic and one that our government needs to address. Jonathan West, of the Mandate Now coalition of charities, agreed with Mr Starmer, stating that “social services can’t actually act on cases they haven’t been told about. Schools and other organisations, often don’t really want to have a child abuse scandal on their hands. It is surprisingly common that schools want to handle such things in house.’

What is the answer to the current non-reporting issue? I don’t know. I don’t believe that prosecuting teachers and other professionals for missing signs of abuse that they don’t even know are signs is the way forward. But then again is simply training teachers and other professionals to see the signs of abuse enough, when schools possibly don’t allow them to go on to report these signs and try to deal with it in-house?

To view BBC’s Panorama report, which aired last night (4th November 2013), please visit www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer. For the BBC’s news report on the subject please visit: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-24772777.

Photo by Ren 🙂 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Pre-dawn starts and Briefs to Counsel

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After my long weekend away I have a lot to catch up on. In my absence, I would like to say that I think, Charlotte and Becca have done a brilliant job and I am looking forward to their input in the weeks and months to come.

My day began with a pre-dawn start; due to train issues yesterday I ended up having to travel up to Harrogate this morning, which meant a very early train and a long journey to begin my day. As I arrive in the office I am freezing cold and so I pop to the kitchen for a hot drink before I start to go through the emails I missed while I have been away. Everything appears to be in order and as I check up on a particular client file with regards a disclosure issue I am handed a number of task.

Firstly I must compile a rather complex spread sheet setting out the incoming and outgoing expenditure of every bank account on a client file, culminating in a total for each month and a yearly total for each bank account. This involves trawling through pages and pages of statements, detailing and calculating every entry.

Next, I begin to compile a brief for counsel on an extensive case for the Final Dispute Resolution (FDR) hearing. This involves going through every file on the case from the very beginning and carefully selecting each relevant document, file note, and correspondence. These documents, file notes, and correspondence then need paginating and arranging according to a detailed index which will sit at the start of the brief. Then the most important bit: the brief itself. I have previously explained what a brief entails but for those of you who haven’t read my earlier post or just can’t remember: a brief is a document that generally sets out the background of the case; the position of each party according to their Form E’s; if the solicitor believes it to be a needs based case then the s.25 factors of the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 may be set out; each parties wishes in regard to their assets and then any further information Counsel may require, followed by your questions to Counsel. Obviously not all briefs will include everything above and some will include more. Today’s brief is particularly complicated and I will therefore be continuing with it tomorrow. But for now I am off home to update my training log in readiness for my meeting with my supervisor on Wednesday. After which I am off to bed as I am well and truly shattered.